SAN DIEGO – In the lead up to the draft last year, San Diego Chargers edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu focused more on drills that would lead to a faster 40-yard-time than more effectively rushing the passer.
The results of Attaochu's efforts were impressive pro day numbers and his selection by the Chargers in the second round of the 2014 draft. At 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds, Attaochu ran a 4.58-second, 40-yard time and posted a 37.5 vertical jump at his pro day last year, so the physical tools are there.
But Attaochu's elite athleticism did not result in production on the field his rookie season.
Due to a lingering hamstring injury, Attaochu missed five games, playing in just 161 snaps as a rookie. Attaochu finished with 10 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Attaochu also totaled six quarterback pressures and five quarterback hits.
This offseason, Attaochu said he's focused on more football-specific drills that will improve his production heading into his second season.
"I spent the first six months of the year training to be a football player, so that was good," Attaochu said. "Plus, the six-week offseason program helped me with that a lot."
Pass rushers generally get better in the NFL with more experience. And most elite pass rushers struggle to put up good numbers in their rookie seasons.
The league's all-time sack leader Bruce Smith totaled 6.5 sacks his rookie season. Former San Diego edge rusher Shaun Phillips had four sacks his rookie year.
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco believes Attaochu will improve with more reps, not only in games but in practice.
"It's huge," Telesco said. "And it's more practice reps than game reps. Rushing the passer -- and we talk about it – it's like batting practice. The more time you get in the batter's box and take swings, the better you get. With pass rushing the reps you get in practice to work on moves and counter moves, it's a repetition position, there's no doubt.
"You have to have the physical skill, but a lot of it is a learned trait of how to rush the passer. The more work he gets out at practice, the better."
Attaochu will not have veterans like Jarret Johnson and Freeney to lean on as mentors in the locker room this season.
"We missed having those old guys around and being able to tease them for being old," Attaouch said, with a laugh. "We definitely miss them, but a lot of the stuff they did has definitely rubbed off. Their demeanor in the meeting room and their approach to the game, those are things you take away from them."
"It's not about age," Attaochu said. "It's about getting out there and getting the job done."