ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the San Diego Chargers hired a new general manager in Tom Telesco and new head coach in Mike McCoy this past offseason, the team looked over its list of impending free agents and decided to simply let most of them walk.
Denver Broncos defensive end Shaun Phillips was in that group despite having led the Chargers in sacks in 2012 with 9.5, and having led or finished second on the team in sacks in eight of his nine years in San Diego. The Chargers didn’t re-sign Phillips and the veteran floated in free agency for almost two months until the Broncos signed him to a one-year deal during NFL draft weekend.
Phillips then became a rather important signing for the Broncos when Von Miller had to serve a six-game suspension to open the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Phillips currently leads the team with 6.5 sacks and it will be intriguing to watch how the Chargers handle their former outside linebacker with left tackle King Dunlap.
“Shaun’s been great,’’ Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I mean, if you look at us losing [Elvis Dumervil] and how are we going to fill that void -- it was a big question all through camp. Shaun came in -- he’s a very smart guy, great experience and poise. He brought a certain element to our defense that we would miss without him.’’
Phillips has routinely lined up as the right defensive end when the Broncos are in their traditional 4-3 look on defense. But they have shown a 3-4 look on occasion, including 20 snaps in the Broncos’ win over the Washington Redskins, with Phillips and Miller at the outside linebacker spots.
But with Miller expected to get plenty of attention as he continues to try to round into form – he has one sack in his two games back in the lineup – Phillips should see plenty of single blockers and Phillips has consistently said he believes he should always have a chance to get to the quarterback in man-on-man situations. Overall, Phillips has played 343 snaps on defense, or 69 percent of the team's plays, and that's the second-highest total on the team among defensive linemen behind only Derek Wolfe.
Dunlap was one of the free agents the Chargers brought in to try and revamp their offensive line. He was originally slated to be a swing player who could back up at either left or right tackle. But Dunlap then beat out Max Starks for the job and Starks was released during the preseason.
At 6-foot-9, 330 pounds, Dunlap has a huge reach advantage on most rushers he faces, but Phillips will have the quickness to get to the corner at times, especially if he can get Dunlap to look inside from time to time. Dunlap has played better over the past eight games than he graded out in recent seasons, but the Chargers have also pushed the pace on offense with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers getting the ball out quickly.
As a result, the Chargers’ front, which consistently had difficulty keeping the rushers off Rivers last season when he was sacked 49 times and threw 15 interceptions, has benefited from the change in offensive philosophy. Through eight games, Rivers has been sacked 12 times and has thrown seven interceptions.
For his part Phillips said this week he expects just another day at the football office.
“Everyone is like, ‘I know you’re pissed off,’ but I’m not pissed off,’’ Phillips said. “I made a lot of money and a lot plays and made a lot of friends in San Diego. The fun part is going back to play against your old friends, not really the old team. … Again, there are no hard feelings. I just want to go out there and win. … Honestly, it’s business as usual.’’