The fact the Chargers need to improve on defense in 2022 is as obvious as the presence of 6-foot-6 quarterback Justin Herbert.
But both general manager Tom Telesco and coach Brandon Staley have made a point in recent weeks of explaining that this offseason isn’t just about one side of the line of scrimmage.
On Wednesday, Staley said the Chargers are intent on building a team he called “complete” and “deep.”
“Those two words you’re going to hear me say a lot,” he promised at the NFL scouting combine, “because I know that that will allow us to be as good as we can be.”
Issues with depth cost the Chargers during their 9-8 finish in the 2021 season. Mostly because of injuries, they were exposed at times mainly in their secondary and along their defensive front.
They also lost both starters on the right side of their offensive line — making protecting Herbert more difficult — and were forced to employ several young players on special teams.
The process of reloading the roster starts here this week, as the Chargers ramp up preparations for the draft at the end of April. Their first pick comes at No. 17.
Staley referenced the secondary and defensive line as areas that need to be addressed in the coming weeks.
The Chargers seem unlikely to re-sign veteran cornerback Chris Harris Jr., which would open one spot.
Harris has dealt with injuries during his two seasons with the team, missing three games early last season because of a shoulder problem. He played at least 75% of the defensive snaps in 10 of the 14 games in which he did appear in 2021.
Entering his second season, Asante Samuel Jr. offers the Chargers the flexibility to play inside and outside. That versatility will give Staley and Telesco options when assessing personnel.
“Corner is definitely going to be something that we’re looking at,” Staley said. “We’re always going to be looking at it, as long as I’m the head coach.”
Particularly playing in a division that includes Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes. Staley explained that there is a premium on defending dangerous quarterbacks, saying, “You don’t do that if you don’t have a bunch of cover guys out there.”
Michael Davis is one of those cover guys for the Chargers, though he struggled at times in his first season in Staley’s system and just months after signing a three-year extension worth up to $25.2 million.
Davis’ $5-million salary for 2022 becomes fully guaranteed on March 18, according to Spotrac. Staley said Davis has been working out at the team’s Costa Mesa facility.
“I think Mike’s a starting corner in the league,” he said. “I think he has a lot stronger sense of his game now, especially playing in our system, which is a different system from a technique standpoint, from a scheme standpoint …
“He’s still a young player. I know he’s been in the league now for a minute. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t improve a lot. That’s what we’re trying to do this offseason — get him in that comfort zone, really take his game and make that jump that we think he’s capable making.”
Along their defensive front, the Chargers have pending free agents in tackles Justin Jones and Linval Joseph and edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu, each one of them a starter.
Staley said the process of improving the defense has started with identifying the “critical factors” he seeks at each position and working with the scouting department to find players with those traits.
In 2020, Staley was the coordinator of a Rams defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL. That unit largely stayed healthy but also featured players who fit more closely to what Staley is attempting to build today.
“On defense, we really value versatility,” he said. “What we’ve undertaken here and what’s ongoing is just establishing our way of playing from a personnel standpoint. This offseason will allow us to look the way that we want to look.”