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Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Chargers position outlook: Linebackers

By Eric D. Williams

From a talent, production and numbers standpoint, the linebackers' group of the San Diego Chargers has the potential to be the best unit on the team defensively. However, this group has to prove that they can stay healthy and perform at high level for an entire season in 2014.

Locks: Melvin Ingram, Manti Te'o,
Looking good: Jarret Johnson, Larry English, Thomas Keiser, Dwight Freeney
On the bubble: Andrew Gachkar, Tourek Williams, Cordarro Law, Terrell Manning, Jonas Mouton
Free agents: Donald Butler, Reggie Walker, Bront Bird

The good: Butler finished second on the team in tackles with 84, and led San Diego in tackles in the postseason. Te'o, a second-round selection in last year's draft out of Notre Dame who played with a broken foot for most of the season, finished fifth on the team in tackles with 61. Te'o had surgery on the foot at the end of the year. Ingram impressively worked his way back onto the field six months after ACL knee surgery, making an impact during the final four games of the regular season and in the playoffs. Keiser joined the active roster from the practice squad four games into the regular season, finishing with 4.5 sacks. Walker showed versatility, with the ability to play all four linebacker positions.

The bad: Not a single starter played a full, 16-game season, as San Diego's linebackers had trouble staying healthy. Butler, Te'o and company also had a lot of missed tackles and blown assignments before shoring things up toward the end of the season. However, the Chargers allowed just six runs of 20 yards or more in 2013, tied for No. 26 in the NFL with Seattle.

The money: Re-signing Butler is one of the team's top priorities in free agency. At 25-years old, Butler, a co-captain, is considered one of San Diego's core players on defense. However, Butler has had trouble staying healthy, missing 24 of a possible 64 games during his four-year career. Butler missed four games in 2013 with a groin issue. The Chargers also have tough decisions to make on two veteran players getting long in the tooth in Freeney and Johnson. Freeney, 34, finished 2013 on the injured reserve with a quad tear. The Syracuse product is due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 15, and set to make $3.5 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2014. Freeney says he intends to play in 2014. Johnson, 32, has two years left on a four-year deal, and is set to make a non-guaranteed base salary of $4 million in 2014.

Draft priority: High. Having a fully healthy Ingram a year removed from major knee surgery should help, but the Chargers still need more answers at edge rusher for the upcoming season. Law finished with 14 sacks for Calgary in the Canadian Football League last year, and has a legitimate chance to make the 53-man roster as an edge rusher. Other college prospects that can rush the passer who could be a fit for San Diego in the draft include BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, Missouri's Kony Ealy and Auburn's Dee Ford.