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Evaluating the Defensive Line with DL Coach Giff Smith

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Over the coming weeks, we’ll be checking in with the Chargers’ position coaches to get the inside scoop. We continue with Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith.

*Previous Evaluations *Evaluating the Quarterbacks

Chargers.com: First off, how would you evaluate the unit as a whole from the moment they arrived in April until they parted ways after minicamp?

Smith: Going into OTAs, we were trying to create more depth, especially with Corey (Liuget) out the first four weeks of the season. (We’re) seeing if our draft pick, Justin Jones, could come in and help us. I think we are right on schedule, though. They all really worked hard this offseason, not only from a fundamental standpoint, but just the execution of the defense. As a whole, I thought they really made great strides this spring.

Chargers.com: Everyone wants to talk about Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but you have a lot of high-end depth at the position. Outside of those two superstars, what are you looking for come training camp because you’re going to have to make a lot of tough decisions?

Smith: Obviously there is going to be a lot of competition, which Coach Lynn and Mr. Telesco try to create here. And I think we have that in the unit. It is going to be a real interesting training camp. There’s going to be some backup positions up for grabs. There are some really good players. We’ll just see how it all unfolds. But I’ve been really pleased with the young guys and who they developed. We’ve got a nice mixture of some great players, some veteran players, some rookies, and we’re very fortunate to have the leadership in that group that we do.

Chargers.com: Taking a look at individual players, what Joey Bosa has done his first two seasons has been nothing short of historic. But he doesn’t let it get to his head. Just how impressive has Joey been in not only refusing to let everything get to his head, but also his drive to be great?

Smith: I don’t really worry about it going to Joey’s head. Joey’s a true pro. Joey is very internally motivated to be the best he can be. He was given a lot of talent when he was born, and he’s fun to coach. Joey is also a very good teammate. He’s also obviously a very bright player, and I think he is still just scratching the surface. But his work ethic, the way he takes hard coaching, and being able to take it from film and meeting rooms onto the field, and then incorporating it into 11-on-11 situations, is very impressive.

Chargers.com: Melvin Ingram took his game to new heights last year in his first season at the LEO position. Why is that spot such a perfect for him?

Smith: I think Melvin has really done a great job transforming his body, and he is an extremely smart player. But he’s also a very powerful, quick-twitch guy that understands the game. Last year was the first year that I had him in my room the whole time, and it was a lot of fun. Melvin brings a lot of energy to the room. He and Joey complement each other very well. But I think having the ability to be able to play some pass coverage like he did at outside linebacker prior to becoming the LEO for us in our defense, it obviously helps.

Chargers.com: One guy who it looked like early on could have a chance last year was Chris Landrum, but then he was lost for the year during training camp. There is a spot out there to be earned as that third pass rusher alongside Joey and Melvin in those third-down situations. Where do you see Landrum fitting it?

Smith: Chris is a guy who I’ve been high (on). But like I’ve said to him directly, he needs to stay on the field and stay healthy. If he does, I think people will be really surprised at what type of football player he can be. Where he fits ultimately in the third down package we’ll see, because there is a lot of competition there with other guys. But if Chris can stay healthy, Chris will be an integral part of our unit and in the rotation playing a lot of snaps.

Chargers.com: What are your expectations for Isaac Rochell this season, especially after he earned a lot of praise throughout the offseason program?

Smith: You know, I give so much credit to Isaac. (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach) John Lott has done a tremendous job in the weight room changing his body. Part of it’s the program John’s got, and part of it’s the willingness of Isaac to work as hard as he has. Isaac’s a guy who had really good OTAs. There’s no question about that. He stood out. He’s put himself in a position to play a lot this year, and I’m really excited. He brings us some length that we don’t necessarily have outside of Joey. It should create some more batted passes. He can affect the quarterback and he can defend the run. He’s exceeded what I anticipated he could do, and that’s a credit to Isaac. 

Chargers.com: He won’t be around the first four weeks of the season, but at this stage of his career, what does Corey Liuget bring to the table?

