Melvin Ingram’s return from knee injury sparks Chargers

Lindsay H. Jones.

San Diego Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) celebrates with teammates Reggie Walker (52) and Manti Te'o (50) after intercepting a pass  against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on Jan. 5, 2014.
  • Second-year linebacker Melvin Ingram has had a steadily growing impact on the Chargers defense.
  • CINCINNATI — How many sane people would want to be reminded of the worst day of their past year dozens of times every day?

    Maybe just Melvin Ingram.

    Ingram, the San Diego Chargers’ second-year outside linebacker, pulled out his iPhone inside a happy visitors’ locker room at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, punched in his pass code and revealed the image that’s been on his home screen for more than seven months.

    It is the screen shot of a story from May 14, the headline proclaiming Ingram had suffered a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament during an offseason practice.

    “It reminds you of how it can be taken from you at moment,” Ingram told USA TODAY Sports.

    The injury could have been devastating, both for Ingram, who was poised to become a starter after being a role player as a rookie, and for the Chargers, who had big plans for the 2012 first-round pick to replace Shaun Phillips as the focal point of their pass rush.

    Ingram had surgery soon after the injury, and when he awoke he started a mental countdown of, how many months, how many hours and how many seconds it would take before he was cleared to play.

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    Ingram was off the physically unable to perform list and back on the practice field for the Chargers on Nov. 20 — six months and six days after he went down during a pass rush drill against rookie tackle D.J. Fluker.

    He made his 2013 debut Dec. 8 against the New York Giants, 208 days after the injury.

    The Chargers have not lost since Ingram rejoined the defense, and he had a breakthrough performance Sunday in a 27-10 win vs. The Cincinnati Bengals, menacing quarterback Andy Dalton. Ingram, credited with a quarterback hit, was part of a pass rush that sacked Dalton three times, and he picked off a pass in the fourth quarter.

    “It shows what kind of athlete he is and how hard he’s worked. To come back and play at the caliber he’s played at, that’s unheard-of,” said outside linebacker Jarret Johnson.

    Ingram was reluctant to take credit for his interception, saying he was desperate to make a play after blowing his assignment and missing a tackle on the prior play, a 17-yard catch-and-run by Giovani Bernard.

    Those plays — the gaffe followed by a brilliant defensive play — are a reminder to Ingram’s teammates of his potential as well as his youth.

    “He still needs to grow up a little bit, but he’s a great kid. His energy and his passion, it feeds everyone else. To get someone like that back, it’s huge,” safety Eric Weddle said. “What a way to get your first interception. We just have to keep on him, stay on him, keep pushing him in the right direction. He’ll be a good one.”.

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    Ingram started two games last season and has started two of his five games this year, including Sunday’s playoff game. The Chargers have gradually increased his workload, from 14 snaps in his debut against the Giants to 57 of 81 defensive plays (70%) against the Bengals.

    “The day I got hurt, I knew I’d be back,” Ingram said. “It’s all about your will, all about how you’re going to push yourself to get back. God had a good plan for me.”.

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