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There’s a saying Isaac Rochell lives by, and it’s a mantra he holds dear to his heart.
“There’s a phrase that I learned when I was at basketball camp in middle school, and the phrase is, ‘I’m MAD – Making a Difference,’ he explained. “And now, yeah, I’m super frustrated because there have been a lot of things that have frustrated me football wise with myself.”
The more he talks, the clearer it becomes just how mad Rochell is to have spent the majority of last year on the practice squad, unable to play on Sunday.
But the 23-year old isn’t mad at the team.
He’s furious at himself.
“Again, it’s not the organization,” he stressed. “It’s at myself. So I can either take my frustration and be salty, or I can get super confident and good things happen. So it’s about being confident and making a difference.”
Fortunately, Rochell is channeling his anger in the right direction, and the Bolts appear set to reap the rewards.
“A lot of growth in that young man,” said Head Coach Anthony Lynn, whose eyes grew wide when asked about the former seventh-round pick. “He’s different. He’s not even the same guy. I give our position coach Giff Smith a lot of credit. John Lott and Jonathan (Brooks). His weight is down, he’s leaner, he’s quicker. I’m really excited about Isaac.”
After starting the season on the active roster, playing in the team’s season opener against the Denver Broncos, Rochell was waived. Fortunately, no team claimed him, so the Bolts were able to put him on the practice squad.
Rochell eventually worked his way back onto the 53-man roster, appearing in the final two games of the season. He flashed immediately upon his return, sacking Bryce Petty in his first game back in the lineup.
Take a look behind the scenes from Chargers Promo Day as the players get hyped for the 2018 season.
While he was ticked off he wasn’t able to suit up most game days, Rochell considers his time on the practice squad a blessing in disguise.
“It was extremely difficult,” he said. “It was very frustrating. Again, I was frustrated with myself, not the organization. But it’s your classic story of adversity and trying to respond. So I used to come in here every day saying I have to get better because I’m really mad that I’m on the practice squad. But that made me a better player. It’s a lesson about how life doesn’t always work out how you want it to. Instead of setting expectations for yourself, you set an expectation of just getting better that day. I came in with tons of expectations for myself of how I was going to play, and what type of player I would be. All that got tossed out the window. It was just a matter of trying to get better each day. So I learned a lot.”
To assist him in that goal, Rochell made a concerted effort to reshape his body heading into the offseason program.
The defensive end switched over to a plant-based diet and took up yoga, citing those changes as paying off in a major way.
“That was a big thing to change; understanding how to take care of my body,” he explained. “I am 265 now, and at my highest I was around 278 last year. I just feel better now. When you do yoga and you stretch and you eat right, and you’re doing things to help your body out, you’re able to get in positions that you didn’t know you can get in and you’re not thinking about it. You’re just playing. It just happens.”
As a result, Rochell has repeatedly turned heads this spring. In fact, his pair of Pro Bowl teammates at defensive end were quick to sing his praises.
“I’ve always liked Isaac,” said Joey Bosa. “I think he’s a great guy and he has the potential to be a good rush end. The jump he made is kind of unexpected. Seeing him out here with his hands, the way he’s moving, it’s pretty unbelievable. He’s doing a really great job. We have teams and we compete for points throughout practice, and I think he led his team. It was good to see.”
“He’s definitely making plays,” echoed Melvin Ingram. “Ike’s always been good. We always knew he could do it. And he’s just showcasing his talent because he’s been making so many plays. He’s definitely going to be another piece to our rotation.”
To his credit, Rochell doesn’t pay much mind to the accolades.
But in the end, all that matters is if he backs up their words with his play.
“It’s cool to hear that, but I’ve said this before. That’s all fluff. That’s all word candy. For me, I’ve got to go out, grind and start over. For me, it’s literally going out there every day trying to get a little bit better.”
All that being said, Rochell now has to go out and prove it when the season rolls around. To that end, he has a set definition of what his role is in 2018.
“Number one, to be a guy who can come in for Joey, and when I switch in for Joey, be dependable,” he said. “The other is coming in on third down and making plays. For me, it’s just a matter of getting better from week to week. I really do believe that, because I think I got better in OTAs, and then better at minicamp. I think if I just keep progressing, my role might change.”
It’s important to note that another reason for his success is the tutelage of Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith. Rochell is the latest Charger to pay the popular coach credit when it comes to his development.
“The drill work that he does is (great),” he said. “He is a really good person. A really good coach. But in particular, I think his drill work is really, really good. We do drills that matter. Ones that carry over. We’re not just wasting time doing get-offs and other d-line stuff. We’re doing drills that specifically work on your hips. That specifically works on your swipe. And it’s particularly interesting watching OTA tape how much better we’ve all gotten at things like the swipe. He’s just a technician, and he knows how to get his players to be technicians.”
Rochell wasn’t the only player lauding Smith’s work. In addition to Lynn, Bosa also was quick to point out the impact of the team’s defensive line coach.
“Just to see the progression he’s taken with these guys, where fitting up in the run was tough for a lot of them (is impressive),” said Bosa. “Now, they’re using their hands unbelievably. Just watching the progression of a lot of guys on the defensive line shows you how good of a coach he is, and how good he’s been for the unit.”