Peruse this week’s top edge rushers in TheMMQB’s Pressure Points in the chart below, and you’ll see the usual suspects: Mario Williams, Justin Tuck, John Abraham, Chandler Jones, Von Miller, Ryan Kerrigan and Michael Bennett.
One name, however, sticks out: Chargers outside linebacker Thomas Keiser. And not only did he have a good week, he tied the Bills’ Williams for Top Edge Rusher of Week 7 thanks to his two unassisted sacks and five hurries in a victory over the Jaguars.
It’s been a long road for Keiser. He left Stanford a year early during the lockout and didn’t get drafted in 2011. He finally hooked on with the Panthers, initially made the 53-man roster only to be cut and signed to the practice squad two days later. There was an eight-game appearance in ’11 (four sacks), before Keiser went on injured reserve early in ’12, and was waived by Carolina in May. Keiser was on the Chargers’ practice squad to start this season, and signed to the roster on Oct. 1. Three weeks later, Keiser was starring in a victory against Jacksonville.
“I don’t (have any regrets leaving school early),” he said Wednesday. “As you can imagine, I was asked that question a lot during the lockout when I was sitting there as a UDFA and I could have been playing at Stanford. When it came down it, all I wanted was an opportunity to make it in the NFL. I knew I had what it takes to make it, I just actually had to go get a spot to prove it. I’ve just tried to make that case ever since then.”
Against the Jaguars, Keiser used surprising speed with his 6-4, 260-pound frame to repeatedly beat inexperienced Jaguars left tackle Cameron Bradfield and make life difficult for quarterback Chad Henne.
“His technique and effort on Sunday was unbelievable,” said Chargers end Corey Liuget, our Unsung Interior Rusher of Week 7. “He had some nice pressures too, but on his two sacks, he just flat-out beat that tackle’s butt that whole entire game.”
The Chargers have notched two of their most impressive performances in back-to-back wins against the Colts and Jaguars despite having a depleted front seven. Dwight Freeney (injured reserve), Melvin Ingram (PUP list) and Jarret Johnson (missed two games) have been out. Donald Butler is nursing an injury at inside linebacker. Yet the Chargers keep progressing thanks to depth players like Keiser, inside linebacker Andrew Gachkar and safety Jahleel Addae.
“A lot of us who are making plays on the defense right now, were not starters to begin the season, we’re more role players, but now we’ve had to step up in more significant roles and have been trying to let the defense not skip a beat,” Keiser said. “There’s no consolation like, ‘Oh, he’s just a backup, it’s OK if he doesn’t do as well.’ There are full expectations that you make all the plays that the starter would make.”
Liuget said that attitude stems from Johnson.
“Once Dwight went down, Jarrett stepped up and was like, ‘Hey, we don’t have a guy in this room that has 100 sacks or a Hall of Fame resume, but I’ll be damned if we’re not going to be one of the most dominant front sevens in the NFL,’” Liuget said. “We told him we had his back because he’s a guy that works hard every day and makes everyone else better around him. That’s why our depth players are doing such an excellent job.”
It also helps to have a third-year player like Liuget (pronounced LEE-jit), the team’s first-round pick in ’11, continuing to assert himself as one of the most overlooked players in the league. The team’s defensive MVP last year shows up every week, including against the Jaguars when his unassisted sack, three hurries and two sack assists tied for second in interior rusher points.
“I’ve definitely put the work in, the time in and everything I need to do to be one of the elite players. It’s just that time,” Liuget said. “Third year coming around, I feel great, I feel no pressure and I’m just out there relaxed playing football. My coach said just keep cutting it loose. It’s just time for me to finally meet everyone in America and for my team and everyone in the NFL to know this Corey Liuget, No. 94 for the San Diego Chargers, is a damn good football player.”
Liuget showed that, not only on his sack on a screen pass, but on the two plays where he caused sacks by teammates.
On the first, he (yellow circle) beat left guard Will Rackley with quickness and a hand move to get on Henne (Liuget actually got a piece of Henne and should be credited with half a sack), and force the quarterback into teammate Larry English.
“I’ve watched that over and over trying to get credit for the full sack, but I knew I had to get off the ball and make a play,” Liuget said. “I just tried to bend the corner. He grabbed me and I just laid out to trip up Henne’s feet, and he went to stumbling and Larry got the rest of the sack.”
On the second sack assist, Liuget (again, yellow circle) walked veteran center Brad Meester back 4 yards, which caused Henne to run into linebacker Reggie Walker for the sack.
“I knew they hadn’t scored a touchdown all year at home so they were not going to get one on us then,” Liuget said. “I knew I could bull rush him back into the quarterback, and I knew I had Reggie spying on him and the edge guys there as well. With that defensive call, it was great and allowed me to take advantage of the center. I drove him back and the quarterback had nowhere to run. Reggie stepped up and made a play.”
Head over to page 2 to see the rest of this week’s awards.