Better, worse or the same: How the Chargers’ D changed this offseason

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The Los Angeles Chargers‘ defense ranked 23rd last season but with new head coach Brandon Staley calling the plays and bringing in a new 3-4 scheme, they should be much better. Staley comes to the Chargers after leading the crosstown Los Angeles Rams to the NFL’s No. 1 defense in his only season as defensive coordinator.

Joey Bosa and Derwin James Jr (who missed all of last season and much of 2018 due to injuries) are back and, for now, healthy. Bosa had two concussions and an assortment of other injuries, but proving his toughness has never been a problem.

We’ll find out how good the Chargers’ defense is early — they face the Washington Football Team, Dax Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys and Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs the first three games of the season.

Here’s a look at the defense.

Defensive line/Edge

Additions: Kyler Fackrell (New York Giants), Chris Rumph II (fourth-round pick), Jared Goldwire, Forrest Merrill, Willie Yarbary

Losses: Isaac Rochell (Indianapolis Colts), Melvin Ingram II (Pittsburgh Steelers).

Returners: Joey Bosa, Uchenna Nwosu, Linval Joseph, Justin Jones, Jerry Tillery, Christian Covington, Cortez Broughton, Breiden Fehoko, Joe Gaziano, Jessie Lemonier, Frederick Smith

Better, worse or the same? Better

Bosa is healthy after an injury-filled season that saw him battle through two concussions, among other ailments. He remained the leader of the defense and will do so in 2021. Tillery, the Chargers’ first-round pick in 2019, and Nwosu each excelled in the offseaon program and should be ready to increase their productivity in 2021. Nwosu is a player to watch off the edge in the new defense after notching 4.5 sacks last season.

Linebackers

Additions: Nick Niemann (fifth-round pick), Amen Ogbongbemiga, Damon Lloyd

Losses: Nick Vigil (Minnesota Vikings)

Returners: Kenneth Murray Jr., Drue Tranquill, Kyzir White, Emeke Egbule, Cole Christiansen

Better, worse or the same: The same

Murray is much more comfortable in his second year in the league and the former first-round pick should thrive in Staley’s 3-4 defense. He is poised for a big 2021. Tranquill returns from injury and there’s opportunity for him, White and Niemann.

Cornerback

Additions: Ryan Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Asante Samuel Jr. (second-round pick)

Losses: Casey Hayward Jr. (Las Vegas Raiders)

Returners: Michael Davis, Chris Harris Jr., Brandon Facyson, Tevaughn Campbell, Kemon Hall, Donte Vaughn, John Brannon

Better, Worse or the same: The same

Even though steady veteran Hayward is gone, Davis and Harris Jr. are experienced anchors for a secondary that is bound to be more effective, especially in the newly aligned defense. Look for Samuel Jr., who went to Florida State, to replicate his father Asante Samuel, who was a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots and a Pro Bowler. Samuel Jr. is not big, but plays the angles well and will factor into the secondary immediately.

Safety

Additions: Mark Webb (seventh-round pick), Ben DeLuca

Losses: Rayshawn Jenkins (Jacksonville Jaguars)

Returners: Derwin James, Nasir Adderley, Alohi Gilman

Better, Worse or the same: Better

Having James back makes all the difference in the world. He was out all of last season due to a torn ACL and much of 2019 with a Jones fracture in his foot but spent his time in the gym well. He’s stronger and faster and the Chargers hope he recaptures his All-Pro form in 2018. Adderley, a second-round pick in 2019, is facing a big season as far as his Chargers future is concerned.

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