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Camp Preview: How a Healthy Defensive Line Can Help the Chargers 

Los Angeles Chargers players participate in Phase 2 of the offseason program on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at Hoag Performance Center in Costa Mesa, CA.
Los Angeles Chargers players participate in Phase 2 of the offseason program on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at Hoag Performance Center in Costa Mesa, CA.

Chargers Training Camp is on the horizon. The Bolts will host 10 open practices as they welcome fans back to Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa.

The Bolts are looking for a repeat appearance in the postseason as they enter Year 3 under Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, and have a roster filled with talent and work ethic. will take a look at each position group leading up to training camp. The defensive line is up next.

Who's on the roster?

Sebastian Joseph-Day (6th NFL season; 2nd with Chargers), Morgan Fox (7;2), Austin Johnson (8;2), Otito Ogbonnia (2;2), Christopher Hinton (2;2), David Moa (2;2), Nick Williams (9;1), Scott Matlock (1;1), Jerrod Clark (1;1), Terrance Lang (1;1) and CJ Okoye (1;1).

Take a look at the Chargers Defense in uniform at Media Day 2023

Camp outlook

The Chargers revamped their defensive line last offseason, bringing in a handful of new faces with tons of experience.

Fast forward a year later, the group is ready to run it back as they hope to be healthier and more productive than a season ago.

One of the marquee additions last offseason was Sebastian Joseph-Day, who became one of the leaders of the group — and the team as a whole — from the moment he arrived.

The veteran defensive lineman enters his second season with the Bolts after playing 16 games and leading the group in tackles, all while being an anchor for what was an injury-plagued unit in 2022.

"Experience, energy, winning," Chargers Defensive Run Game Coordinator/defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said about what Joseph-Day brings. "A lot of the intangible things, aside from his physical tools, are important. It's hard to teach that because you always want a mix of guys who know what it takes to win in the NFL."

Take a look back at the Chargers Mini-Camp 2023 in monochrome

Morgan Fox was a post-draft signing last offseason but became one of the most important pieces on the defensive line as injuries began to hit the group. He re-signed as a free agent this offseason and is back for another season in the powder blues.

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 and fit everything the Bolts want to do as a team.

"Foxy, No. 1, he represents our culture," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said about Fox back in April. "He represents everything that we want in a football player, but then in terms of what he can do, he has versatility in the front to play a lot of different places.

"Then, he brings something that's hard to find in the NFL, which is interior pass rush," Staley added. "He has real sack production. When you have an interior pass rusher that can rush like he can, it gives you an advantage."

Austin Johnson and Otito Ogbonnia also form part of the group but have spent the offseason program rehabbing from respective injuries.

Johnson, who was another big offseason signing last year, played in eight games and produced for the Bolts before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 9. Ogbonnia flashed as a rookie in 2022 before ultimately suffering a season-ending injury himself.

The injuries piled up at the position for the Chargers, but also opened up opportunities for Christopher Hinton and David Moa, each who saw action later in the season and return on the roster ahead of training camp.

Veteran Nick Williams was brought in during May and will look to carve out a depth role along the line.

The veteran experience runs deep, but so does the youth, as the Bolts currently carry four rookies on the roster, including 2023 sixth-round pick Scott Matlock.

Undrafted free agents Jerrod Clark and Terrance Lang also form part of the rookies, as CJ Okoye rounds out the group after being allocated to the Bolts as a part of the 2023 International Player Pathway class.

Quick quote

"I say it a lot and have said it for years but I don't know where I got it from. I think that's a term that shows you're willing to do what it takes to get the job done. 'Rugged' is a word we throw around here at the Chargers but it's also an important word because not everybody can be rugged. I want the mentality to be that every time we go on the field, the other team has to feel our presence whether it's in the run game or the pass game. And when they flip on the tape, you need to be able to feel our presence and know what we're all about. The tape doesn't need to happen overnight. You have to have enough depth, which we do, to handle substitutions. When we go out there on the field, we just want to kick ass." – Rodgers on being wanting a 'tough and rugged' unit.

Fox CP

Player to watch: Morgan Fox

Fox quickly solidified a role for himself last year after being a post-draft signing and proved to be one of the most valuable players on defense — in a year where injuries hit left and right.

And now Fox is back and ready to do it again after re-signing with the Bolts this offseason.

The veteran defensive lineman did everything that was asked of him and became a valuable player due to his ability to do just about anything on the defensive line.

Fox's production speaks for itself.

"Very underrated. He's a good player in the NFL," Rodgers said. "For his role that he has, he's an elite pass rusher from an interior perspective and he doesn't get the credit he deserves. I can think of a couple guys in the NFL who have signed big contracts who he has more production than.

"He's a valuable piece to this organization. You saw the production he had in 2020, the role he had in 2021 and how we got him back into a really good role in 2022," Rodgers added. "His production went up again. If you put guys in the right spots and they can do what they do best, it's going to work out in the right way."

In Year 2 with the Chargers, Fox will get a chance to do it again alongside the same teammates and under Staley, who he has now had a lot of success with.

In a defense with a lot of big names, Fox might go under looked nationally — but not on the team.

"He knows how to rush as part of a team, which is important when you have to quality outside rushers like we have," Staley said about Fox. "He understands how to fit within a rush plan. He's the guy that makes plays for us and represents who we want to be, from a culture standpoint."

Defensive Line CP

Key question: What does the defensive line look like when healthy?

As the year went on, the defensive line unit found itself drastically changing due to injuries, but a next-man-up mentality pushed them through 2022.

But heading into training camp and eventually the season, all eyes will be on the group to see how it looks like at full strength.

Players going in and out of the lineup made it harder to build the continuity last season. Heading into 2023, there is more comfortability throughout the defense as a whole that could be on display this year.

"I really feel we're way more connected this year, the whole defensive unit," Joseph-Day said. "I think that's what we needed. We just needed time to gel with one another.

"I think now that's definitely going to show this year," Joseph-Day added. "I'm excited about that."

While most of this group will be healthy for camp, it remains to be seen where Johnson and Ogbonnia are in their respective rehabs. If both can return to the field and contribute, the Chargers will possesses solid depth and talent on the 53-man roster.

A healthy season from the defensive line could be an added layer to a defense that has impact players all throughout — and could improve from some of the struggles of a season ago.

"I don't think it even has to be discussed, we all know," Joseph-Day said. "The injury bug got us. We can't make it an excuse. We do what we have to do. This year, we're going to learn from the mistakes that we made and bounce back from it.

"It's a distant memory right now. Obviously, we use it as motivation. We don't forget, but also we don't dwell on it," Joseph-Day added. "We're super excited. The goal is to be healthy — a lot healthier this year so that we can do what we have to do."

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