Giff Smith means business.
The Chargers new defensive line coach arrives in San Diego with 23 years of experience under his belt, including his last four seasons split between the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans. Asked to describe his coaching style, the no-nonsense coach doesn't hesitate to answer.
"Very straight forward and very demanding," he said. "But I'm very fair and honest. The thing I take a lot of pride in from my time at Buffalo and at Tennessee is that guys got better. I was able to develop players. I also value my relationship with them, and the guys played hard. At the end of the day, you have to be a physical, smart, fast football player for me. When you cross that white line, we're not out there to make any friends. We're not trying to be voted class president. We're going to line up, and at the end of the day, that other (team) is going to be worn out on the other side of the ball from us."
Smith has experience leading a wide variety of defensive fronts, and has strong views on what qualities a 3-4 defensive lineman must possess. He also demands they make an impact on their own rather than simply eating up blockers for teammates to make plays, a philosophy he believes is virtually extinct.
"In this system, you need to be strong against the run," he explained. "You have to be able to separate and make plays. But to be a great defensive lineman in a 3-4, you have to be able to win the one-on-one matchups in the pass rush. The old school 3-4 two-gap only (scheme) is obsolete. People don't do that anymore. It is about 3-4 spacing, and we want to confuse the offense on where the fourth rusher is coming from. We want to confuse him so he doesn't know where the pressure is coming from. To me, you have to have a tremendous skill level to play in a 3-4, and you have to incorporate heart and desire."
The Chargers courtship of Smith began with Head Coach Mike McCoy and Defensive Coordinator John Pagano. It didn't take long for the team to realize he was the right man for the job, especially with a ringing endorsement from Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
"When you have a former head coach that jumps on the table for someone that was on his staff, that is something you notice," McCoy said. "It was big when (Whisenhunt) spoke about what he did for him, and John Pagano talks about his relationship with him. Then you look at the development of players and what (Giff) did for both the younger players and veterans, and the success they had up front, it was impressive."
"They flew me out on a Tuesday night, met on a Wednesday and I was offered the job that Friday," Smith recalled of the process. "Initially coming in here, with Coach McCoy and Coach Pagano in place, and Whiz coming back as Offensive Coordinator, I knew it was a solid staff at the head parts. And obviously I was excited to join a team with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Philip Rivers."
Less than a month into his tenure, Smith is encouraged about the team's overall future. That also goes for the defense as a whole as well as the d-line.
"Since I've been here, the interactions among the staff have been outstanding. When you have that, you can bounce a lot of good ideas around. Then watching the tape of the defense, we're not that far off. We need a couple pieces and get a little bit better at some technique runs. But John Pagano is one of the best defensive coordinators in the business. I was excited when I got here, but I'm more excited now because I see how close we are."
One of those pieces is Corey Liuget, who is the centerpiece of the Bolts' d-line. Smith has high hopes for the 25 year old defensive tackle set for his sixth season in 2016. He is hoping to do for Liuget what he did in his previous stops when Kyle Williams was a Pro Bowl pick each year under his tutelage while Jurrell Casey made it this season after posting a team-high seven sacks.
"Corey is a very good player right now that I think is ready to take that next step to being a dominant player. That became clear after speaking with him briefly, and we will continue to communicate more through the offseason program. He is a top starter in the NFL that to me can make that next step to elite status like Kyle Williams did while I was at Buffalo and Jurrell Casey did at Tennessee. So it is going to be fun to get to work with him, and I like his skill set a lot."
It will be a busy few months leading up to the start of the offseason program as Smith evaluates every aspect of the roster.
"Right now we are in the process going through the cutups of last year, looking at things we can do better. Everything we see, we talk through it as a staff to see if we can get better at it. Outside of that, I'm finishing up my evaluation of our current players and the free agents we have on our squad. Then I will start into the evaluation of free agents throughout the league, and need areas up front. I'll also evaluate the college players eligible for the draft, and will go to the combine and prepare for that. This unit could change dramatically, or it could stay the same. That is something we will work through as an organization. But whoever is in that room at the start of it, we will get them ready to play."