The Los Angeles Chargers’ defense has garnered significant attention this offseason.
That’s to be expected with the addition of Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley, who inherits Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa, franchise-tagged Melvin Ingram and the presence of two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.
However, they are far from the only Bolts who will determine the defense’s success in 2017.
An important factor could be the play of Jerry Attaochu, who is fresh off a season he’d rather forget.
“I’m flushing last year down the toilet,” he said bluntly. “I know where I wanted to be, and I wasn’t able to do it. I set goals for myself each year, and I was proud of the way I worked toward them. But I wasn’t able to get it done with those injuries.”
The former second-round pick had high expectations heading into 2016, believing he’d take another step in his development. Instead, his season barely got off the ground as he dealt with a myriad of injuries. While his confidence remains high, the speedy edge-rusher knows he must put last year’s troubles behind him in order to remind people what he is capable of.
“The nature of the business is if you miss one season, people forget about you,” he continued. “It is what it is. I don’t care who you are. You can be a top five player at your position, but if you miss time in the NFL, people forget about you. I want to stay healthy so I can be in the conversation every year. I think that goes for everyone on IR last year. All it takes is one year to be a forgotten man. This can be a love and hate game, so we want to show people who we really are.”
Attaochu has shown glimpses of being a game changer from his very first snaps as a rookie in 2014. Taking the field in primetime against the Cardinals, he blocked a punt on special teams and authored a strip-sack that led to a touchdown. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to only 11 games that year.
After missing the 2015 opener with a hamstring ailment, the 6-3, 252-pounder turned heads as a 22-year old sophomore. He played in the remaining 15 games, posting 66 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks. Attaochu was ready to build on his strong sophomore season, but only appeared in eight games due to multiple injuries. The Bolts eventually placed him on the reserve-injured list following Week 12.
With last season’s trials and tribulations in the past, Attaochu believes Bradley’s system is the ideal fit to bounce back.
“NFL careers can be up and down at times. Last season obviously didn’t go as wanted, but this year is a fresh start for me. I see myself as a playmaker and a leader. Gus’ system is going to be great for me, and a lot of guys on the defense. It lets me play fast and aggressive. That’s when I am at my best. It plays into my skillset as a young player.”
Attaochu is looking to follow in the footsteps of Ingram, who showed promise while dealing with injuries before breaking out in his fourth season. Number 54 put it all together in 2015, becoming the first Bolt to post double-digit sacks (10.5) in five years as he started all 16 games.
“Sometimes it just takes more time than people realize,” he said. “Everyone’s career is different. Some have speed bumps early in their career and some have it later. Hopefully mine are (in the past).”