Everyone expected the Los Angeles Chargers to boast a top tier defensive line in 2017. They've lived up to the hype thus far, with Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa and Brandon Mebane leading the charge as anticipated.
What might not have been expected was the role Darius Philon has played.
The third-year defensive end has been one of the team's most disruptive linemen, wreaking havoc against both the run and the pass.
As a result, Head Coach Anthony Lynn said he plans to roll the Arkansas product out there even more often, starting this week against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Darius Philon had a heck of a game (against Miami)," he said. "I think you're going to see more of him."
The fact that Philon has flashed isn't shocking.
The 6-1, 300-pound defensive end has shown the ability to be a force over his first two years in the league. Unfortunately, there were too many peaks and valleys, which caused his playing time to dip as the Bolts wanted to see more consistency.
Still only 23 years old, Philon has finally been able to sustain his high level of play on a steady basis.
"He's doing a really nice job," Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley said. "You're seeing him play even more in run situations. But what I think what we're seeing from him is very good, consistent play. A lot of players are trusting him. We know what he is going to do (and) how he is going to play. He's not only taking care of his responsibilities, but he's (got the) gap-and-a-half like we talk about. So he's playing at a pretty high level right now."
Even though he's turned heads, Philon is far from satisfied with his performance.
"As any player should say, my performance still isn't at the tip top," he said. "There's still room for me to grow. There are still ways for me to make my game better. I'm trying to take another step each and every day. You'll never be a great player unless you evaluate yourself each and every day with how you are working."
The key to Philon's success has been to turn his brain off and just go off instincts.
"Less thinking and more reacting," he said. "I'm just reacting to what the offense is giving me. One thing that has boosted my play a lot and helps me react is watching film. It always starts with yourself, so I critique myself. I'm also studying more film of the opponents and what they are doing that week. How they are running their offense. It gives me an advantage of where I need to be and where the ball will be."
Another key has been the tutelage of Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith. Universally praised in the locker room, Philon doesn't think he'd have anywhere near the success he's experienced without Smith's guidance.
"Giff has helped me a lot, and I appreciate the things he is teaching us as a unit. He has a lot of trust and belief in what I can do. He focuses a lot on handwork. As a defensive lineman, you always want to have great hands. One thing he helped me clean up that I always had a problem with in college and high school was I would open up my chest too much. He's helped me change the way I have my off hand. Now my strike is more efficient, and I'm more on target. I would never have focused on it if he didn't drive me each and every day."