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While the X’s and O’s of professional football won’t be confused with quantum physics, they are far from the game we played as kids growing up.
So how does Pagano plan to give the defensive players the best chance for success? “Make it simple and play fast. If you have to think, you’re slow to react,” Pagano said.
Seems easy enough, and that is what Pagano has emphasized during the first full week of the team’s Organized Team Activities (OTA).
“All we’re looking to accomplish at this point of the year is a good understanding of the defense,” Pagano said. “Really working together, communicating together.
“The biggest thing going out there right now is techniques, fundamentals and getting the players to understand the techniques and fundamentals and transferring those to overall defensive play. Once that starts to come together as a unit you’ll start seeing us gel a lot better.”
Not only is this a time for the players—both new and returning—to gel with each other, but also it’s a time for new coaches to gel with the players.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers this offseason welcomed linebackers coach Joe Barry and defensive backs coach Ron Meeks to compliment a staff that includes defensive line coach Don Johnson, assistant linebackers coach Greg Williams, and assistant secondary coach Cris Dishman.
Newcomers Barry and Meeks are seasoned NFL assistants with nearly 30 combined years of coaching experience. Both have had stints as defensive coordinators in the NFL.
“I can’t say enough about those individuals,” Pagano said. “The number-one thing about all those guys is they are great motivators and they are great teachers. They have all coached at a very high level in the league. Two (Barry and Meeks) have Super Bowl rings. Don (Johnson) has been to a Super Bowl. With their knowledge, their expertise, and the vision they have for this defense, it’s helped us as a defensive staff and it’s helping us grow through these OTAs.”
Fans may have a natural tendency to focus on changes when personnel moves are made among players and coaching staffs. With new people often come new and lofty expectations.
Words and terms such as hard-nosed, aggressive, attacking or ball-hawking are often thrown around to describe the Chargers’ retooled unit. And who wouldn’t want those type of adjectives used to describe a team’s defense?
In Pagano’s mind, premature nicknames can be dangerous.
“I understand the need to want to label this defense right now,” Pagano said. “Our label will show up when the regular season starts. We’re merely building our identity right now.”
Pagano is not particularly fond of labels, especially when it comes to the Chargers defense, and especially this early in the offseason. He said don’t expect any cute nicknames from this unit.
Instead, this defense can be characterized by players executing well and helping the team achieve its goals, Pagano said.
“We’re going to go out and play fundamentally-sound defense,” Pagano said after he was promoted to defensive coordinator in January. “It’s still about tackling the guy with the football and getting after the quarterback and covering people downfield. We’re going to do what we need to do to help the Chargers win football games.”