NFL Nation's Eric D. Williams examines the three biggest issues facing the San Diego Chargers heading into training camp.
Freeney's health: The Chargers have not had a player finish with double-digit sacks since 2011. Dwight Freeney is the only edge rusher currently on the roster to post at least 10 sacks in an NFL season. At 34, Freeney returns to the field from a torn quad injury that cut his 2013 campaign short, and he is expected to be healthy for the regular-season opener at Arizona. Freeney told reporters during offseason workouts in June he was healthy enough to play a game at that point in his rehab. However, San Diego coach Mike McCoy needs to make sure Freeney makes it through training camp and the regular season healthy by limiting Freeney's workload during practice and in games. The Chargers need Freeney to set the tone for a young group of pass-rushers. If Freeney can return to his old form, it will take pressure off of young pass-rushers like Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu. The Chargers finished tied for 23rd in sacks last season with 35. San Diego was even worse on third down, totaling 10 sacks in 2013, second worst in the NFL.
Find a home for Flowers: John Pagano said he plans to use recently acquired cornerback Brandon Flowers all over the field, but during training camp San Diego's defensive coordinator must find a consistent home for the 28-year-old Pro Bowler. Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright were San Diego's starting cornerbacks at the end of offseason workouts. But with first-rounder Jason Verrett expected to take the field after his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery and Flowers in the fold, Pagano has options on the perimeter of his secondary. The Chargers need more production from a unit that totaled 11 interceptions in 2013. The Chargers allowed an average of 259 passing yards a contest last season, which ranked No. 29 in the NFL. San Diego also gave up 58 passing plays of 20 yards or more, tied for No. 24 in the league. The Chargers did a better job in these categories during the backstretch of 2013, but continued improvement is needed.
Find snaps for Attaochu: Second-round selection Attaochu brings speed and athleticism as a pass-rusher for the Chargers, something the team sorely lacked last season. Pagano needs to figure out how to effectively use Attaochu without giving him too much to think about on the field in terms of scheme, slowing down his play speed. Pagano could look to the way the Seattle Seahawks used speedy edge rusher Bruce Irvin during his rookie season in 2012 as a blueprint for Attaochu. Irvin played in 405 snaps and finished with eight sacks as a rookie, playing mostly on passing downs. The Chargers could use Attaochu in a similar manner and hopefully get the same type of impact.