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Camp Preview: How Eric Kendricks' Addition Will Impact the Bolts Defense

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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.

Chargers.com will take a look at each position group leading up to training camp. The linebackers are up next.

Who's on the roster?

Eric Kendricks (9th NFL season; 1st with Chargers), Kenneth Murray, Jr. (4;4), Nick Niemann (3;3), Amen Ogbongbemiga (3;3), Tyreek Maddox-Williams (2;2), Daiyan Henley (1;1), Mikel Jones (1;1) and Nathan East (1;1).

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

Camp outlook

The Bolts will have someone new manning the middle of the defense — and he's one of the most experienced linebackers in all of football.

Linebacker Eric Kendricks signed as a free agent with the Chargers in mid-March after eight seasons with the Vikings and will now play a key role in the Bolts defense.

The former All-Pro and Pro Bowler has made an immediate impact during his time on the team, being present for offseason workouts and fitting right in with his teammates and coaches.

"I think that you guys have probably seen it, talking to him and his teammates," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said about Kendricks following mandatory minicamp. "He's fitting right in. He's a competitor. He's such a complete player. He has so much experience.

"It's important that when you're bringing guys in from the outside, that they're going to add your football team. He's done that in a short amount of time. He has a great way about him. He's humble. He's learning, too, at times. But he has just so much experience to draw from."

But Kendricks has still leaned on others in the linebackers in the room like Kenneth Murray, Jr., who has had a big impact during his time with the team.

"I'm definitely more familiar with my alignments and things like that, but terminology and stuff like that, I'm still learning from some of the vets," Kendricks said. "K9 [Murray] has been helping me a lot.

"I think, the biggest thing is the locker room. I feel like I fit in with the locker room," Kendricks added. "It's a bunch of guys who care and are all about ball. I can't really ask for more besides to go out there on Sunday and play hard."

Murray, who is entering his fourth season in the NFL, found his groove last season as he finished with a career-high in tackles for loss (seven) while notching his first career interception and forced fumble.

It will be a big year for Murray now alongside Kendricks, as the duo hopes to give the Bolts the strong presence in the middle of the defense.

With a lot of veteran experience in the linebacker room, 2023 third-round pick Daiyan Henley joins a strong group in his first season as a rookie.

Henley enters his rookie season looking to carve out a role within the defense by providing depth at the linebacker position and will also be a key figure on special teams. He received praise from both coaches and teammates in his first offseason in the NFL and made his fair share of plays during 7-on-7 drills.

Henley's athleticism and unique background playing other positions in college adds a layer to the position group.

There are also some familiar names at linebacker in Nick Niemann and Amen Ogbongbemiga, both of whom have been a big part on special teams during their time on the Bolts.

Tyreek Maddox-Williams also returns to the Bolts in 2023 after spending last season on the practice squad. Undrafted free agents in Mikel Jones and Nathan East round out the linebacker room.

Quick quote

"I think the thing that I talk to them about the most is we want to establish ourselves as leaders of the defense because the nature of the position, connecting the front end and the back end, you have to have leadership skills and trying to establish themselves as those leaders is important. We want to play with relentless effort, inspiring-type effort, when people watch us play and do it at the highest level." — Chargers linebackers coach Jeff Howard on his expectation for the linebacker group in 2023.

Take a look at some of the best shots of Eric Kendricks' 2023 offseason

Player to Watch: Eric Kendricks

Bolts coaches and teammates have raved about Kendricks' addition to the team throughout the offseason both on and off the field.

And while we won't been able to see the full scope of his playmaking ability on defense until the pads come on, he's shown early on about the impact he could end up making.

"Eric Kendricks, to me, really embodies energy and focus," Howard said what Kendricks brings to the Bolts. "What strikes me about Eric is he is a football player. He's not a celebrity first, he's a football player. He's a great teammate and he plays the game the way that I think you should."

Kendricks' playmaking ability and leadership to an already experienced Bolts defense is something that will help both against the run and the pass. His communication skills have been praised thus far and could be a big part of the defensive improvement the team looks to have this season.

His teammates have also pointed out how having a player of his caliber can not only help the middle of the defense, but those in front and behind him.

"I mean, it means a lot [to add him to the defense]," Joey Bosa said about Kendricks. "I can't say that I've watched a lot of him over the years, but to get a guy with experience ... it's nice to have the older guys to kind of show us the way and show us what it takes to get to those final games of the year.

"Obviously, being out here early and being here as the year goes on, we'll get to know each other and get to talk more," Bosa added. "Having good players in the middle takes a lot off us guys [on the edge]."

Outside linebacker Khalil Mack added:

"Talk about knowledge and the experience of having him in the middle, you can already hear the voice, and the power and inflection in his voice, whenever he is calling the calls and putting people into position. It's going to be great, it's going to be fun playing with him."

Kendricks' experience has fit right in to a veteran Chargers defense, as more high-level play can improve the unit from a season ago.

LB

Key question: How does Murray perform and compliment Kendricks?

In Kendricks' short time with the Chargers, it's been fellow linebacker Murray who has been among the most praised by the veteran.

The pair of linebackers have spent time together on and off the field from the beginning, with Murray being a big part of Kendricks transitioning to the Bolts defense.

And from the time Kendricks has been with the team, he's made it clear — he believes the best is yet to come for Murray in 2023.

"He's been helping me a lot, especially as we're both 'backers [linebackers]. I'm kind of leaning on him, especially as I learn the playbook," Kendricks said.

"He's a beast, man. He's a freak. I think it's going to be his best year yet," Kendricks later added.

The addition of Kendricks means Murray can learn and lean on a player with tons of experience at his position — and all eyes will be on how it can translate to the field.

His teammates have also taken notice to Murray and how he's grown entering his fourth season next to Kendricks and what that could mean for the defense.

"Another guy that's getting better," star safety Derwin James, Jr., said about Murray during minicamp. "He's gaining more confidence. Working with E.K., too, I see those guys in the middle talking constantly, working with each other.

"That's what we need. We need everybody to just do their part. I come in, do my part. They do their part," James added. "I feel like we'll get the results we want, as a defense."

Murray showed strides last season, but another leap from the 2020 first-round pick is something that can boost the Bolts up another level. Heading into training camp, a big part of the linebacker group is how well the duo can perform alongside one another.

"He's very gifted, obviously being drafted as high as he was, there's a lot of physical talent there," Hoard said. "He's also very effortful both on the field and off the field. In the meeting room, intelligent guy and great communicator. I'm really excited to be able to work with Kenneth."

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