This off-season the highest priority for the Los Angeles Chargers was generally considered the right tackle position. A very close second priority was fixing the run defense, which was a massive liability last year and ranked among the worst in the league. While the Chargers seemed to be content to mostly run with what they already had for the right tackle position, they went for more of a complete and total revamp with the run defense – and shored up plenty of depth as well in case of injuries or flame-outs. Let’s take a look at what all the Chargers have done to fix this issue, which is more than just the two big signings they made early in free agency.
Breaking Down the Revamped Los Angeles Chargers Run Defense
Two Big Defensive Line Signings
The Chargers wasted no time in signing two big names to start on the defensive line. The first of these was Austin Johnson, who had been with the New York Giants the last two years. He had been known for his run-stopping ability but had also been able to get to the quarterback a bit, finishing with a career-high 3.5 sacks in 2021, giving him some potential utility beyond stuffing the run.
Then in an even bigger signing, they brought in Sebastian Joseph-Day from the Los Angeles Rams, who had also been a solid defensive/nose tackle with his former team. The only concern with him is that he only played seven games in the regular season last year due to injury (though he did return in time for the Super Bowl). On the plus side, he has worked with Brandon Staley before when the latter was the defensive coordinator for the Rams, giving them some familiarity and likely a big part of why Joseph-Day came to the Chargers.
The Chargers were not content to stop there with the defensive line additions. They also drafted Otito Ogbonnia in the fifth round of the Draft, and they will be hoping to have gained a late-round steal. They also signed Morgan Fox, who should be mainly a depth piece but also played under Staley’s 2020 Rams defense – thus giving some degree of familiarity.
Also, while the edge rushers’ primary job is to rush the passer, they will obviously help out on running plays too. Khalil Mack is obviously an upgrade over Uchenna Nwosu (and he was not even one of the problems on defense last year), but there is also Kyle Van Noy being added as a depth piece to consider. The inside linebackers did not change much as that does not seem to be a critical part of Staley’s defense, but they did add Troy Reeder as a depth option – another former Rams player from Staley’s time there.
Most of the defensive line from last year got replaced – even Justin Jones, who was easily the best run-stopping lineman on the team last year – but there are a couple of returning members who may have a role in this defense. The biggest wildcard here is Jerry Tillery, who so far has been a bit of a bust given that he was a first-round draft pick. The ability is there, but he’s been far too hit-or-miss – with too many misses – to be considered reliable.
They also brought back Christian Covington, who has been a depth piece but did well when he was out on the field. There will also be returning players like Forrest Merrill, Breiden Fehoko, and Joe Gaziano fighting for time as depth pieces – or even for roster spots.
The Chargers have clearly gone to great lengths to improve their run defense, recognizing that it was deficient last year. They went to great lengths to improve their defense in general (as evidenced by adding Mack and J.C. Jackson), but they made sure to toughen up the defensive line as well. The only real question mark is Jerry Tillery (or whoever takes the third slot on the line), but the talent of everyone else around him should make up for his deficiencies – and hopefully, in the final year of his rookie deal, he will finally take some steps forward and show more consistently what he is capable of.
Among other things from that final Week 18 game against the Las Vegas Raiders, fans remain haunted by that final Josh Jacobs run that set them up for a game-winning field goal. With the defensive line and edge rushers all having improved, the chances of that repeating are now fortunately looking much lower.
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