Linebackers Looking For More Pressure

So DeMarcus Ware hasn't turned out to be quite the player Shawne Merriman is in San Diego just yet. However, he's been anything but a disappointment, already developing into one of the NFL's top young defenders. Ware has posted 19 ½ sacks in his first two seasons, first tying for the team lead as a rookie with Greg Ellis (8) before leading the team with 11 ½ last year, the most ever in a season by a Cowboys linebacker.

You usually don't expect your starting middle linebacker to shed many pounds in the off-season, but Bradie James has trimmed down to 239 pounds heading into camp. James said he was pushing close to 260 pounds at one point last season, trying to bulk up to meet the demands of last year's scheme, which called for many direct hits from opposing guards and centers. This year, James expects to be covered up more by the defensive tackles and will be free to run around more, which is one reason why he needed to drop about 15 pounds.

Between the Cowboys two starting inside linebackers, Akin Ayodele and Bradie James combined for just one sack last season. The new defensive scheme is expected to produce more pressure from up the middle. Last season, Phillips' defense in San Diego produced nine sacks from their three inside linebackers of Randall Godfrey (4), Donnie Edwards (2 ½) and Stephen Cooper (2 ½). Oh, and that doesn't mean the Chargers weren't getting pressure from the outside. Shawne Merriman led the entire league with 17 sacks while Shaun Phillips added 11 ½ sacks.

Don't Be Surprised If: A rookie not named Anthony Spencer turns some heads during training camp. Every year, there seems to be a rookie linebacker who comes out of nowhere to make the team, or at least the practice squad. Last year Oliver Hoyte emerged in camp, though he was moved to fullback. But from Ryan Fowler, Keith O'Neil to Scott Shanle, linebackers have come out of nowhere to land roster spots. This year, watch out of Alex Obomese, Blair Phillips and Dedrick Harrington.

Fitting In Projected Starters:
DeMarcus Ware (OLB) - Turning into a beast. With help around him, could be looking at another monster season.
Greg Ellis (OLB) - Should be ready to return for the start of camp. The question now is, how happy will he be?
Akin Ayodele (ILB) - After somewhat of a slow start last year, he came on strong down the stretch.
Bradie James (ILB) - Opposite Ayodele, James played his best early on. Let's see if a lighter James is better.
Solid Backups:
Bobby Carpenter (ILB) - Played his best game in the playoff loss. Moved to inside linebacker this off-season.
Kevin Burnett (ILB) - Also moved from the outside to inside. Wants a bigger role in the defense.
Anthony Spencer (OLB) - High expectations are always attached to first-round picks. Not starting might be easier.
Uphill Climb:
Junior Glymph (OLB) - Had a good off-season and could be top candidate to back up Ware on the outside.
Alex Obomese (OLB) - Needs to prove he can rush the passer first. Might have a hard transition from DE to OLB.
Dedrick Harrington (ILB) - Productive college player from Missouri. Must shine on special teams.
Jon Saldi (ILB) - Might be worn down after a spring in NFL Europe, but he can't afford to show it.
Blair Phillips (ILB) - Big-time hitter in college needs to show off that physicality running down punts and kickoffs.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.