Smith: First of all, when Corey is healthy, Corey is an excellent football player. He’s worked hard on his body and is recovering from (last year’s injury). To me, if he’s healthy, he’s a key component for us up front. Corey’s also one of the most giving human beings I’ve been around. He’s just a class guy. But for him to get back healthy and show everybody what he can do, it’ll be really exciting. We’ll miss him the first four weeks, but it is what it is. He’s handled it the right way, and we look forward to getting him back. He was a Pro Bowl alternate last year.

Chargers.com: One guy who is going to get a chance to really step up at that spot is Darius Philon. Entering his fourth year, what does Darius need to do to be that consistent guy to step in as a starter for Corey?

Smith: He did a really good job last year, and really matured. That was something he and I have talked about since our first year. He was a productive player for us last year, and he really had good OTAs. Philon is a gifted big man. He can move. He’s got a lot of skills to him, and he’s just now starting to come into his own. He’s got a lot of growth ahead of him, but he has grown a lot. We’re counting on him, and I think he’ll accept the challenge and be productive for us.

Chargers.com: Brandon Mebane and Damion Square are two guys whose production may not always show up in the stat sheet, but their contributions are vital. Can you put into words just how much both men mean to this team?

Smith: For our unit, and our team, I think Brandon Mebane and Damion Square’s value are as high as anyone’s on the team. They are guys that understand their role, and are good at their role. I think they are underappreciated at how well they do when they’re out there. But the way they work and help the younger guys, you have to have that if you are going to compete ultimately for a championship. You’ve got to have a guy like that, and we’re fortunate we have two from the standpoint that you don’t wear one out halfway through the year. You’re able to get their reps where they need to be. Both of them stayed healthy all year last year, and did a great job. As a coach, you just appreciate those guys so much.

Chargers.com: Justin Jones was obviously our third-round pick. When you evaluated him as a prospect, what is it you liked about him to make him someone we coveted? Also, what are your expectations for him as a rookie?

Smith: When we watched him on tape, I really liked him. Our scouts really liked him. Then I went to his pro day, and he really stood out. They had a great D-line at N.C. State, and he’s in a group working out with Nick Chubb, B.J. Hill and a number of guys. But he really stood out. He competed. He took to the challenge and was in shape. His execution was good, but his competitiveness is what really stuck out. I was hopeful we’d get him. And since we got him, he’s even a little bit stronger at the point of attack than I thought maybe he would be. But what’s been so encouraging about Justin is the way he’s been able to adapt to new techniques that we’re asking him to do. Especially rushing the passer. And to see some of the success that he’s had out there, I’m very comfortable, assuming everything stays on course, putting him out there in the rotation that first game. He’s ready.

Chargers.com: Whitney Richardson is someone who was on and off the practice squad throughout last year. Where is he at heading into training camp?

Smith: He was a guy that we brought in that Coach Lynn spotted first. I give him a lot of credit on that. But Whitney, he’s a guy who has got length. Whitney is raw, but he’s worked really hard. He got better and better as the year went on, and he’s another who had good OTAs. I hate using this term, but Whitney, he could be a diamond in the rough. You just keep polishing it and see what you’ve got. He’s a guy who has the skillset to play at this level. If he continues to work, it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Chargers.com: Finally, at these undrafted free agents, there are more than a few who seem to turn heads throughout the offseason. Guys like Patrick Afriyie, Albert Havili, Bijhon Johnson and Steven Richardson. What do they need to do in order to make this roster?

Smith: This is probably the best group of rookies, drafted and college free agents, that I’ve had as far as putting extra time into the playbook, studying it, and then executing the calls out on the field. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with their notetaking, and their willingness to study on their own. They’ve taken a lot of pride in it. All of them have. From Patrick to Stove to B.J and Albert, all of those guys have enough skill that make them worth keeping an eye on. And really, once we get out there in 11-on-11 with the pads on and then play against other teams, that’s when we’ll see what unfolds. I’m excited to have them here with us.

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