Commentary

Pressure Point: Can English switch?

Originally Published: July 8, 2011
By Matt Williamson | Scouts Inc.

Larry English Brett Davis/US PresswireLarry English, a defensive end in college, has struggled with the move to linebacker in the NFL.
A weekly look at a player whose performance must improve in 2011.

In the 2009 draft, the Chargers unexpectedly used the 16th overall pick on Larry English when they already had Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman entrenched at outside linebacker. The Chargers undoubtedly knew that English -- who came out of Northern Illinois -- was going to be a work-in-progress, but they couldn't have thought that his adjustment to the NFL would take this long. Merriman is gone, and 2011 is a make-or-break season for English.

Learning to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL after being a defensive end in college isn't always easy. The player must learn to rush the passer from a stand-up position rather than with a hand on the ground. Learning the coverage aspects of the position can often determine whether such a transition can be accomplished. Does the player have the athletic ability to play in space and in reverse? Does he understand his zone and man-to-man responsibilities? Does he have the work ethic to make such a transition? Adapting to the NFL is difficult enough for any player, let alone one learning a skill set for the first time.

During his rookie season, English saw the field quite a bit and was a disappointment in all areas. English had a screw put in his foot in September and had a similar procedure on the same foot in March. He appeared in just eight games in 2010, and obviously the foot was a problem for him all season.

There has been very little to get excited about in English's career. Because he wasn't 100 percent last season, it's difficult to evaluate how far he has come in his adjustment to outside linebacker. But his movement skills were not fluid or explosive and he didn't seem mentally prepared to play the position from a technique and positioning standpoint. Durability now is a major concern. What is probably most disturbing is that even as a pure pass-rusher, English has shown no special traits. He hasn't proved to be a core special teams player, either.

Phillips, meanwhile, had a very strong season. Antwan Applewhite, on the other hand, was neither a playmaker nor a reliable presence opposite Phillips. Applewhite should be a backup. The player to keep an eye on is Antwan Barnes, even though he is more or less just a pure edge pass-rusher. Barnes is quite effective in that one area of his game. Jyles Tucker is another option at outside linebacker, but he has appeared in just 10 games the past two seasons. He played in the first three games of the 2010 season and then was put on injured reserve after tearing a pectoral muscle.

Although San Diego was strong on defense last season, the bottom line is that the Chargers need to get more production and reliability from the outside linebacker spot opposite Phillips. English was drafted to fill such a role. So far, he hasn't.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL