Chargers LB Jatavis Brown renews faith, focused on bounce-back season

Jatavis Brown is hoping to be back at full speed this season. Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The tattoo on his left arm is a constant reminder for Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown to stay on the right path.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13.

Brown said he strayed from that path last year, which in part led to an up-and-down second NFL season. Brown posts a scripture daily on his Twitter page, and said that his renewed faith helps provide perspective when he struggles on the field.

"I'm a big believer in God, he's the head of my life," Brown said. "Last year I kind of got away from my faith, and put more focus on football than my faith. So this year I'm going to put my faith first and then football."

Brown is looking to rebound from an uneven performance during the 2017 season. The Akron product dealt with a nagging, high-ankle sprain most of last year, slowing the usually speedy linebacker. That injury, along with a change from a 3-4 defense to current defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's 4-3 scheme, led to a dip in Brown's production.

A fifth-round selection for the Chargers in the 2016 draft, Brown led the team with 79 tackles in his rookie season. Brown also flashed playmaking ability, recording six pass breakups, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Brown again finished with 79 tackles last year in 16 games played, including five starts, but did not make as many game-changing plays and seemed slow to react at times on the field.

"What I credit him for is he played injured," Chargers linebackers coach Richard Smith said. "He's the kind of young man who's never going to use that as an excuse, but he played with a high-ankle sprain, so I don't think his change of direction and things like that probably looked like they did the year before.

"What he's known for is speed and quickness, and at times when he would chase the ball, he was playing with a little hitch in his get-up. But I credit him because he never complained about it, or took himself out. He was that competitive."

The Chargers are hopeful that Brown's play will improve now that he's healthy. Brown said he changed his diet during the offseason, eating less red meat and more chicken, and the result is a more chiseled physique on his 5-11, 230-pound frame.

"I think for him, he went through the year and he has a better understanding of his weight, what he needs to play at and what is asked of him," head coach Gus Bradley said. "So in our mind, it would not be surprising if he made a big jump this year.

"Guys can come in early and they're still learning it. But their second and third year, you see them become better technicians with it, and then you can see them make a jump in the system."

Increased competition also should spur Brown's performance. The Chargers selected linebacker Uchenna Nwosu in the second round and converted safety/linebacker Kyzir White in the fourth round to improve the speed and athleticism at that position group. The Chargers allowed a league-worst 4.9 yards per carry last season.

"Nobody's job is safe," Brown said. "You always come in and try and compete at a high level. Those are two guys that are very talented, and could easily be starters."

However, Smith expects Brown to be in the mix for a starting job in 2018.

"This was a totally different system where the things that we asked our linebackers to do were different than the previous system," Smith said. "So I think at times being a young player he was very conscious of what he had to do and might of overthought some things at that particular time.

"But now it's Year 2 and I think he feels a lot more comfortable with it. Plus, I think he's healthier. He's thicker than he was before, a little bigger and stronger. So I'm excited to see what he has to. He's a tremendous person and teammate. And I think it's going to be great to see his growth."