Over the coming weeks, we’ll be checking in with the Chargers’ position coaches and coordinators to get the inside scoop. We continue with DB Coach Ron Milus.
Chargers.com: We talked about the cornerbacks earlier, so now let’s focus in on the safeties. We run a single-high defense under Gus Bradley with the strong safety in the box and the free up high as the eraser. I don’t think enough is said about how vital that free safety is when it comes to this scheme. How would you describe it?
Milus: It’s very, very important You mentioned ago about the eraser - the middle-of-the-field guy. If something were to break, we’ve got to count on that guy to get the person on the ground to eliminate a potential explosive run. Or an explosive pass that may make it down field. The guy’s just got to be a steady guy, a good tackler…he’s got to have poise, he’s got to have patience. He may only get about six or seven plays in a whole game, but those six or seven plays are the important plays. The other guy is important, too. The strong safety. He’s a half-linebacker, half-defensive back because he’s so close to the line of scrimmage. He’s an integral part of our run defense.
Chargers.com: Jahleel Addae started last year at strong but for his first four years was free. Derwin James can play both as well. How important is training camp and preseason in figuring out where those two are going to fit in, and who you want to play where?
Milus: That’s still a work in progress. We’re still trying to figure out where Derwin’s at mentally in our system. We kind of know what Jahleel is able to do, and he can float back to free, he can play strong. Plus, we’ve got AP (Adrian Phillips) and Rayshawn (Jenkins) who can also play both positions, so the three guys we had a year ago are very flexible. All three of them can play strong safety or free safety, and now we’re just trying to figure out where to slide Derwin into the equation.
Chargers.com: Last year we saw a lot of three safety looks. This year you have four corners in Jason Verrett, Casey Hayward, Desmond King and Trevor Williams who have all proved themselves. They all deserve playing time, as well. So, should we still expect to see three safeties as much on the field considering the depth at corner right now?
Milus: It’ll be interesting to see how we progress through training camp. I can’t tell you right now. It’s hard to say if we’ll end up getting a situation where we have three safeties on the field quite often. We do have those options and it’s a credit to those players. Those guys have to learn multiple positions, and being able to handle multiple positions is valuable. This is what we’re going to find out when training camp starts.
Chargers.com: Your first season with the Chargers was when this undrafted kid named Jahleel Addae was just trying to earn a spot. Now he is the veteran of this group and is the longest tenured player. Just how proud are you of Jahleel?
Milus: I’m happy for him. I’m very happy for him. Jahleel is a hard worker. I keep telling his parents how good of a job they did. For a guy who handles himself on and off the field like he does, he’s a guy I’d consider a true pro.
Chargers.com: With Derwin, what does he need to do in training camp and preseason in order to really get himself ready for Week 1?
Milus: I think the biggest thing is to really get the nuances of our defense. He’s done a heck of a job, but just some of the things that Jahleel, AP and Rayshawn have already seen, he hasn’t been exposed to yet. But physically, the guy is everything we asked him to be, so he’s going to be a good player.
Chargers.com: Everyone talks about Derwin, but Rayshawn Jenkins was a fourth-round pick a year ago who the team is high on, as well. He got his feet wet last year, but it’s almost as though he’s kind of a forgotten guy by fans and the media after drafting James. Where do you see Rayshawn’s development, and what are your expectations?
Milus: Rayshawn came back in tremendous shape. He’s got speed. He’s got size. He’s improving every day. I like where he’s at right now. This competition is going to be fierce for who goes on the field, and Rayshawn is in the equation. Were we to play a game today, he’d probably be out there. It’ll be interesting in August to actually put the pads on and see where everyone is at.
Chargers.com: Every year it seems a new safety comes in, and every year, Adrian Phillips manages to force the issue and get on the field. What is his role this year, and where does he fit in?
Milus: He always kind of figures out a way to get on the field. If it’s at one of the safety positions or if he’s in one of our other subpackages, he’s the utility guy. He always figures a way to get on the field or to fix it. He never worries about it, or if the reps might not have been as many as he would have liked in OTAs. At the end of the day, we’re going to need him.
Chargers.com: We signed Jaylen Watkins in free agency. He’s played corner and safety, but is the idea to keep him at safety right now? How has he looked?
Milus: The last week was his best week. Jaylen is a Super Bowl champion. He’s smart, he’s athletic and he’s versatile. He’s one of those guys kind of like Derwin (because) he’s learning our system, and as they get more familiar with what we’re doing, it gets easier. He’s played corner, but we’re starting him off as free safety. But don’t be surprised if he does both. He can play nickel. He can do all those things.
Chargers.com: Finally, A.J. Hendy spent most of last season on the practice squad. How did that help his development?
Milus: I think it did help him. The thing about A.J. is he might be one of the faster DBs that we have even though he’s a free safety. He’s got range. We don’t know about the physical part because he hasn’t had a chance to go out there with pads and prove himself, but he sure looks the part.
The Chargers’ 2018 training camp schedule is official, so mark your calendars to watch the Bolts prepare for the upcoming season! The team will hold 14 practices open to the public between July 28 and August 23. For more information, please visit www.chargers.com/camp.