Chargers counting on Nick Vigil to spearhead their efforts at linebacker
As the Chargers prepare for the NFL draft, The Times will examine their roster. Part 3 of 10: Linebackers.
He was the Chargers’ biggest free-agent signing of 2019, Thomas Davis arriving after 14 years and three Pro Bowl selections with Carolina.
The veteran linebacker responded by leading the Chargers in tackles with 112, his most since 2013.
The Chargers responded by cutting Davis in March, a move that helped open salary-cap space at a time when the team is, among other projects, rebuilding its offensive line.
So, what did the Chargers do to help offset the loss of such a tackling machine? They used free agency to sign another linebacker who had a ton of stops in 2019.
Nick Vigil will join coordinator Gus Bradley’s defense after four seasons in Cincinnati, where he started all 16 games last year and finished with 111 tackles, second-best on the team.
The Chargers badly missed one of their best playmakers, Derwin James, on defense last season. With his return, their secondary looks deeper.
Vigil is expected to prepare to play both in the middle and on the weak side. With the Bengals, he said he spent time at all three linebacker spots.
Drue Tranquill returns after producing easily the best rookie season among the Chargers’ 2019 draft picks. The former Notre Dame standout first established himself on special teams and then found a role on defense as injuries mounted.
Tranquill, like Vigil, has the ability to play on the inside and the weak side, his versatility just another plus.
In March, the Chargers also managed to work out a restructured contract with Denzel Perryman to ensure he remained on the roster. Considered to be the team’s top run-stopper, Perryman plays a vital role in the middle.
Uchenna Nwosu and Kyzir White both are expected to continue to develop as potential playmakers.
Nwosu hasn’t missed a game through his first two seasons and has 5.5 sacks while playing only about one-third of the Chargers’ defensive snaps.
Adding stud cornerback Chris Harris to the defense means the Chargers will not have to expend a high pick on the position in the NFL draft.
White, who has dealt with a lingering knee issue, appeared in all 16 games in 2019, with seven starts. He finished with 40 tackles playing mostly on the strong side, which, in Bradley’s scheme, is a limited role.
If White is healthier this season, the Chargers hope to expand his opportunities.
Under contract for 2020: Perryman ($7.512 million), Vigil ($2.4 million), Nwosu ($1.570 million), White ($913,610), Tranquill ($839,702), Malik Jefferson ($750,000), Emeke Egbule ($714,239).
Free agents: The Chargers might not be done adding depth at linebacker, something they could address with a low-level free-agent signing. Coach Anthony Lynn has repeatedly mentioned the position as one he’d like to fortify as much as possible.
Draft: More likely than signing another free agent, the Chargers could draft a linebacker. After a few more obvious needs (quarterback, left tackle, wide receiver), the position is one that figures to be addressed.
Roster decisions: Like so many teams, the Chargers prefer to rotate players among their front seven on defense. How the playing time sorts out will be something to watch, particularly the healthier the linebacker corps remains.
NEXT: Defensive line.
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