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Camp Preview: How Will Bolts Safety Depth Play Out in 2023?

Safety Cover

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 safeties are up next.

Who's on the roster?

Derwin James, Jr., (6th NFL season; 6th with Chargers), Alohi Gilman (4;4), JT Woods (2;2), Raheem Layne (2;2), Mark Webb, Jr., (3;3), AJ Finley (1;1) and Tyler Baker-Williams (1;1).

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

Camp outlook

The Chargers safety room is highlighted by one of the leaders of the team and one of the best at his position across the NFL.

Safety Derwin James, Jr., once again leads the charge of the position as he is coming off a season with over 100 total tackles for the third time in his career. He also earning Second-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2022.

James did it all a year ago, showcasing his versatility and lining up all around the defense while finishing with 4.0 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Entering his sixth season, the star safety continues to try to elevate his game as one of the leaders of the defense.

"Coming out here and getting better," James said following the first day of minicamp. "Trying to get the offense better. Like I said, give me better. Get better, overall, as a whole."

Alohi Gilman, who saw his role increase once the season went along, lined up as the starter alongside James this offseason.

Gilman started five games last season, with four of them coming from Weeks 11-18, and had the best season of his young career. Whether it was with James on the field or if James missed time, Gilman made plays whenever given an opportunity.

But perhaps one of his key traits is the leadership that he provides to the room and defense as a whole, as he is slated to have a big role for the position in 2023.

"His leadership — Alohi has been a guy here, he's going into Year 4," Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley said about Gilman. "He's very calm, very coachable, understands why he is being corrected or why he did things a certain way. He's been very calm, very even-keel, going into Year 3 with [this staff]."

Behind James and Gilman are a handful of second-year players that are looking to carve out a role for themselves in the defense.

2022 third-round pick JT Woods saw limited action in his rookie campaign, but now has a full year of NFL experience under his belt. Woods enters a big season where he will look to make strides in the secondary.

As for Raheem Layne, he is also entering his second season after spending some time on the practice squad and playing in six games last season. Layne will have an opportunity to try and stand out in training camp and the preseason, especially on special teams.

Mark Webb, Jr., has played in seven games over three seasons but has struggled with injuries early in his career.

Rounding out the safety position are a pair of undrafted free agents in AJ Finley and Tyler Baker-Williams.

Quick quote

"Good competition. We have competition at every spot in the secondary, especially safety. You have Derwin James, who can play multiple spots. You have Alohi that has played a lot of ball around here. You have JT, we have a lot of expectations for him this year. It's going to be a really competitive group. Mark Webb is in that mix, Raheem Layne. That group is very competitive. A lot of different skillsets in that group, which is what you need at safety." — Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley in mid-May on the depth of the safety position.

Take a look at some of the best shots of Derwin James' 2023 offseason

Player to Watch: JT Woods

The second-year safety will be a player to monitor as we approach camp and preseason games.

The first year of NFL practices and overall experience, even with limited playing time, was big for Woods in his rookie year.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley credited Woods for having a good offseason but added following minicamp that training camp would be a good evaluation of where the young safety is in his growth process.

"We're going to find out a lot more about him when the pads come on," Staley said about Woods. "He's had a good offseason. He's working hard. He has definitely improved his body.

"He has become the professional that we expected him to be," Staley added. "But we're going to find out a lot more during training camp. But, we love working with him, for sure."

James also noted how Woods continues to grasp everything more and more, but the work is far from done.

"He's growing, he's getting better," James said. "He's understanding the system more. He still has a ways to go where he wants to get, but he's getting better every day."

The 23-year-old will have his opportunity to try and make a role for himself in the defense alongside James and Gilman in three-safety looks, especially in scenarios where the Bolts use James' versatility and line him up all over the field.

And training camp will be big for him to continue to get better in all aspects of his game.

"Just looking to improve in all ways for him, but we really like working with him," Staley said. "He's worked really hard on his body, in terms of getting to the right weight that you need to play at, in order to be able to play against these good players that you have to tackle and get on the ground. I'm excited to coach him in training camp."

JT

Key question: How does Alohi Gilman build on his 2022 success?

Gilman became a key piece of the safety group in the second half of the season and played the best football he had throughout his time in the NFL — in a time where the Bolts needed it the most.

Now he'll get a chance to have an even bigger role in Year 4 as one of the more experienced safeties of the group alongside James.

Gilman's play throughout his time with the Bolts and his play last season has earned him confidence in the secondary, as James touted him this offseason for his consistency.

"A lot of confidence in [Gilman]," James said. "He's a guy that's consistent. Everyone here counts on him. Everyone knows that he's going to be where he needs to be.

"He's getting better. He's making calls. He's confident," James added. "It's exciting being out there. It's been a lot of fun, a lot of energy out there, honestly."

Another big year and leap from Gilman opens up a lot for the safety room with the do-it-all James. The opportunity will be there for Gilman as he looks to build on his big 2022 and continue his success into a new season.

"How we're bonding as DBs, he's bringing us closer," James said. "I'm one of the guys that's a leader, but he's bringing us closer together.

"After every play, every time we are taking the field, it's been just a joy going to take the field with him, honestly," James added.

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