Chargers’ 2020 success could come down to defense

COSTA MESA – On paper, the Los Angeles Chargers look rock solid on the defensive side of the ball. The Chargers’ secondary unit, one that now includes veteran Chris Harris Jr., is one of the best in the NFL.

Even with free safety Derwin James missing significant time during the 2020 NFL season, and perhaps the entire year because of a meniscus tear to his right knee, the Chargers are plenty loaded on the back end of their defense to cause some real problems for opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers.



Casey Hayward Jr., Rayshawn Jenkins, and second-year payer Nasir Adderley round out a very talented group of ballhawks for a Chargers team aimed to create misery for any offense.

With that said, the Chargers’ front seven of Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, Linval Joseph, Justin Jones, Kenneth Murray, Denzel Perryman, and Kyzir White look to match their teammates in the secondary in making Gus Bradley’s unit a real formidable one to contend with. Last year, the Chargers gave up 1,805 yards on the ground, which projects to just a shade over 112 yards per contest.

Bosa thinks the defensive unit now has the right pieces in place to upgrade its run-stuffing play from 2019.

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Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97) at work during training camp. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

“Our linebackers are playing great right now,” said Bosa, who signed a multi-year extension with the team this summer. “Obviously, the addition of Linval in there is probably the best addition you can add to help your run defense because he’s an absolute brick wall in there. It takes two men every time to move him at all. So, he’s had such a great impact so far that I’m excited to see him in action.”

Listed at 6-foot-4, 329 pounds, Joseph is the dominant run-stuffer the Chargers needed to better compliment Bosa and Ingram on the edges. In the last six seasons, Joseph starred on Minnesota Vikings’ top-rated defense. Prior to playing for the Vikings, Joseph spent four years with the New York Giants. During training camp, Joseph talked about the opportunity to play with this Chargers defense.

“We have a good group of guys,” said Joseph, now in his 11th season in the NFL. “Everybody’s young. Everybody’s excited. Everybody’s hungry. And once you match all those things together, and bring a couple of guys in that has a little bit of experience with winning, and knows what it takes, and if they’ll listen, we can go really, really far.”

The two-time Pro Bowler said he has a lot to offer the Chargers.

“I just want to consider myself a playmaker,” Joseph said. “I’m trying to come out here…do my job, make plays…teach everybody how to make plays and how to do it the right way. Right now, I’m trying to lead and help this team make it to the top.”

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Linval Joseph (95) is a new addition to the Los Angeles Chargers defensive front line this season. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Like all the other defenses around the NFL, the biggest possible challenge for Joseph, Bosa, and the other Chargers defensive stalwarts is how to effectively put a lid on opposing offenses without having gone through the normal training camp routine of tackling in practice. The tackling issue considering this year’s training camp was pretty much voided out because of safety protocols related to COVID-19.

Bosa is not too worried that being an overwhelming issue.

“I guess we really won’t see that until after the first game,” Bosa said. “It could, maybe a factor, but [in] individual drills we’re always working our technique and tackling, so I don’t think it will be too much of a problem.”

Bradley said the tackling thing simply comes down to the basics.

“It’s really going to come back to fundamental football,” Bradley said. “How do you get off blocks? How do you tackle? Are you in your right spots where you’re supposed to be? Those things play such a part. We really try to emphasize that this year more than ever about the tackling and the leverage, and how we’re attacking plays because of that. You know when you haven’t had any games and not a lot of live tackling, you’ve got your fingers crossed for how you’re going to go in. You’re hoping all those techniques and all those drill work opportunities you’ve had in training camp, really show up.”

Besides making their run defense better, the Chargers might be able to win a few more ballgames if they were to improve on their turnover differential. In 2019, the Chargers accumulated 11 interceptions and recovered just three fumbles in 16 games. The point differential for the Chargers last season was negative 17, placing Los Angeles second to last in that category.

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Newcomer Chris Harris Jr. (25) is expected to give the Los Angeles Chargers another lockdown cornerback. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

“I think that s a defense the emphasis is always on the ball, getting the ball out, whether it’s stripping the ball, picking it off whatever,” Bosa said. “Everyone is always talking about run, run, reach as a D-line, getting the ball out. If you watch practice, the D (defensive) backs and everybody on defense is pestering the running back all the way down the field, punching at the ball 24/7. So, it’s a mindset that we always have. That’s how you win games as a defense. We definitely have to take the ball away more. It’s definitely been an emphasis.”

Besides the addition of Joseph to the starting defensive unit, Bradley and the Chargers have inserted Adderley and rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. to the first team lineup.

During a training camp press conference, Murray, who was selected by the Chargers in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft with the No. 23 overall pick, said he is getting up to the speed on how things move at the NFL level.

“I think it’s a little bit faster,” said Murray, a former star at the University of Oklahoma. “I think overall for me, I think day by day I feel like it gets slower as I get more comfortable in the scheme.”



Hayward, in his ninth season in the league and a two-time Pro Bowler himself, likes the potential he sees from this defensive unit.

“I feel like this defense can be special,” Hayward said. “We’ve got the highest-paid defensive player in the league in Joey (Bosa). I feel like he’s one of the top five defensive players in this league. To have a guy like that around on the team… then you add linebackers…we’ve added some linebackers; we’ve kept some linebackers with a lot of experience. Drue (Tranquill) and Denzel (Perryman), I expect those guys to take another step from last year. I know those guys are hungry.”

“And then on the back end, we’re just as hungry. We’ve got some really good players in the back end. I keep forgetting upfront,” Hayward added. “We got some dawgs. We added Linval (Joseph). If you see him, he’s like a truck. So there’s no pushing him up the middle. And Uchenna (Nwosu)..he’s growing. He’s becoming a really good player. Watching him, he’s been dominating the whole camp. And then you’ve got Melvin (Ingram).”

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