On Sunday, July 30, 2017, the Los Angeles Chargers opened training camp, thus raising the curtain on their 2017 season. Optimism is high and the collective eyes of Chargers fans will be glued to the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa, CA. The Bolts look for improvement on both sides of the ball. Without further ado, here is a brief prospectus on the 2017 Chargers Defense.
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Defensive Line and Linebackers
New Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will likely move from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense, at least in theory. Bradley has had success in both Jacksonville (as head coach) and in Seattle (as defensive coordinator) in that system. Luckily, he sees the personnel in Los Angeles to recreate that success.
In 2016, the defensive line play was average-to-above average in every statistical category.
In stopping the run, the team was 2nd in tackles-for-loss percentage, 6th in yards-per-carry, 14th in run percentage and 17th in fumble percentage. They also proved that they could get to the quarterback better than half the teams in the league, ranking 15th in sack percentage.
The good news for Bradley and the Chargers is that they are returning every significant name that you could imagine on the line of scrimmage. In terms of edge defenders, the team boasts an explosive pair of edge defenders in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Fans can expect big years from them. After that, the projection is a bit more challenging. Kyle Emanuel and Jeremiah Attaochu will face adjustments playing in Bradley’s system, and it will be interesting to see if their progress can be overtly visible as we get deeper into camp.
On the defensive interior, Corey Luiget, Tenny Palepoi, Damion Square and Brandon Mebane have all returned. This should promote stability here, as they were the Chargers’ primary linemen in 2016. This unit finished second in tackles-for-loss percentage and sixth in yards per carry. If they can exceed that performance (or even re-create it), the Chargers will again be a force at the line of scrimmage, this season.
While the switch to a 4-3 defense seems to be a logical fit for the Chargers, it is not without its questions. Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman should be full-time starters, and continue to play off the ball, as well as in nickel looks. However, here’s where the questions arise. Korey Toomer was one of the team’s most-played off-the-ball linebackers last season, and could fill the third linebacker spot in base-only looks. 2016 fourth-round pick Joshua Perry could also compete here, as might Kyle Emanuel, if he struggles in line play. Exactly who will fill that third spot is to be determined, and training camp should help to sort that out.
In the defensive backfield, the Chargers look to build on the opportunistic play they exhibited in 2016. While they were just 16th in completion percentage and 20th in yards per completion, they were 2nd in interception percentage. Unfortunately, they will be dealing with a famillar problem, as cornerback Jason Verrett has started training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. By all accounts, Verrett is progressing as expected with rehabbing his injury. However, with the departure of Brandon Flowers, the Chargers will once again need to lean on Casey Hayward, Craig Mager and Trevor Williams, to build up their cornerback unit. Fifth-round draftee Desmond King could also see action in the slot. However, it’s no secret that the Chargers must hope for good health for Verrett. His return catapults this group of corners from capable to formidable.
At safety, Dwight Lowery, Adrian Phillips and Jahleel Addae have all returned to the Chargers secondary. The team also drafted Rayshawn Jenkins in the fourth round out of Miami. Desmond King could also contribute at safety, if he’s not used as the team’s nickel back. All in all, consistency at the safety position is going to be a good thing for the Los Angeles defense.
The Final Analysis
The Chargers Defense made some additions this year that will contribute. Most importantly, they did not suffer any significant subtractions. The only loss of note was Flowers, who’s play had noticeably declined in 2016. Joey Bosa will continue to be one of the league’s best defenders and it will be great to watch him pair with Melvin Ingram on the edge. The Chargers and their fans collectively hope that Jason Verrett can return to form and good health at corner. If so, the Chargers defense will definitely turn heads in the AFC this year.
– Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers for cover32.