Chargers camp abuzz with reckoning of a new defense

COSTA MESA (News4usonline) – Monday, the Chargers put on the pads for the first time in training camp. In so many ways, it wads a relief of sorts. And for the first time, Chargers head coach Brandon Staley was able to got to see his players compete.

“Really liked our pace,” said Staley. “Any time that you’re in pads for the very first time, I think, as a coach, you’re just making sure that the operation goes smoothly and that everyone understands the parameters of the practice. When you put pads on, there are different rules of engagement, so just making sure that both sides of the ball understand that.

“I felt like that was a highlight for me in practice —not just the way we competed, but how we competed; fierce but fair, and making sure that we respect each other as competitors,” Staley continued. “Being brand new, I don’t want to take anything for granted. We wanted to make sure that we defined it well for our players so that they could go out and play well.”

Aug. 3, 2021-Los Angeles Chargers running back Larry Rountree III (35) makes this catch in front of linebacker Kyzir White (44) during training camp practice at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Certain things for Staley are brand new. Others are not. As a first-year head coach there are certain responsibilities that Staley has to worry about that he didn’t have to be concerned with as an assistant coach. For now, that is a good thing for the Chargers. It’s good in that after four years of being under a different coaching philosophy, the Chargers are revved up to turn the page for a new beginning.

Staley spent three years as an assistant coach for the Denver Broncos before leading the Los Angeles Rams defense as defensive coordinator in 2020. Being fresh and new has its advantages. One of them is being the new person in the room. Already the vibe of the players appear to be very welcoming of Staley’s approach to coaching. Not only that, Staley has earned respect from his players.

“I mean, to be honest with you, he’s probably one of the best coaches I’ve had in 12 years,” defensive lineman Linval Joseph said. “He’s a family man. He loves football. He wants the best for his players and wants you to be an overall good person.”

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, following training camp practice, fourth-year defensive lineman Justin Jones likes what he sees so far from Staley and his coaching staff.

Chargers camp
Aug. 3, 2021-Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Dru Tranquill (49) can’t quite get the reach to knock the ball out of the hands of running back Austin Ekeler (30) during a training camp practice. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

“I’m excited to see what’s to come,” Jones said. “What we’re doing on defense and offense is going to be scary for a lot of other guys in the league. They haven’t seen anything like this. They haven’t seen the speed we have in our defense. They’re allowing the guys to be themselves and allowing guys to show their defensive personalities through the scheme. Being able to make certain plays and being able to showcase their abilities, it’s going to be exciting to see. It’s going to be really scary for a lot of teams.”

So with the pads on for the first time, both the offense and defense got after one another pretty good. Mark Webb may have gotten the best out of everybody. Drafted by the Chargers in the seventh round with the No. 241 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Webb put in a strong bid to make the team with two of the four interceptions the defense came up with for the day.

Both of Webb’s picks came against starting quarterback Justin Herbert. Staley liked what he saw from Webb, but said there’s still plenty of room for the rookie from the University of Georgia to improve.

“I’m encouraged by his performance,” Staley said of Webb after the team’s Aug. 2 practice. “Not satisfied, yet. He’s still brand new. I think he has flashed that he belongs on the NFL field. If you just look at him, he looks like he belongs on the NFL field. We’re trying to train him at three different positions. He’s handled it mentally. We’re putting a lot on him because we expect a lot from him. It’s not easy, but he’s shown the aptitude to handle it athletically and mentally. He’s at the beginning, but he’s shown some resilience here. We expect him to continue to improve.”

You don’t become a head in the NFL just you like a couple of wow moments. Staley’s methodical approach to doling out celebratory comments is not limited to Webb. Veterans. Rookies. It’s makes no difference. While he is a high energy guy, Staley is extremely measured in heaping out praises. That goes for a defensive unit that clearly looks energetic and has been flying around the field.

“We can play better, for sure,” Staley said. “We expect to play better. I think our guys intent has been good. I like where their minds and hearts are. I think our execution can be better. We have high expectations for them and high standards of performance.

Aug. 3, 2021-In pursuit: Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Dru Tranquill (49) gets after it as running back Justin Jackson (22) looks for the pass. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

“I think we’re kind of at the beginning of them really learning exactly how we want to play,” Staley also stated “But, it’s been a really fun group to coach. I know they come out on the grass and they are willing to compete and learn. I think when things haven’t gone our way, if there have been mistakes, they keep it moving and showing that resilience that’s really important as a defender and defensive unit. I’m excited to continue that with those guys.”

Staley has every reason to be excited. His defense is young, athletic and fast. Oh yeah, they hit people, too. What could make this bunch a special group could be the way they change up their looks against opponents. Renaldo Hill is the team’s defensive coordinator. However, the Chargers’ blueprint for defensive success don’t fall too far from the tree.

That tree is Staley, who ran the NFL’s No. 1 defense last season. Jones said the team’s revamped defensive philosophy has brought about a new buzz to the unit.

“It allows a team the inability to adjust to what we’re doing,” Jones said. “It keeps them on their toes, which means offensive linemen are on their toes. They’re not going to know who’s blitzing — who’s coming and who’s not coming. We’re showing two different people on the line, we’re pulling guys away, we’re bringing guys all the time. We’re never a stand-still defense and that’s going to make us really hard to beat.”

All this excitement about the team’s defense is appreciated from players on the other side of the ball, although they’re the ones that have to face the new-look unit in practice.

“It’s a pain in the butt, man,” Chargers center Corey Linsley said. “You have to be on your stuff. He brings a ton of looks. They look like the same looks, but they’re not the same looks. [Head Coach Brandon Staley] brings a ton of blitz and twists, so you have to keep your head up. The biggest thing is playing with great fundamentals. His defense makes you think, No. 1.

“I know for the offensive line, the quarterback, it makes all of us think. You have to be on your stuff,” Linsley added. “Then, for the offensive line, it’s playing with great fundamentals because you know they can bring a ton of different stuff out of the same looks and a ton of different looks for the same stuff. It’s very complex. It was the No. 1 defense in the NFL last year. They’re a great group.”

Featured Image Caption: Aug. 2, 2021-Los Angeles Chargers training camp practice at Jack Hammett Sports Complex. Photo By Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline