Finally...Joey Bosa is ready to play for the Chargers. With the news Bosa was a full participant in consecutive practices for the first time since signing with the team, everyone is talking about the third overall pick's NFL debut. Will he play? If so, will he be used in the base defense, or strictly in sub-packages? And, of course, how many snaps will he play? While all these questions are interesting and pertinent, no one is asking the most important question.
That question, of course, is; how will the Chargers use Joey Bosa? And the answer may not be as predictable as you think it is. Based on watching Bosa's college tape and breaking down the Chargers defense over the first four games of the 2016 season, I believe there are three key ways in which defensive coordinator John Pagano will deploy his rookie defensive end. Let's take a look at each of them and how Joey's presence on the field could help his teammates make more plays.
To better explain/understand each of these roles, we can refer to the chart below, which depicts all of the defensive line techniques.
Role #1: 5-technique in base 3-4 defense
As you can see in the chart above, the 5-technique in a 3-4 defense is a defensive end lining up directly over the tackle. In this case, Joey Bosa will probably be deployed as the left defensive end, lined up over the right tackle. At times he will also "shade" the tackle's inside shoulder, or the "B gap" in hopes of forcing the opposition to double team him with the guard.
In this alignment Joey will be asked occupy space, help set the edge versus the run and, ideally, disrupt opposing running games around the line of scrimmage. He would also be asked occupy blockers as a pass rusher, creating mismatches that free up Melvin Ingram, Jerry Attaochu and Kyle Emanuel off the edge. While I would expect him to win a handful of his match-ups with opposing right tackles, it probably isn't reasonable to expect much in the way of sack production as the 5-technque because the bulk of his value will come as a run defender.
A lack of sack production may not be sexy, but neither is giving up 5 yards per carry on the ground, and the Chargers will take any help #99 can give them in that regard.
Role #2: 9-technique in 4-man sub-packages
Again referring to the chart, the 9-technique is the pass rushing defensive end in a 4-man front. Unlike in the 3-4, wherein the defensive end lines up directly over or to the inside of the tackle, the 9-technique lines up over the tackle's outside shoulder. The goal here is to use speed and explosiveness to beat the tackle off the edge, hopefully forcing the opposing offense to chip or double team with the tight end in passing situations.
Personally, I think this possibility is exciting for a defense that has used its share of 4-man fronts in sub-packages early in the year. These fronts usually include Corey Liuget and some combination of Brandon Mebane, Caraun Reid or Darius Philon playing inside with Jerry Attaochu and Melvin Ingram playing end. This is where I see Bosa being used as both a pass rusher and a decoy.
I envision Liuget and Bosa lining up alongside each other on the right side of the line with Melvin Ingram lining up either outside of Bosa or in the B gap (over the guard). In other words, this is an opportunity for John Pagano force the opposing offensive line to pick their poison, and with only so many bodies available to block, someone is bound to come free. This should result in increased pressure on the QB, which should result in improved sack production.
Not even John Pagano can screw this up...
Role #3: 3-technique in 4-man sub packages
The 3-technique in 4-man fronts is the pass rushing defensive tackle, which generally means lining up over the outside shoulder of the guard. In this role the tackle is asked to use a quick first step to collapse the pocket from the inside out, applying pressure in the face of the opposing quarterback. As good as Joey Bosa is at rushing the quarterback from his traditional defensive end position, his combination of a quick first step, length and upper body strength makes him ideally suited to beat opposing guards with both speed and power.
This is where I start to get extremely excited. Why? Because I imagine John Pagano pairing his rookie defensive end with the likes of Corey Liuget, Caraun Reid and Darius Philon, all of whom are natural defensive tackles, in the middle of his line. This, of course, forces the opposing offense to choose which pass rusher(s) require double teams, which should leave one or more rushers with one on one matchups. It should also provide more opportunities for Pagano to move his outside backers around the formation, changing up their rush points and creating more favorable matchups.
As Bosa gets acclimated to the offense and the speed of the NFL game, I would expect the bulk of his value as a pass rusher to be provided as a 3-technique, where he will likely be matched-up one-on-one with guards. He should be able to apply quick pressure up the middle and finish his share of plays from this spot on the defense. And if teams feel he needs to be double-teamed, it will create more opportunities for the Chargers other edge rushers. Everyone should benefit.
Having laid out the many roles of Bosa in the Chargers offense, I would caution fans to temper their expectations. Joey Bosa is not J.J. Watt, and any such comparisons are not only misinformed, they're unfair. I would expect Bosa, who did miss all of training camp, preseason and the first four games of the regular season, to take some time adjusting to the speed of the NFL game. With that in mind, I expect Bosa to make his most immediate impact as a run defender while providing the occasional pressure and sack. While that may not seem terribly exiting, we should all remember even the great J.J. Watt only recorded 5.5 sacks in his first NFL season.