Pass rusher major priority for Chargers

Posted Jan. 06, 2011 @ 9:44 a.m.
Posted By Michael Blunda

If a team finishes ranked No. 1 in both total offense and total defense, as the Chargers did in 2010, it would appear not to have many holes. But when that same team ends the campaign with a 9-7 record, it's clear that upgrades need to be made.

Coming off one of the strangest seasons in recent memory, the Bolts enter the offseason with more questions than answers. They know their special teams was one of the worst in league history, which is why they immediately fired coach Steve Crosby. They also were severely hampered by injuries, tying a record by using 74 different players in a non-strike season. And they are convinced that Norv Turner remains the right choice as head coach. So what is it that they need to address?

While the Chargers finished second in QB sack percentage, we hear that improving their pass rush is essential. That makes their top priority in the draft finding an impact outside linebacker. Shaun Phillips was a beast this season, notching 11 sacks, but San Diego did not have another OLB who could consistently put pressure on opposing passers. That's because the guy they expected to fill that role, Larry English, has not panned out.

A first-round pick in the 2009 draft, English has been a major disappointment. The team had hoped he could be the replacement for Shawne Merriman but he has done little to show that he can be an NFL starter. Injuries limited him to eight games in '10 with just two starts, and he did not make a difference when he was on the field. With only five sacks in two campaigns, the Northern Illinois product has proven to be a small-school standout who is too slow and undersized to be a stellar pro. The Chargers need to find an outside 'backer who can put heat on the QB and help free up Phillips.

The Bolts also will be looking to upgrade the DE position, where Jacques Cesaire's play has begun to fall off. He has just 2½ sacks the past two seasons and is no longer a pass-rushing force. Finding someone to replace the 30-year-old in the starting lineup could be something San Diego does on Draft Day. Of course, if defensive coordinator Ron Rivera leaves to take a head-coaching job, the unit will take a hit regardless.