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2022 Chargers Position Recap: Defensive Line

DL Recap

Welcome to Part 6 of our 2022 positional recaps, a series that will run through the next few weeks and highlight all 10 Chargers position groups. We'll focus on key stats, big moments and look ahead to the 2023 season.

The Bolts defensive interior looked quite different coming into the season.

In an effort to revamp the group, the Chargers made a couple of moves in free agency including signing Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson and Morgan Fox. As the year went on, the unit found itself drastically changing due to injuries, but a next-man-up mentality pushed them through the season.

Joseph-Day led the charge on the interior, as his first year with the Bolts saw him start 16 games. He led the group in tackles and was a consistent anchor in the middle of the line. Above all, however, he was also one of the leaders of the team. Joseph-Day was named one of eight team captains, as he was one of the more vocal leaders of a defensive group that went through adversity throughout the season.

Fox, who was brought in a couple weeks after the 2022 NFL Draft, became another important piece of the D-line as his versatility to line up in different positions became valuable for the Chargers. Fox set a career-high in sacks (6.5) and logged the second-most snaps among the group. He became even more important as the group suffered injuries.

"All of these guys that we've on boarded on this team in free agency … they've helped us," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said about all their free agent acquisitions after their Week 17 win over the Rams. "They've helped us significantly, from their performance, and then adding the type of leadership and that type of toughness — the intangibles — that our team needed to be as good as it can be."

Johnson, another offseason addition, was one of those injuries during the year. He suffered a knee injury in Week 9 that would keep him out for the rest of the season. Christian Covington, Otito Ogbonnia and Joe Gaziano were also lost in the second half of the season, as the injuries started to pile up in the interior.

Given the injuries and other roster moves, this opened the door for Breiden Fehoko, who took advantage of the opportunity and was a key member of the defensive line down the stretch of the season. Fehoko logged a career-high in defensive snaps (279) and made the most of his opportunity. Christopher Hinton, David Moa and Tyeler Davison saw action for the Bolts in the second half of the season.

Take a look at the best photos from the Chargers 2022 campaign through the lens of team photographer, Mike Nowak, manager of photography, Ty Nowell, seasonal photographer, Mackenzie Hudson, and gameday photographer, Noel Vasquez.

Notable Number

Joseph-Day made himself a force on the interior. He finished the regular season with nine tackles for loss, which was tied for second-most in the AFC among interior defensive lineman. Joseph-Day also tied for the most tackles for loss in a season by a Chargers interior defensive lineman since at least 2008.

Memorable Moment

The Chargers headed into Week 16 needing a win to secure their first playoff berth since 2018, and the defense came to play. 

The Bolts sacked Colts quarterback Nick Foles a total of seven times on the road. Fox led the way that night in Indianapolis with a team-leading 2.0 sacks — both coming in the second half. Like he had done throughout the year, Fox made his presence felt against opposing offenses.

Both of his sacks came on first down and made it harder for the Colts to put together a consistent drive. Week 16 was just another dominant performance on defense, a trend that continued throughout the final stretch of the year.

Fox and the rest of the defensive line shined in primetime, as the win secured the Bolts their first playoff berth in four years.

Regular-Season Statistics

Sebastian Joseph-Day

Recorded 56 total tackles, nine tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery; made 16 starts and played a career-high 702 defensive snaps (67.05 percent).

Morgan Fox

Recorded 38 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, a career-high 6.5 sacks and 11 QB hits; made 12 starts and played a career-high 576 defensive snaps (55.01 percent).

Austin Johnson

Recorded 22 total tackles, three tackles for loss, three QB hits and a pass defended; made eight starts and played 286 defensive snaps (27.32 percent).

Breiden Fehoko

Recorded 23 total tackles and one tackle for loss; appeared in nine games (three starts) and played 279 defensive snaps (26.65 percent).

Otito Ogbonnia

Recorded 14 total tackles and one tackle for loss; appeared in seven games (one start) and played 138 defensive snaps (13.18 percent) in his rookie season.

Christian Covington

Recorded 12 total tackles and one tackle for loss; appeared in four games and played 124 defensive snaps (11.84 percent).

Joe Gaziano

Recorded eight total tackles, 1.0 sack, one tackle for loss and one QB hit; appeared in five games and played 114 defensive snaps (10.89 percent).

Christopher Hinton

Recorded three total tackles and one QB hit; appeared in four games and played 66 defensive snaps (6.3 percent).

David Moa

Recorded two total tackles; appeared in two games and played 38 defensive snaps (3.63 percent).

Tyeler Davison

Recorded one total tackle; appeared in six games and played 34 defensive snaps (3.25 percent). 

Jerry Tillery

Recorded eight tackles, 1.0 sack and two QB hits; appeared in seven games and played 190 defensive snaps (18.15 percent) for the Bolts.

Take a look back at some of the best Chargers photos in monochrome from the 2022 season

2 Questions for 2023

1. Can this group build off a strong finish?

The first half of the 2022 season was filled with ups and downs for this group, both in terms of on-field production and movement in and out of the lineup.

But the group picked up their play down the stretch, including a four-game stretch in December in which the run defense was shored up a bit.

It was tough to get a full read of this group given the moving parts, but a healthy unit in 2023 should look to start the season the same way they played during a playoff push in 2022.

2. Will the Chargers address this position in the early rounds of the draft?

Other than Ogbonnia, the Chargers defensive interior featured a mostly veteran group.

But with mock draft season starting to ramp up, some pundits can see the Chargers getting a bit younger at this position.

ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr., had the Bolts going with USC's defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu in the first round of his most-recent mock draft.

Even if the Bolts don't take an interior defensive lineman on Day 1, it's worth a watch to see if they do so in the first three rounds.

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