Much has been made of rookie Larry English being a potential backup plan in case Shawne Merriman moves on after his contract expires at the end of the season. But San Diego's first-round pick is more than just an expensive insurance policy.
The Chargers defense needs at least three players who can really get after the QB. That was the case on the 2006 squad -- the best Chargers team this decade -- when Merriman, Shaun Phillips and Luis Castillo combined for 35.5 sacks.
With Castillo no longer providing much pass rush (four sacks in the last 25 games), the Chargers needed a new player to complete the trifecta. Welcome, Larry English.
"He's going to hustle to get to the ball, to be around the ball, and any time you pull that up on the video screen you can just see the effort and you can see in the way that he plays that he loves football," said Northern Illinois D-line coach Jeff Phelps.
"That's what every coach is looking for, guys that love the game of football, that love to fly around and have fun. When you watch the film, that's what you see out of Larry."
LBs James Holt, Anthony Felder and Larry English
English's drive and passion are impossible to dispute. His ability to transition to the linebacker position -- standing up, playing in space, etc. -- may be a different story. That's what made his prompt arrival at training camp such a core issue.
Those who have watched English closely insist that, given a full training camp to get up to speed, there's no way he won't be ready to make an impact by Opening Day.
"I'm sure Larry will be prepared for what he has to do to take his game to the next level," said Steve Newhouse, the publisher of HuskiePride.com. "He's been in that role before. He has the work ethic to keep looking for improvement."
It helps that English has superb mentors in Merriman and Phillips. Merriman has reenergized the defense simply by returning to work this offseason. And Phillips has long been known as an excellent teacher and superb on-field motivator.
English is eager to work with both vets throughout camp. By the time the season rolls around, San Diego's No. 1 pick may look like a hybrid between No. 56 and No. 95.
"I have watched a lot of tape of those guys and watched them play a lot of football," said English of Merriman and Phillips. "They were really two players that I watched and looked to. They were in that group of guys that I would go to, to try and take parts of their game and mold into my own."
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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.