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Russell Okung emerging as veteran leader on Chargers' O-line

The Los Angeles Chargers drafted two talented offensive linemen in Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney early in this year’s draft to improve the depth up front.

However, the addition of left tackle Russell Okung helped change the identity of the team’s offensive line.

“It’s been awesome,” Chargers center Spencer Pulley said. “He’s an unbelievable pro. Every day he comes in to work. It’s awesome to see him work because he’s obviously been very successful. And he’s just a very good player, so it’s cool to see that every day and have him on the offensive line."

A former Pro Bowler during his tenure with the Seattle Seahawks, the Chargers raised some eyebrows when the team signed Okung to a four-year, $53 million deal -- including $25 million in guaranteed money -- making the Oklahoma State product one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in free agency.

According to Pro Football Focus, Okung allowed 57 pressures in his only season with the Denver Broncos last year, more than any other left tackle in 2016 besides the New York Giants’ Ereck Flowers.

The Broncos declined to pick up Okung’s $8 million option for the upcoming season, allowing him to hit free agency. Okung fired back at the critics.

“In all honesty, you have a media community that’s driven by certain relationships that want to put out false things,” Okung said. “I would say as an offense, there were some struggles in Denver last year. And if you want to put that on me, that’s OK. But it is what it is, and I like where I’m at now.

“The great thing about this year is you get to be back within the [AFC West] division and do what you do against the same guys. So I guess we will know at the end of the year.”

While Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian was sacked 31 times last season, he tended to drop deeper and hold the ball longer in the pocket than a more experienced passer like Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, which should help improve Okung’s performance.

The addition of Okung, 29, is part of revamping the Chargers' offensive line. They released three-fifths of last year’s starting offensive line in free agency in D.J. Fluker, King Dunlap and Orlando Franklin.

Last year’s starting center, Matt Slauson, was moved to left guard. And Rivers likes how the two veterans in Okung and Slauson have worked together on the left side so far this offseason.

“Those two can cause some problems for the defense,” Rivers said. “They both really seem to already work well together. You’ve heard me always say I think more than a quarterback and receiver getting on the same page, it’s those linemen. In the short time that Slauson has been back at left guard and Russell’s been here, they enjoy [playing together] and they communicate all the time. They enjoy that part of it. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Okung echoed Rivers’ sentiments.

“Slauson’s a real veteran,” Okung said. “And we’re really pushing ourselves to make sure we do our part for this team. It’s been a fantastic time. The guy is a competitor and he really wants to change the way things are done around here.

“It’s important that that veteran leadership shows. When a guy has enough snaps and has had good success in his career, it’s important to really set the standard for the young guys so they understand how to practice and how to play -- understand fundamentals and why they are important.”

Known as a tenacious, physical run-blocker, Okung should help forge new head coach Anthony Lynn’s goal to create a physical running attack.

“Russell looks good,” Lynn said. “He’s doing a good job, and with his skill set and talent, we’ve changed our system to fit his skills. He’s doing great.

“He has power and the ability to pull to get on the edge, so we’ll use him all kinds of ways.”