The Los Angeles Chargers dug deep into their pockets to solidify their defense. Now, coach Renaldo Hill’s mission is to do the impossible: make his side of the ball as explosive as LA’s offense, which is led by standout quarterback Justin Herbert.
Hill, the Chargers’ defensive coordinator, is busy at training camp making parts fit and figuring out where they’re not. His job is a little complicated as All-Pro safetyman Derwin James Jr. continues to sit out while awaiting an extended contract.
“Hopefully that gets fixed soon,” Hill said. “But in the meantime I know there are other people out here working hard and it allows them to get reps.”
The Chargers are trying to improve an area that was one of their shortcomings since they failed to make the playoffs last season. No matter how dynamic Herbert was, LA couldn’t get the ball back in time because of their weak defense.
How bad were the bolts?
Only the woeful Detroit Lions and New York Jets gave up more yards than the Chargers (6,122).
How bad were the bolts?
Again, only the Lions and Jets allowed more points than the Chargers (459).
That led to aggressive behavior from general manager Tom Telesco during the offseason. He acquired fullbacks Khalil Mack and Kyle Van Noy, cornerback JC Jackson, and defensemen Austin Jackson and Morgan Fox.
There were others, but it’s that fabulous five that Hill is set to mold into a unit that will snatch the Chargers’ run of not making the playoffs and give Herbert a career win-loss record of .500+.
They also drafted four defensive players, with Baylor safety JT Woods being their second pick.
“Definitely pleased with the progress,” said Hill, who is heading up defense for the Chargers in his sophomore year. “Just having these new people here, getting used to them, letting them get used to us and our system, I think it went really well.”
Mack was the biggest name added when he became a Charger through a trade. He’s expected to make $8.7 million this year and a whopping $27 million in each of the last two years of his six-year, $141 million contract.
But if Mack can stay fit, his association with fellow Pro Bowler Joey Bosa gives the Chargers a 1-2 punch few teams can match.
“They build that chemistry together,” Hill said. “They spend a lot of time together. I like how things are going so far.”
Jackson came on board with a hefty free-agent deal that will net him $82 million over five years, with $40 million guaranteed. In his four years with the New England Patriots, Jackson had 25 interceptions.
If Jackson continues his ball-hawking methods and James is eventually signed, the Chargers could have another 1-2 hit rivaling what Mack-Bosa could bring.
Up front help was badly needed as the Chargers had the worst placing in the NFL at stopping rivals from converting on third downs. So Johnson got a two-year, $14 million contract with a $10.6 million guarantee.
Johnson is coming off a career year in which he started all 17 games and accumulated 3.5 sacks and 72 tackles for the New York Giants.
Fox signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal, but only $100,000 is guaranteed – a low-level signing the Chargers are hoping will pay off.
Veteran Van Noy landed a one-year, $2.2 million deal with a $750,000 guarantee in LA after stints in the NFL that included the New England Patriots.
Van Noy is another run stuffer, with the Chargers hoping an improvement in the early downs will increase their efficiency on the third down.
“He gives us a man with experience and (he) knows how to win in this league,” Hill said. “It’s great for our young people to have a man with that experience and a championship pedigree like he does.”
The Chargers will likely get better defense because they can’t get much worse. It’s up to Hill to coach a unit that aims to no longer take a backseat to LA’s offense.