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Chargers want more pressure from LBs

Posted Jun 3, 2011

San Diego’s group of linebackers is in flux with free agency on hold, but linebackers coach John Pagano believes the Bolts will do a better job of getting after quarterbacks regardless of who mans the position.

SAN DIEGO – Twelve different linebackers recorded tackles for the Chargers last season, a testament to San Diego’s coaching staff, which dealt with an unusual number of injuries.

Led by Shaun Phillips, the unit accounted for 31 of the team’s 47 sacks, up 51 percent from 2009. Eighteen different players got at least a half-sack last season, pointing toward creativity by the staff and good execution by a number of individuals.

But Phillips (11 sacks) was the only outside linebacker with more than four.

Stats are just one means of evaluation. The Chargers analyze which situations, calls and plays are creating sacks. With a complete picture in mind, linebackers coach John Pagano understands his position players need to contribute pressure.

“Sure, we need to rush the passer better from the outside backers and even with the inside guys going,” Pagano said. “It’s something that we understand and we take a lot of pride in that and that’s something that I feel we’re going to truly improve this upcoming season.”

Pagano’s confidence persists despite the lack of certainty regarding which players will be in the linebacker group and when football activities will resume. Every NFL team’s roster holds a degree of uncertainty with free agency disrupted, but for the Chargers, it manifests itself in the linebackers as much as anywhere.

In addition to several potential free agents inside, the Bolts need to incorporate draftees Jonas Mouton and Andrew Gachkar, and will need to evaluate a string of players that finished the season injured.

“I’m very anxious. I can’t wait for them to get in, whoever comes in,” Pagano said. “(But) we’ve had a big philosophy around here. If there’s change, there’s change. I coach whoever’s out there, whoever is in the room.

“When it’s your time to step in, you go in and you play at a high level regardless of if you’re a draft choice, who, what, where, when. When it’s your time to go play, you go play. I think we’ve had a good run of that over the last couple years.”

Phillips helps. The consistent cornerstone is fourth in franchise history with 56.5 career sacks since being drafted in the fourth round in ’04.

The Chargers want to scale back on his number of plays in 2011 if possible after relying on him for more than they would’ve liked in 2010. An occasional breather for a play or two, something he didn’t benefit from last season, could help Phillips be more efficient on the field and preserve his legs.

Phillips has at least seven sacks to his name each season since ’05.

“He loves to study film. He loves to study the game,” Pagano said. “Coming into the National Football League there were always questions about his ability to stop the run. Everybody knew he could fly off that edge and rush the passer, and he’s improved in every aspect of his game.”

The aim to agitate opposing quarterbacks more frequently and consistently is part of a broader theme for the defense this season, Head Coach Norv Turner revealed.

“We want to continue to put our guys in a position where they can make big plays and make explosive plays. We need to create more plays like that,” Turner said.

“Certainly field position is a big part of playing great defense. Any time you can create turnovers and provide a short field you’re going to benefit from that. You look at teams that do a great job in terms of scoring points, total points, they’re usually pretty good at creating short fields.”

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