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Recapping the Week: Chargers the 'Best Secondary in Football'

Along with Derwin James, Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus calls Casey Hayward and Adrian Phillips the on-field leader of the JackBoyz.
Along with Derwin James, Defensive Backs Coach Ron Milus calls Casey Hayward and Adrian Phillips the on-field leader of the JackBoyz.

When Chargers great Shawne Merriman got set to announce the team's second-round selection at the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville, he wasn't expecting safety Nasir Adderley's name to be on the card. 

"You look at a guy like him, you're like, 'How in the hell does he last to [the] second round?'" 

On Thursday's episode of Chargers Weekly, Merriman likened Adderley's fall out of the first round to All-Pro safety Derwin James dropping to Los Angeles at No. 17 overall in 2018. The addition of another playmaker to a secondary that already boasts several has Merriman bullish on the 2019 version of the JackBoyz.

"To me, they have the best secondary in football when you look across the board," he said. "And more importantly, they have depth now. … If a guy goes down – it's a long season, things happen – another guy can step right up and you don't miss a beat." 

As far as the new safety duo, Merriman called James the "force factor" and Adderley the "trust factor." He explained that teams will have to account for where James lines up on the field. While James seeks out the big play, Merriman said the rookie's responsibility will be to get to the ball, be in position and be reliable.

An elite pass rush can only make the backend that much better. By selecting defensive tackle Jerry Tillery in the first round to go with defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, Merriman said quarterbacks won't have much time to operate. That pressure will allow more opportunities for splash plays. 

"What's going to happen is these DBs are going to start sitting on plays," Merriman said. "They know that in three seconds or less the ball has to be thrown."

Merriman isn't the only one riding with the Chargers secondary. After over 43,000 votes in the NFL on Fox's Twitter poll, Los Angeles was given the title as league's best secondary.

Seventh-round connection

The Chargers' 2018 season included clutch performances from a pair of seventh-round selections.

An injury to Joey Bosa in training camp moved defensive end Isaac Rochell (No. 225 overall) into a larger role on the defense. He played in all 16 games, notched five sacks and had a game-sealing interception in Week 4 against San Francisco.

When Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon went down with a knee injury for a few weeks late in the season, Justin Jackson (No. 251 overall) seized his opportunity with 167 total yards and two touchdowns in a pair of primetime road wins at Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

In keeping with the trend, perhaps defensive tackle Cortez Broughton (No. 242 overall) is in line for a memorable moment or two in 2019. One week into his NFL career, the rookie has leaned heavily on his veteran teammates for guidance.

"These guys are not stingy with knowledge," said Broughton, who was a guest on Tuesday's episode of the Backstage: Chargers Podcast. "They're very giving with it, and the reason being is just because they know if they don't have somebody behind them, then they're not going to come out [of the game]."

Developing depth is an essential part of a championship team. Vets play as big a role in that as the coaches.

Broughton was already given a homework assignment by linemate Brandon Mebane. The rookie sits next to Damion Square in meetings where they discuss formations and responsibilities. This week he had lunch with Rochell, who shared advice on both the Southern California lifestyle and keeping focused on football.

Broughton has embraced the process of becoming a professional, and he's already made a concerted effort to get ahead of the curve. With the help of his new teammates, he could be the Chargers' latest seventh-round gem.

"These guys know what it's like, and they take care of you," he said.

For Square, grass isn't always greener

NFL free agency can be a drawn-out, arduous process for players. Damion Square is happy that it's over.

"It did get a little scary for a while, man, just to think that I would have to adapt to something new," he said on Chargers Weekly. "Those possibilities showed up in many different ways."

The seventh-year defensive tackle had interest from some of the top teams in the NFL, but he said none of the opportunities matched the situation he'd be leaving in Los Angeles. He was already home.

In Square, the Chargers retain one of their defensive leaders. He appeared in all 16 games last season, including 11 starts. His return to the D-line in 2019 comes during an offseason that's already seen the re-signing of Brandon Mebane, the emergence of Justin Jones and the selection of rookie Jerry Tillery.

With organized team activities (OTAs) set to begin on Monday, Square explained the focus over the next two months is further developing the culture he's helped to build over the last two seasons under Head Coach Anthony Lynn and Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley.

"We added a few new guys to the locker room that are going to have to contribute for us immediately, especially at the safety position," Square said. "So, just inflicting our will on those guys and letting them know how we want to perform as a team."

Weekend reading's Hayley Elwood on how defensive tackle Justin Jones fulfilled his mom’s wish by walking in his college graduation last weekend.

-The Los Angeles Times' Jeff Miller on All-Pro cornerback Desmond King having the ride of his life with the Chargers.

-Offensive lineman Forrest Lamp will have "every opportunity" to compete for a starting role.

-Safety Adarius Pickett signs with the Chargers.

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