COSTA MESA, CA (News4usonline) – There’s a lot of good things that Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill can build on from the defensive unit that he inherited. The makeup of the Chargers defensive unit has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL.
One of their star players didn’t have an issue admitting this fact.
“I feel good, I feel like we have a good group,” Chargers inside linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. said after Saturday’s training camp practice. “I feel like we have every piece that we need to be a dominant defense in the NFL. Like I said, it just comes back to the little things and us taking it to who we want to take it to.
“I think that starts with us as inside linebackers,” Murray added. “I try to tell the inside linebackers every day that the defense will only go as high as we take it. We have to set the tone. We have to come out here and be the pace-makers for the defense.”
Setting the tone comes from the playmakers. The Chargers have plenty of them on the defensive side of the ball. Murray, who seems destined to be a superstar in a league filled with ballers, is that one playmaker that Hill and the Chargers are happy to have on their side.
A second-year player from Oklahoma, Murray played well enough in his rookie campaign that the Chargers could afford to allow veteran Denzel Perryman walk via free agency. Perryman signed a two-year deal with the Carolina Panthers.
Murray, playing all 16 games in his first year in the NFL, recorded 101 tackles, 62 of them solo. After an offseason in which he had surgery on his right shoulder, Murray is ready to put the pads on and getting back to knocking people around.
“Well, that’s real football,” Murray said. “Point. Blank. Period. I mean, I’ve been waiting for this. For me, to be honest, it’s kind of hard for me to practice without pads on because I’m such a physical and aggressive guy. I always want to put my hands on somebody. I always want to hit somebody, so it’s kind of hard doing it without pads. Now, I can kind of just cut it loose. That’s what I’m going to do on Monday, is just cut it loose.”
Hill likes what he sees out of Murray so far.
“Through minicamp, he wasn’t cleared just yet,” Hill said. “But, since getting him out here in training camp and letting him go, I can see why he’s that guy. He can close from sideline to sideline. Even in short areas, he shows an initial burst. He’s a guy that’s going to erase a lot of plays for us. We’re glad that we have Kenneth Murray here.”
If the first couple of days are indicators of what could be expected from Hill’s unit this season, then energy and commitment would be at the forefront.
“The energy and the amount of volume that we’ve been able to get in,” Hill said after the team’s first Saturday practice during training camp. “We’ve already entered in the red zone and third-down [installations].
“Today was a good mix to get them all in; first, second and third down, then move into the red zone on the final period,” Hill continued. “We’re maximizing our time in the meeting rooms and trying to get it on the field, and if not on the field in practice, then making sure that we get it in the walk-throughs.”
If you think about it, with edge rusher Joey Bosa, Murray, and All-Pro safety Derwin James, Hill and the Chargers have some cornerstones to build around for a dominant defense.
Consider that Chargers head coach Brandon Staley got a short look into what a dominant defense should look like. He brought that mindset and philosophy over to the Chargers. As the leader of the No. 1 defense with the Rams, Staley had the luxury of coaching Aaron Donald and shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
While much of the focus last season and during the offseason, including coming into training camp has been about ballyhooed play of second-year quarterback Justin Herbert, Hill and the Chargers are looking to be better than their No. 23 overall team defense ranking last season.
In contrast, the Rams, under Staley’s guidance, had the best overall defense in the league. That feels like a lot of pressure, but Hill said he’s soaking up the knowledge and learning from his boss.
“It’s been great,” Hill said about working under Staley. “The great thing about this staff is that he keeps it open. We’re all collectively in this together. He never makes it want to feel like anyone is separated. That’s how we collaborate with everything. It’s been a great experience. It’s helping me get up to his speed with the things that he did over with the Rams. Trying to stay close to him, going through the calls and checks to make sure that if the mic is on and I have to make the calls, that I’m ready to roll.”
Having James and the league’s No. 9 passing defense should help immensely in regards to what Hill plans to do on that side of the ball. The Chargers are loaded in the defensive backfield with James, Nasir Adderley, Chris Harris Jr., Michael Davis, with depth provided by Asante Samuel Jr., Alohi Gilman and Brandon Facyson.
If it is possible for the defensive backfield to improve, Herbert, in a direct way, will help them do just that. After all, Herbert didn’t become the NFL AP Rookie Offensive Player of the Year for nothing.
On his way to throwing for 4,366 yards and 31 touchdowns, Herbert broke all kinds of passing marks in 2020. Without question, practicing and making throws against a Top 10 secondary like the Chargers have, did wonders for Herbert.
The same can be said likewise. Hill believes that going up against Herbert in training camp will only serve to make his defense even more prepared once the season comes around.
“There are not a ton of quarterbacks that we’re going to go against that can make all of those throws,” Hill said. “There are some good arms in this league, but we know, based on scheme, that there are some things that might not be in their playbook. The playbook is full for Justin, so we’re getting to see a lot of throws.
“It’s giving our guys a chance to learn how to break on these different throws that may come from one side of the field and go to the opposite, or, being on a scramble and throwing on the run,” Hill also stated. “It’s allowing us to see all of these throws. That’s what we want to do. We want to be prepared for everything once the season hits. No better way for us to get it than going against Justin every day.”
Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline