COSTA MESA, CALIFORNIA – This may be the year that Uchenna Nwosu finally breaks through the starring role barrier for the Los Angeles Chargers. In his third season with the Chargers, Nwosu may now be in a place to really excel at what he does best as opposed to just playing the game and being a survivor on a 53-man roster.
What Nwosu does best is bring the heat, something the Chargers have been known to do thanks to the hard-charging playing style of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram as bookend edge rushers. Nwosu is now expected to be that third wheel for the Chargers in their quest to disrupt the offensive flow of their opponents.
Nwosu has always played great at getting into the backfield. As an outside linebacker at USC, Nwosu was a pass-rushing terror for the Trojans before being picked up by the Chargers in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Since then, Nwosu has played well enough to get in all 16 games the past two seasons, registering 57 total tackles and 5.5 sacks.
Pedestrian numbers if you’re a full-time starter. Nwosu has started just six games in the last two seasons, so those statistics show that he is a playmaker. If there are any question marks about Nwosu’s ability to make plays you might want to look at the early part of his highlight reel when he stripped Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to preserve a Chargers playoff win in his rookie season.
But now that Nwosu has been given the green light to play downhill from the defensive end (LEO) position instead of trying to shed off blockers as an outside linebacker, the switch to being a certified pass rusher could benefit the Chargers in a big way.
“We brought him in as kind of that outside linebacker and also that rusher…dual role. And when he was playing outside linebacker, his weight…where should he be at so that he can do both; well, he’s pretty locked in now to being that LEO for us,” Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “And his weight…I think he’s like 250 (pounds), so he’s put on really, really good weight. Up to this point, he’s been playing really fast…We’ve got our fingers crossed with him. We need him to take the next step, and I think it’ll happen just by him being locked into one position.”
That position on the defensive line requires Nwosu to put on added muscle weight to help him go toe-to-toe with all those big offensive linemen he’s going to come across. If there were any concerns about his weight and playing at the “down” position, Bradley said that’s up to the individual.
“Everybody’s different,” Bradley said. “Guys play at 245 (pounds) there. And guys have played at 260. So it’s really on an individual basis. But as long as he’s got the strength to hold up against the run and quickness and speed to rush the passer…that’s that Leo position. It’s a guy that has an opportunity to where he can be an undersized defensive end.”
Playing at the LEO spot fits with what he likes to do, said Nwosu.
“I feel great at this position,” Nwosu said after a training camp practice. “This is what I do; get off the ball, rush the passer, and just be explosive, be disruptive…so it fits my strong suit perfectly. I’m happy to be in this position. I feel very comfortable this being my third year in this scheme…got a lot of practice at this position under my belt so I feel comfortable going into this year.”
A couple of things that have assisted Nwosu in getting more comfortable at his current position was flipping his diet and adding up to five pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame. Last season, Nwosu said he played at around 250 pounds. Those extra five pounds boosted his weight to a solid 255 pounds.
“I changed up my diet, much more cleaner eating, healthier eating,” Nwosu said. “One of my friends (former UCLA and current Atlanta Dream star Monique Billings) that plays in the WNBA, her father is actually a trainer, so I’ve been doing a lot of offseason training with him and getting my body right.”
That 2018 NFL Draft was an interesting one by the Chargers. The first four picks by the Chargers were on the defensive side of the ball. Those moves, including picking up Nwosu with the No. 48 selection, turned out well in the Chargers’ favor.
The Chargers drafted safety Derwin James out of Florida State with the No. 17 pick in the first round. Nwosu would follow in the next round. Defensive tackle Justin Jones out of North Carolina State (No.84 overall), and then West Virginia’s Kyzir White (No. 119 overall).
James has turned into an all-world free safety. Jones is finally emerging as a force on the defensive line. And White has played well at times. If Nwosu is able to come into his own as expected, the core of the Chargers defense in years to come would have been solidified by that 2018 draft.
The one way Nwosu can meet those expectations is for the former Narbonne High School star to utilize his ability to run by people. Nwosu said he looks forward to using that speed motor of his to run down anyone occupying space in the offensive backfield.
“I’m very excited to rush the passer,” Nwosu said. “Like I said, this is what I did in college. It fits my strong suit just going and not thinking as much and just playing fast.”
The Chargers are expected to field a superb defense this season. Probably more than superb. Besides Bosa and Ingram, and James, the Chargers defense is loaded with playmakers-from shutdown cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Casey Hayward to newcomer Linval Joseph to rookie Kenneth Murray to the steady play of Rayshawn Jenkins.
So this unit has a chance to be special. Statistically, bolstered by their No. 5-rated defensive secondary, the Chargers ranked No. 6 in overall team defense in 2019. The emergence of Nwosu has the potential to make this unit even better.
“As you guys can see, there’s a lot of talent,” Nwosu said. “Not even just the defensive line, but in the back end we added Chris Harris Jr., who’s All-Pro, Pro Bowler-type nickel for us, corner; he’s been in the league a lot of years, a lot of experience, been on championship-winning teams, and been other great defenses, so brings he that leadership role. You know Derwin James is back. He’s healthy..can’t wait to see what he does this year. We’ve got Rayshawn (Jenkins) coming off a good season last year…Casey Hayward has been one of the top corners in the league. Linebackers, we added Kenneth Murray, first-rounder from Oklahoma, excited to see him play. We’ve got veterans like Denzel (Perryman). Drue (Tranquill) had a great rookie season last year. So, we’ve got a lot of key pieces and we can’t wait to let them loose on Sundays.”
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. Dennis has written about social justice, civil rights, education, politics, and crime. He covers the NFL, NBA, MLB, as well as other sports. Dennis earned a journalism degree with a minor in criminal justice from Howard University. The real HU!! “I’m just a guy who enjoys being a storyteller.”