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New faces on Chargers' 'D,' especially at linebacker

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Posted Aug. 12, 2011 @ 1:43 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

They aren't major overhauls, but for a defense that was ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season, the Chargers made a bunch of minor tweaks this offseason. Since defensive coordinator Ron Rivera left the team to become the head coach of the Panthers and Greg Manusky was brought in to replace him, the team has added as many as five new starters on that side of the ball.

First-round pick Corey Liuget is the only new arrival who will see major time on the defensive line, as he might be a starter at defensive end. In the secondary, ex-Colts SS Bob Sanders was signed in free agency to shore up the run "D." Because of his history of injuries the team is being careful with his playing time, as he likely will be a starter but subbed out on passing downs in favor of Steve Gregory.

However, the greatest changes were made in the linebacking corps, where only OLB Shaun Phillips returns from last year's lineup. Free agents Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy were brought in, both from the 49ers, where Manusky coached the past four seasons. LaBoy told PFW his familiarity with the coordinator played a factor in where he signed, especially given the unusual circumstances this summer.

"Coach Manusky played a big role in my decision, you know with the shorter offseason because of the lockout, having no OTAs and stuff like that," said LaBoy, who is expected to play the role of third-down pass rusher for the Chargers.

"And the familiarity with Coach Manusky was a big thing for me, kind of being able to pick up where we left off on the defense in San Francisco."

Two players with no NFL experience also will play big roles in the LB corps, each with a chance to start. Donald Butler, who missed all of his rookie season last year with a torn Achilles, has been impressive in camp, taking great angles to the ball and thriving in pass defense. Second-round rookie Jonas Mouton also has stood out, proving to have a nose for the ball and a great knowledge of offenses.

Manusky and the Chargers are assuming that despite the minor tweaks, the defense will be as good as ever.

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