The Chargers returned to Hoag Performance Center earlier this week to kick off Phase I of the offseason program.
So, now is as good a time as any to check in with some of the Bolts’ coaches.
That includes Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley, who we haven’t heard much from since the end of the 2018 campaign.
With the players back in the building, Bradley opened up about the start of the offseason program, players the Bolts brought back as well as some competitions he’s looking forward to playing out in the coming months:
Question: First things first, what is your message to the defensive players this offseason? What is it you really focus on with them during these early stages of the offseason program?
Bradley: The big thing is, we’re not starting off where we left off last year. It’s a whole new season, so we’re coming in here and we’re starting at the ground level. It starts with our fundamentals and principles that we believe in. Let’s start building this again. The unique thing about the NFL is that every year, your team is different. You’re going to have new draft picks and free agents. So, it’s going to be a different feel. I think the biggest part that was heading in the right direction last year is that we did become one. You could feel that (in) the unselfish play and the pulling for one another. You could see that, and it just strengthened as the season went on. Well, we have some new guys, and we have to develop that again.
Question: A big move this offseason was bringing Denzel Perryman back…
Bradley: That was huge. He’s a tremendous leader for us. When he got injured, you could just sense one of our leaders was gone. Our players did a great job of picking it up around him, but he has that (big) impact. He’s extremely explosive. And it’s going to be exciting to see him because (with) another year in this system, and his understanding of it, you could see he was playing even faster. That really showed up.
Question: Another guy we brought back was Adrian Phillips. He came through in such a major way last year earning those All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. How pivotal was that move getting him back?
Bradley: I just wish everybody could see how important he is, not only on the field, but in our meeting rooms, in the locker room, at practice. We talk about having a standard, and he has a really good idea of what that looks like. I give him a lot of credit, with the coaches and Derwin, too, of developing Derwin. It’s tough to come in as a rookie and to start in this league, and to perform at a high level. There are a lot of people who helped in that process, and AP was one of them. And what he did on special teams, what a great message to send to the whole team that you can be a defensive player, but also take great pride on special teams.
Question: Free safety is a spot that will look different in 2019. Last we saw, Rayshawn Jenkins played there in the postseason. How do you assess how he did there, and what are you looking for this season with him?
Bradley: With the injuries we had, we had to jockey some guys around and it gave him a chance to get on the field. He got to play some free safety. So I think it’ll be interesting to see how he develops when he’s locked into that decision. That’s a position we want to see him at. He gives us some flexibility as well. When we looked at him coming out of the draft, his ability to cover tight ends stuck out. He also has that physical nature to him. So we initially looked at him like a strong safety, but when you draft a guy like Derwin (James), that changes things sometimes. And Derwin, he gives us flexibility, too. There are some things we can do at our safety spots because we know it is a matchup-driven league. Having the ability of a free safety that can cover from red line to red line but also get involved with matchups and not feel like we are not in our best shape, I think Rayshawn potentially gives us that flexibility.
Question: Meanwhile, we also brought Jaylen Watkins back. What are your thoughts about him returning after missing all of last year with that knee injury suffered in the preseason?
Bradley: With Jaylen, what an unfortunate situation he had to deal with last year with his injury. He was really coming along. What we saw of him in the beginning stages of camp really jumped out to us. Getting him back in the mix is great.
Question: What are you looking for from the corners during the entire program this spring?
Bradley: There’s going to be great competition there, too, opposite Casey (Hayward). Michael Davis, Trevor (Williams) and (Brandon) Facyson – we have a bunch of (capable) guys there now that we got a chance to see as the team evolved last year, that now that the season is over and we’re onto the offseason program, we’re excited to see them. A lot of guys from their rookie year to their second year can make big strides. At times you see that at the corner spot. So I think that’s big. And to get guys back healthy like Trevor, for him to get back and compete will be exciting to see.
Question: You mentioned guys taking that leap forward from year one to year two. Three guys who fit that bill are Uchenna Nwosu, Justin Jones and Kyzir White. What are you eyeing from them during this offseason program?
Bradley: Those guys came in and at times all four, including Derwin, were on the field at the same time. They started a bunch of games for us. You don’t see that very often. It wasn’t too big for any of them, and they fed off each other. When you have guys playing (well) that come in like that, it brings a lot of energy. So I think for them over the next few months, it’s seeing them get more familiar with the defense; their understanding of it to where they can take it and become even more of an instinctive player.
Question: Finally, Brandon Mebane is another big piece coming back. Re-signing these impact players is obviously important, and it must be great to have a lot of our strong nucleus back. Now, you have as long a history as anyone with Mebane. To bring back such a big leader with a fire in his belly, how great has it been to have him around this week at the start of the offseason program?
Bradley: When I first arrived here and talked to some of the players, just the impact that Brandon Mebane had in the locker room, it’s (phenomenal). Now, when I was with him back in Seattle, he was figuring that part out. He had a presence about him, but not maybe where everybody talked about him. Now, when I came here, everybody talked about him. And it was so cool to see how his leadership evolved. You’re talking about a guy where everybody around him gets better. He has that type of ability and that type of mentality. When he plays, the three-technique (next to him) plays better, the six-technique plays better. The linebackers play better. To have him come back and see him around, to have him part of this again is special.