CHARGERS: Bolts expect big things from linebackers Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips. BILL WECHTER | NCT file photo 9 hours ago • By SCOTT BAIR firstname.lastname@example.org SAN DIEGO ---- The Chargers' linebacker corps was once a great source of intimidation. That was especially true in the mid-2000s, when the likes of Steve Foley, Shaun Phillips and a healthy Shawne Merriman provided pressure off the edge. Sack totals were high, fronted by an athletic group of linebackers who helped produced a whopping 61 in 2006. Numbers have dropped in recent seasons, including a pedestrian 32 in 2010. The team struggled with injuries, especially on the outside, and didn't have the depth to compensate for such setbacks. This year, however, the Chargers believe they do, especially on the outside. "We've upgraded our speed, our athleticism, and we've certainly helped our depth," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "When this team has a great pass rush in 2007 and 2006 ---- before I got here ---- you had four or five outside linebackers who could bring it. There was always a good mix of rolling guys in and out. If we can do that, it would be ideal. We have five outside linebackers who are very physical players who have a real presence about them." It may not be as flashy as the 2006 unit, but they might be better. Phillips is healthy after being slowed by foot problems last season. Antwan Barnes is ready to meet his 11-sack total of a year ago. Jarret Johnson was brought in from Baltimore, Melvin Ingram was drafted in the first round and the Chargers believe former first-round pick Larry English can contribute if he can stay healthy. "This is one of the most talented linebacker corps I've ever been a part of," Johnson said. "We have a good mix of youth and experience, of pass-rushing and run-stopping ability. I like how we've grown during the offseason and progressed during the early portions of camp." That is lofty praise, considering Johnson played with guys like Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs with the Ravens. He lauded the overall depth, Ingram's potential and the blue-collar attitude the entire group provides. Players on the inside should not be forgotten, for they'll be counted on to cover and assist on third-down defense. Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler will start again on the inside, with Jonas Mouton and veteran import Demorrio Williams backing them up, respectively. "The talent is very diverse, and everyone brings a unique perspective to the table," Spikes said. "We have more guys and greater depth. But it's one thing to have depth. It's another to have depth with playing experience. That's what we have now. That's why I'm excited about what we have here." Veteran depth is present at every position, a luxury the Chargers were not afforded in 2011. Injuries to Phillips and English forced situational pass rushers like the since-departed Travis LaBoy and Barnes to play away from their strengths. Johnson, by contrast, allows others to play to theirs. He's skilled at setting an edge on the strong side, stopping the run and covering well against the pass. Whether the others can provide dynamic play off of Johnson's foundation remains to be seen. The linebackers are focused on growing together and into established roles as training camp progresses. "We have a bunch of guys who are football players first," Phillips said. "They've done a great job around here of getting guys who want to hit and practice hard and, most of all, guys that love winning football games above all else. "It's about building a foundation. You can't win a game when there aren't any on the schedule. Right now, we need to win on the practice field. This is a six-month deal, and we need to make the most of each phase and build upon what we've done in the past."