The Chargers defense looks pretty similar from last season on paper, but could look drastically different on the field. There are new key players that gives Gus Bradley the opportunity to change how he runs his defense. I do not expect the 4-3/Nickel defense to change all that much, but what I do expect is more aggressive defensive calls, leading to more turnovers. The Chargers had the least turnovers of any team last season. That could change with more pressure on opposing offenses. Let’s take a look at all three levels.
What Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram do on the defensive line really drives how the rest of the defense plays. Last season, offensive lines only had to focus on the rush from the edges, and this lead to a lack in consistent pressure and limited the defensive ends. As great as the two defensive ends are, getting double teamed play after play isn’t great for their production. There was also very little interior pressure. When offensive coordinators can expect only four rushers play after play, it allows them slide protection to give them an advantage. It’s why players like Drew Lock and Ryan Tannehille were able to be productive last season.
Gus Bradley has said that he expects the team to be more aggressive at defensive play calling. This should mean more blitzing, which should create one-on-one matchups for Bosa and Ingram. Uchenna Nwosu could be that blitzing linebacker off the edge and be used as a rotational player to keep Ingram fresh late in the year. You also get some blitz ability from Kenneth Murray’s the interior. Jerry Tillery now has a full season under his belt and Justin Jones has shown flashes that warrant some excitement. With a strong camp and each player fighting to be the starter, the competition should be something to be excited about. They will be relied on for pressure at the 3-tech spot.
Lastly, Linval Joseph is a massive upgrade over Brandon Mebane. While I admit I am extremely excited having Joseph, I also realize that Joseph should be hitting a deep decline very soon. The hope is that Joseph can see limited reps as a rotational player to keep him fresh late into the season. This should mean a reunion with Damian Square. The run defense for the Chargers starts at the nose and both Joseph and Square are great options to compliment each other.
The Chargers have a very good problem at along the second level of the defense. There are 5 players who could be fighting for two primary spots. The Chargers play a lot of nickel, which means 2 primary linebackers. Rookie Kenneth Murray should be talented enough to become the starter right away, likely as the Will. He is also the the best blitzing linebacker between the tackles. That last spot though could see lots of rotation. The starter as the Sam or Mike (in base sets) will really depend on the down and distance situation.
Denzel Perryman is the incumant, and while he might be the best run defender, he has been a liability in coverage. He may start the year on first and second down and short-yardage situations, but he will need to give way on obvious passing situations. Then you have Drue Tranquil, Kyzir White and Nick Vigil. All three players are primarily used in pass-coverage, with Vigil offering the most against the run. The rotation will be used to keep players healthy. These young players will also make up a big part of special teams.
The Cornerback room is nicely built with a lot of parts that will move around. Casey Hayward is one of the most under-rated All-Pros that you’ll see. He will follow number-1 wide receivers next season. Then you should see Michael Davis opposite and he will play outside on number twos. The Chargers signed Chris Harris Jr. to play primarily in the slot, but I’m willing to bet that you see some game plans that push Harris wide and puts Desmond King in the slot. This could create matchup problems for offenses, especially when the team is playing man in the red zone. King will move around the most, as he has flaxability to play slot, dime LB and there’s talk of him playing both safety roles.
The camp battle I’m most excited for is between Nasir Adderley and Rayshawn Jenkins to be the single high safety. I’ll give the edge to Adderley who has had nearly a year to get healthy and showed the most range in the preseason. Lastly, Derwin James is fully healthy and should be a favorite as a Comeback Player of the Year, after a foot injury cost him most of last season. He is the ultimate chess piece to come off the edge, drop in coverage or simply spy. Rodrick Teamer and Alohi Gilman likely will be limited to special teams early on.
This unit is very versatile and very deep at almost all positions. Based off Gus Bradley’s track record, Nickel should be the primary defense you see every week, but the team has the players to play 5-2, 4-3, Nickel, Dime and even 46 depending on the game plan that week. You should also see more blitz’s from Kenneth Murray, Uchenna Nwosu, who ever is the nickel corner and Derwin James. There will be lots of rotation of linebackers. The strength in coverage for this defense should still primarily be zone with some cover 3 man concepts, but we could also see more pure man and cover 2. I guess we won’t know for sure until we start seeing clips on Hard Knocks this summer.