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Evaluating the Defense with DC John Pagano

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be checking in with the Chargers’ position coaches and coordinators to get the inside scoop. We begin with Defensive Coordinator John Pagano.

Chargers.com:Let’s start with Joey Bosa.  What did you see out of him during the scouting process?

Pagano:He’s someone who plays with unbelievable effort.  He plays with great technique.  He is a* great* football player.  He plays the run well, can put pressure on the quarterback and has great instincts for finding the football. It’s a process. He’s a rookie, and it will take time to develop him and learn, but he can do a lot of things on our defense. He’s so young at just 20 years old, so he is going to get stronger, too. It’s exciting for all of us to have him.  This is a team game, and he’s somebody who is one of the guys who can go out there and make plays.  It’s exciting to get guys like that.

Chargers.com:Were there certain qualities you were looking to add to the team in the players we brought in this offseason on defense through free agency? 

Pagano: We were looking for high quality leaders.  We want guys who react fast.  We don’t want guys who have to overthink out there, but (instead are) reacting and playing fast.  We got quality players not only on the field, but quality guys in the locker room. That’s what you see in guys like Brandon Mebane, who comes in and wants to communicate with his teammates about what he’s learned as a veteran.  How to do things. I think that whole process has been great, and it says something about (General Manager) Tom (Telesco) to sign those types of players. 

Chargers.com:What are fans getting in new safety Dwight Lowery? 

Pagano:Dwight is number one a great football player.  Watching him over the years, he’s a great communicator back there in the secondary.  A playmaker.  Somebody who is around the football at all times, and has an ability to get interceptions. You see a guy who can tackle back there and gets guys down.  He also has great cover ability.  So he’s somebody that we set out to really try to sign in free agency, and we ended up getting him to add to the mix. Right now, it’s about getting him to learn how to speak that Chargers talk.  That’s the big thing for all the new guys, including the rookies. It’s learning the language.  The faster you learn the language, the faster you’ll be able to communicate.

Chargers.com:With the way the league is going with so many wide receivers, you see a lot of corners out there at the same time.  How do you feel about depth at that position, particularly Jason Verrett, Brandon Flowers, Casey Hayward, Craig Mager and so on down the list? 

Pagano.  When you have quality depth in the secondary, it gives us the ability to do a lot more things back there.  You can mix those zones up and you can play man-to-man.  You see the type of athletes they are back there. The number one thing is how well they work together and how well they are competing to be better than each other.  You can never have enough guys who (love to) compete.  They bring the best out in each other. I think that group is getting better as time goes on, too.

Chargers.com:  Moving up to the front seven, how have they come together at the start of Phase II?

Pagano:For the first week, it’s been outstanding.  They came to work, and they want to work.  It’s something we’ll build off of.  I told the guys today, right now we’re (focused) on the communication between the players and coaches because of the teaching we’re going through.  But the big thing also is the communication from player to player on the field.

Chargers.com:Our linebackers overall are pretty young, but they’ve played a lot of reps together as a unit.  We saw last year how Denzel Perryman came on strong down the stretch, Melvin Ingram had double digit sacks and so on. Can you sense those reps and snaps together paying off even in this early stage of the offseason? 

Pagano:It starts with that; the more reps they get together the better they are going to be.  The ability of Manti (Te’o) and Denzel growing together and seeing how much faster they can play together is big. They sit next to each other in the meeting room and always talk about how they are going to handle different scenarios.   Melvin Ingram, Jerry Attaochu, Kyle Emanuel, Tourek Williams; they are all going through the process of truly understanding the defense to play it faster and at a high level.  Sometimes you have to take a couple steps backwards, look at what you did last year, learn from the mistakes and improve off that.  We have to play better.  We understand that and know that, but it was good to see how they gelled down the stretch last year.

Chargers.com:Now you add in two draft picks in Joshua Perry and Jatavis Brown.  How do you balance getting all them on the field? 

Pagano:You are always trying to create different (packages) in your mind.  Perry is really big and can run, and Brown can really fly around the field.  But at the end of the day they are young players and rookies, and the first thing they’ve got to do is just learn.  The second thing, and the big thing for any young linebacker, is you’ve got to contribute on special teams.  A big standpoint for us defensively is to also cover kicks, run down field, block and tackle.  Adding quality guys like Perry and Brown, I think you also have the ability to step your special teams up to a level that (Special Teams Coach Craig) Aukerman will be fired up with. 

Chargers.com:There are three new coaches on the defensive side of the ball. What’s the process been like getting everyone up to speed and coming together as a group? 

Pagano:We’re working great together.  They are all outstanding guys and have great energy, passion and leadership.  They are great leaders and great teachers. Having Ron Milus still here in the secondary is huge for us. He’s one of the best in his profession not only as a communicator, but as a teacher. Getting a guy like Chris Harris with him, who has played the game in this league with his ability to communicate what he did as a player on the field is a plus. In Bob Babich as linebackers coach, you’re talking about a guy with a proven level of quality coaching expertise over the years who was also a former coordinator. He’s coached a long time in this league, and he’ll be excellent for us. And then to get a guy like Giff Smith for the D-Line, his technique and overall understanding of the position really shows.  And not only in his time being here, but the guys he’s coached throughout his years in this league. And to have Chris Shula on the defensive line and Bobby King continue to work with the outside linebackers, it’s been outstanding. All of our guys have high energy, and I think it’s something our players feed off of.

Chargers.com:What are the first things you tell Bosa and the rest of the rookies when they get in here? 

Pagano:You’ve got to take them from day one and start them out as if they don’t know anything.  They don’t know a thing about the National Football League.  You start them off like you’d start anything, and you start over every day with them.  You teach them the basics like where the meeting rooms are, how to use their tablets, how to read our playbook, how to line up in the huddle, how we practice and all those things we do as Chargers.  I think how we work is the most important thing.

Chargers.com:Finally, what’s your overall evaluation of the defense as it stands today at the beginning of Phase II? 

Pagano:I’m excited.  Everybody came in in great shape defensively, and these guys are really busting their (tails) off and working hard here throughout the offseason program.  I couldn’t be happier with how the position coaches have worked with the players.  I think what’s most important to come out of Phase II is to learn proper technique, and use them when OTA’s start up.  This is about the brotherhood of coming together, and getting 11 dogs out there ready to hunt.

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