SAN DIEGO -- Jarret Johnson missed a total of five games in 2013 for the San Diego Chargers because of hamstring and hand injuries -- the most games the outside linebacker missed in a single season since entering the league in 2003.
Before last season, Johnson was Mr. Durability, playing in at least 15 games for 10 straight seasons. Johnson said his goal heading into the 2014 season is getting his body back to the point where he can play through nagging injuries and still be effective.
“Based on last year, I had the most injuries that I’ve had that kept me out of games, so I just wanted to get healthy and get stronger,” Johnson said. “And that’s still my focus going into this last month being home, is working on flexibility, strength and all of that stuff because that’s what keeps you healthy.”
Johnson is part of a deep rotation at outside linebacker for the Chargers that includes Dwight Freeney, Melvin Ingram, Jeremiah Attaochu, Larry English, Thomas Keiser, Tourek Williams and Cordarro Law -- all players competing for playing time heading into training camp.
Johnson’s strength is setting the edge and defending the run as an outside linebacker, but he still understands the Chargers need to get better at getting after the quarterback. San Diego finished tied for 23rd in the league in sacks last season with 35. Even worse, the Chargers had just 10 sacks on third down in 2013, second worst in the NFL.
“Sacks are the reward for pressure,” Johnson said. “But that’s today’s game. It’s a quarterback-driven league. And if you can’t affect the quarterback through coverage and pressure, you’re not going to be successful on defense.
“The days of two-back powers and leads -- all the stuff that was very popular when I came into the NFL -- that’s not so much the game today. It’s very multiple, very complicated spread [concepts]. And if you can’t affect them, you’re going to be hurt.”
Along with improved depth at edge-rusher, another thing that should help San Diego defensively is knowledge of scheme. Johnson said that defensive coordinator John Pagano did not strip down the playbook during offseason workouts.
Instead, Pagano picked where the team left off at the end of 2013 -- when San Diego had its most success defensively -- allowing players to continue to fine tune concepts that worked well at the end of last season.
“A lot of times defensively you stay pretty vanilla, and then the complicated stuff comes later in the season,” Johnson said. “This year we kind of installed a lot of stuff and worked on a lot of stuff that we finished off with during the regular season.
“So it’s kind of nice to have that creativeness and a full playbook. You’re not just calling seven or eight plays. You might be calling two or three times more than that. It was good to work on stuff this early.”
Johnson said the expanded playbook during the offseason was a result of Pagano liking how his defense played at the end of last season, and having confidence in his players executing the system on the field.
“We had some success late in the year being very multiple and moving around -- a lot of moving parts,” Johnson said. “And hopefully we’ll pick up with that.”