Too Soon... To Consider Larry English A Bust?

When a first round draft pick doesn’t pan out to be the player a team had hoped for, chances are that such a draft choice sets the club back a bit at any given position. For the Chargers, the 2009 selection of outside linebacker pass rush specialist Larry English at 16th overall is beginning to look more and more like a serious concern for the franchise.

The Bolts have been waiting for English to emerge as the dominant sack artist that he was drafted to be, but that just hasn’t been the case for the bulk of English’s first two years in the league. With only five sacks during that time period, the Chargers have been looking for a Shawne Merriman replacement since his fall from grace in 2008 with injury issues and a steroid suspension as well.

Unfortunately 2010 saw the injury bug afflict English as well before the regular season even got underway as the Bolts’ linebacker suffered a broken bone in his left foot last preseason. He tried to manage playing through the pain initially, but ultimately opted for surgery to aid in the healing process as doctors put two screws into the foot. Even with the procedure, English saw limited action last year and was relatively ineffective when he did get out on the field.

Now the revelation that English underwent a second surgery in March to try and rectify the issues that slowed him during the 2010 year sheds some additional light on just why he may have looked less than one hundred percent. When asked about the second procedure, English told the North County Times: "They put another screw in because something was off. The doctors said it hadn't healed right or the foot was re-broken. Either way, we had to get it right during the offseason. It feels a lot better now and (I'm) optimistic about my foot's long-term health. Hopefully the second time's the charm."

Though English may be optimistic about his foot’s health prospects, the Bolts are still a bit cloudy on the outlook for their former first round selection. Even though he suited up for all 16 games as a rookie in 2009, English only tallied two sacks and was practically invisible the majority of the time. In just 8 games last season he put up three sacks, but those numbers just don’t add up to the type of production a team would expect from a first round talent.

Ready to enter his third season in the NFL, this year has to be considered a make or break campaign for English if he wants to remain a viable option opposite Shaun Phillips as a rush outside linebacker in the team’s 3-4 scheme. If confidence is any indicator, the Bolts should expect big things from the Northern Illinois alum in the coming year as he said: “I'm excited to see what I can do when completely healthy. I know this defense. I feel confident in all of my responsibilities as a linebacker, many of which were new when I got drafted. I was ready to make a big leap last year, but I got hurt in training camp and never felt right. Once I complete this rehab, I'll be ready to play well and play fast."

It seems that the Chargers are banking on English turning his lackluster career thus far in the right direction as they neglected to address the outside linebacker at all during the 2011 NFL Draft. That could mean that General Manager A.J. Smith is putting all of his proverbial eggs into the Larry English basket or it could mean that he is going to shop on the free agent market for a pass rusher whenever possible.

Still there is an undeniable concern when it comes to pressuring the opposing quarterback for the Bolts who did finish second in the league in sacks last year, but statistics can be deceiving. Obviously a team that finished first in total offense and first in total defense yet failed to make the playoffs knows just how misleading stats can be at times.

Shaun Phillips is a very solid pass rusher who has produced at a starter level for a handful of years now, but he isn’t nearly as influential in a football game without someone on the other side collapsing the pocket as well. Ron Rivera used several exotic blitzes last year to accumulate the 47 sacks as a team that the Bolts managed to put up in 2010. 17 different players factored in on the many sacks that the team produced a season ago with only Phillips cracking the double-digit plateau with 11.

This season will undoubtedly be a make or break year for English who needs to show that he is worthy of the faith placed in him by the organization two Aprils ago in the NFL Draft. A bounce back season in 2011 will go a long way in proving the doubters wrong while another injury-riddled, below average campaign could be just the ammunition the skeptics need to label English a true draft bust.

Now let’s hear from you. What do you think has prevented English from becoming a consistent edge force in the NFL; the transition from defensive end to stand up linebacker or injuries? Do you see English’s foot issues being a chronic problem during the 2011 season or do you think this second procedure will help keep him healthy? Does the Chargers’ defense really put enough pressure on the opposing quarterback or are their stats a bit inflated from a year ago? Now for the big question… is it too early to call English a draft bust or will he get on track this season and prove the doubters wrong? Please fill up the comments section below with your input!

May 24, 2011

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