Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley spoke to members of the media earlier this week and there were quite a few juicy nuggets dropped that may have shed some light on potential changes to how this defense will work in 2020.
The awesome beat writers from around the web did an excellent job covering it for the rest of us, so for this piece I’m going to be touching on my favorite quotes from the press conference and giving my thoughts along the way.
Let’s get to it.
#Chargers DC Gus Bradley said he wants to implement more two-deep safety looks and man coverage this season. His system typically relies heavily on Cover 3.— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) May 6, 2020
"We need to mix it up more," Bradley said.
This is probably the biggest bomb dropped on us from his presser. More two-high looks and man coverage? Yes, please. The Chargers have been infamous for playing so much Cover 3 that they might as well be connected to a controller (little Madden 20 joke for you guys). Bradley’s defense is essentially the classical “bend-but-don’t-break” system where they do not allow the deep ball over their heads and force teams to methodically march down the field. It’s truly a “make them earn every inch” situation. However, it seems like the staff is realizing that it’s become a little too predictable and opposing offenses took full advantage of it in 2019.
When I read this, I also don’t automatically think it means Derwin James will spend more time on the back end, I think this likely means there will be extra snaps for Desmond King or Nasir Adderley while James continues to be moved around the front seven.
#Chargers DC Gus Bradley wants to move Derwin James around the defense. Bradley says how much James plays at linebacker will depend on Kenneth Murray's development. If Murray can handle matching up with backs, James can spend more time elsewhere.— Jason B. Hirschhorn (@by_JBH) May 6, 2020
Segway-ing real nicely into this question from the last, Bradley reiterated that he wants to continue using James as a chess piece on the defense. Whether it’s covering from the slot or handling tight ends off the line, James makes most of his money in this area. Bradley also mentions how rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray’s progression will directly affect how much they are able to use James in a variety of ways.
If Murray can show he is capable of handling satellite backs coming out of the backfield, then Bradley has a little more free rein over where James can line up. When I spoke with Murray’s position coach at Oklahoma, he told me that role is essentially all they had him do, which was sit in the middle, spy the quarterback, and take the back when he went into the flats.
#Chargers DC Gus Bradley says the team will put more on Rayshawn Jenkins' plate. Bradley thinks Jenkins might play more linebacker and strong safety this season.— Jason B. Hirschhorn (@by_JBH) May 6, 2020
Yes. Absolutely yes. This is something I brought up in my recent mailbag.
The Chargers lost Adrian Phillips in free agency and that opened up a legitimate hole in their defense. With their sixth-round pick in this year’s draft, they grabbed Alohi Gilman from Notre Dame to potentially fill that role or provide depth. However, with Adderley waiting in the wings, how does it not make sense to put Jenkins there and utilize his explosiveness closer to the line of scrimmage? If you recall, Jenkins packed on weight to be around 220 pounds in 2018 to be the back-up for James. It wouldn’t be all that absurd to have him just do it again. He can jump out of the room and utilize his athleticism by jumping all over tight ends and getting the way of passing lanes.
I think this is a great idea from Bradley.
#Chargers DC Gus Bradley says DT Jerry Tillery showed flashes. He says he feels like what Tillery got last season was that he needed to get stronger and bigger. He says he has been working hard this offseason.— Fernando Ramirez (@RealFRamirez) May 6, 2020
This adds a bit more insight into the struggles of last year’s first-round pick. Tillery played limited snaps and came away with 2.5 sacks as a rookie. While that number could always be worse for a first-round defensive tackle, it was his lack of prowess in stopping the run that didn’t bide well for his initial year as a pro.
Bradley noted that Tillery struggled with being double-teamed and handling contact at the point of attack due to a lack of strength. At 6’6” and just around 300 pounds, he’s fairly lean and still has plenty of room to grow into his frame as a professional. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see him get up to 315 or heavier. I know he’s a pass-rushing tackle, but I’d rather see him limit yards up the middle initially before he start selling out for potential pressure/sack.
#Chargers WR Mike Williams says he wants to get to 1,300-1,500 yards and over 10 touchdowns. Says he is aiming big.— Fernando Ramirez (@RealFRamirez) May 6, 2020
Personally, I love when players set the bar high for their expectations of themselves. But I’ll be the first to say that this is unrealistic. For Williams to reach these numbers, with a new quarterback, would be pretty insane. Overall, the amount of targets to be had will decrease without Philip Rivers and then he would have to take a significant bite out of Keenan Allen’s target share, too. After seeing what he did the last two seasons, I’d much rather he look like the 2018 version than the 2019 version, meaning I’d like those 10 touchdowns more than anything.
#Chargers DC Gus Bradley says DT Justin Jones will benefit from the changes the team is making with the defensive scheme.— Jason B. Hirschhorn (@by_JBH) May 6, 2020
I actually don’t have much of an idea what the changes mentioned here could be, but changes in general are a good thing. Does Bradley think the addition of Linval Joseph and how they will utilize the veteran mean players like Jones can have more freedom at the 3-technique? Are they going to utilize more stunts and twists up front, or along the interior specifically? It could be these or something completely different, but I’m here for it.