Chargers’ new defense has huge edge with Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa

He opened his latest session with reporters by answering one of the first questions: “I don’t like to talk much.”

He ended the meeting a few minutes later by declaring, “I don’t like to talk too much.”

Luckily for the Chargers, they traded Khalil Mack not for talking, but for doing — doing the things that made him a three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection, a star aligning himself with their other star on the sidelines, Joey Bosa.

Together they will form the pillars of a rebuilt defense that will be as crucial to this team’s fate as any magic swirled by Justin Herbert’s right arm.

The fact that the Chargers missed the playoffs in 2021 had nothing to do with their young and immensely talented quarterback. Despite the screeching protests that still echo, their failure also had nothing to do with Brandon Staley’s fourth-down decisions.

The Chargers missed the playoffs last season because their defense wasn’t good enough to prevent the other team from running the ball or converting third to first.

Decision makers responded by trading for Mack and guaranteeing $59 million for seven defensive free agents: linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson and Morgan Fox; cornerbacks JC Jackson and Bryce Callahan; and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Troy Reeder.

The fact that it all started with the Mack deal was both significant and symbolic – Staley reunited with a player he had successfully coached and who already understood so much about a complex and teammate-dependent system.

This theme ran throughout the offseason as the Chargers entered Week 1 with a 53-man roster that included just eight of their top 15 tacklers from the previous season.

Staley believes he has a pair in Mack and Bosa that add up to more than two.

Chargers defensive end Morgan Fox (56) walks into the dressing room during a preseason game against Dallas.

Morgan Fox is back in Los Angeles, this time with the Chargers after a stint with the Carolina Panthers.

(Kyusung Gong/Associated Press)

“I see a lot of really special things happen that can only happen between two players of this caliber,” Staley said during camp. “There’s a lot of things going on between them that not a lot of people would understand.

“To see the game through the lenses of two superstars, two of the best players at their positions in recent years, to come together and share their stories and what they see is really special.”

Mack and Bosa spent much of August side by side, sharing ideas and secrets. They watched videos of fellow edge rushers and opposing offensive linemen together. They pushed each other in meetings and sprints.

Bosa, now entering his seventh season and having three straight Pro Bowl selections, suggests Mack’s impact was so real that he appreciates his own maturity.

“Just having a guy like that to motivate me to always be the first to run to every exercise, I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to keep up with him, I guess,'” Bosa said. “But he’s the man.

“I think as a freshman – or a few years into my career – it would have been almost so negative that in my mind I’m too competitive in that sense. Now I just love having a guy like that to lean on and ask questions.”

They are different players with opposite styles. Mack is power where Bosa is precision. Mack uses his shoulders where Bosa uses his hands. Mack will run over where Bosa will spin around.

What they have in common is power when it comes to chasing quarterbacks and improving running backs, with Staley calling the duo “difference makers.”

Mack has had four seasons of double-digit sacks. Bosa also has four. Mack has 136 career quarterback hits. Bosa has 129. Mack was the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Bosa was the 2016 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“They really have complementary styles,” Staley said. “They really have complementary personalities. I think opposites attract a little bit and you can see that a little bit between them. As a coach, you like to see that.”

Staley praised both Mack and Bosa for the totality of their influence, calling both “complete,” a player equally capable of disrupting the run and the pass. He stated that he expects both of them to play 80-90% of the snaps when they’re healthy.

What all of this means when the games begin remains uncertain. But it may be noted that the Chargers have had two players with at least 10 sacks apiece in the same season only once in the past 15 years — in 2017, when Bosa and Melvin Ingram did it.

“They are extremely detailed in their engineering,” said Chargers center Corey Linsley. “When you get guys like this who have all the talent in the world and work at their craft day in and day out, that’s what makes them who they are.”

Another thing these two share: a lack of postseason success. Mack has not won a playoff game since his only year of playing high school football in Florida. Bosa’s only NFL playoff win came in January 2019.

Can that change in a few months?

Just one of the expectations now placed on the Chargers is that as they make a playoff run, Mack and Bosa predict they have a lot to say, even if one of them prefers not to say much at all. Chargers’ new defense has huge edge with Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa

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