As we’re all aware of by now, the Los Angeles Chargers defense will be moving from a 3-4 formation to a 4-3 deference due to the hiring of former Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley. You may think this is a big change but really, it isn’t. Chargers have run a 4-2-5 nickel formation for most their snaps over the last few years so for the front 4, there isn’t going to be that much of a difference. Especially now the team has franchised Melvin Ingram, the defensive line is going to look the same as last year:
Melvin Ingram – 9-technique/LEO
Brandon Mebane – 1 technique/Two Gap Nose Tackle
Corey Liuget – 3 technique/Defensive Tackle
Joey Bosa – 5 technique/Two gap End
The main issue I have between these four guys is on the interior. Mebane and Liuget put together a huge total of one sack last year. Now, as the nose tackle, Mebane’s primary job is to stop the run, which he did incredibly well when he was on the field. However, he’s not going to be able to do that forever and with injuries creeping in, the Chargers must start looking to the future. That could be in the form of Damion Square, who signed a deserved, two year deal this off-season after the best year of his career. Square replaced Mebane for the last few games of the season after he got put on IR (shock). He racked up 2.5 sacks albeit 2 were in one game against the Cleveland Browns. Now onto Liuget and to be honest, I’m not sure where to start. Ah right, when Tom Telesco gave him a five year, $51.25 million deal, that’s probably a good place. That deal was signed in the off-season of 2015. Before that, Liuget had been with the team four years recording 18 sacks and 5 forced fumbles. However, since a career high of 7 sacks in his second season, his production had been decreasing every year until last year, where his sack total read zero. PFF ranked interior lineman contract's leading into the 2016 season, Liuget's ranked number one, and not in a good way.
So, when fans say the defensive line is not a need, just make them aware of an ageing nose tackle and a 27-year-old on a juicy contract who’s not making much production.
What’s the solution, you ask? Step forward Iowa’s interior lineman, Jaleel Johnson. I talked about Johnson when BFTB writers spoke about their draft crushes, but here I'll go into more detail.
Johnson is a 6'3", 316 lbs lineman, who plays with an aggressive style. He played 17 total games in his junior and senior years at Iowa, accumulating 101 combined tackles, 15.5 TFLs and 11 sacks. Additionally, Johnson made an appearance at the Senior Bowl where many people spoke highly of him. Joe Marino, writer for fanragsports.com, said:
"Johnson was dominant, even unblockable at times throughout the week of practice. Showing refined hand usage and technique, Johnson also has tremendous power and quickness that makes him difficult to block."
As Joe said, one of Johnson's biggest strengths is his hand placement and quickness. He manages to get out of his stance quickly to enable himself to get his hands on the offensive lineman so he can gain control. It's not only about the speed but the position he puts them in.
The play above is against rivals Iowa State, and this is one of the best games I've seen from a single prospect so far. Johnson is lined up as the 3 technique, 1v1 vs the right guard. Firstly, he makes two quick steps out of his stance, then gets both arms into the chest of the guard. After pushing the lineman back for a few yards, he then just has one hand on him which he takes him to the ground with. Then jumps on the QB for the sack to finish the play.
Another play from the Iowa State game is this run stuff. Again, Johnson gets his hands up early and pushes the right guard away from the play. Displaying his lower body strength by having the guard exactly where he wants him. He disengages from the block and makes the stop.
As seen above Johnson can be productive in the run game but does struggle against double teams:
Here, vs Penn State, they targeted Johnson a lot and this is two plays in a row which conclude in two decent gains. Johnson gets easily pushed back the first time around and then gets spun on the second. Both times he didn't anchor down and let the offensive lineman come on to him. This is the main reason why it's hard to project him as a 1 technique at the next level.
Moving away from his play on the field, Johnson's combine was not good:
This is a big reason why Johnson isn't getting 1st round talk. He put on six pounds from his playing weight at Iowa which isn't a lot, but he looked at a very bad weight at the combine. He didn't look the most explosive on tape, but this is way worse than I imagined. The last two drills saved his combine score being below one.
Even taking Johnson's combine performance into consideration, you can't deny his play-making ability on tape. He would be a nice addition to the defensive line rotation in his rookie season and would hopefully be able to build on that to take over Corey Liuget's role in the future.
Leave your comments on the interior defensive line below and draft prospect Jaleel Johnson.