COSTA MESA, Calif. -- After a season of uneven play while learning defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's simple but nuanced Cover 3 scheme, Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown has stepped forward as a leader.
A fifth-round pick out of Akron in the 2016 draft, Brown is second on the team with 72 tackles, and serves as the on-field playcaller for Bradley -- a role he relishes on game days.
"I think another year in a system you're seeing him play faster," Bradley said. "... He's always been fast, but the ability to recognize and react quicker than he has in the past, I think that's really been evident for him."
Brown started out the season as a backup before injuries forced him into more action. When Denzel Perryman and rookie Kyzir White were put on season-ending injured reserve because of leg injuries, Brown was thrust into the starting lineup, and has thrived.
"He has versatility," Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. "He plays Mike [linebacker], he plays Will [linebacker]. He comes in and plays nickel, he plays dime.
"He knows the defense very well and we were very fortunate to have someone like him on our team when Denzel went down, and we could just plug a guy in."
Brown, 24, led the team with 79 tackles during his rookie season in 2016. He also flashed playmaking ability, recording six pass breakups, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
When Bradley took over the defense in 2017, Brown again finished with 79 tackles and played in all 16 games, including five starts, but did not make as many game-changing plays and seemed slow to react at times on the field.
Also slowed by a high-ankle sprain last year, Brown bulked up to 230 pounds in the offseason, and through preparation and more reps got comfortable with Bradley's scheme.
"Just getting that full year under my belt in studying myself last year, it really helped," Brown said. "I feel more comfortable and know what to anticipate because I know the system.
"Everybody has a full year under this system, so everybody is playing at a much higher level right now."
Brown has played in 422 defensive snaps this year, helping the Bolts hold teams to 20.8 points per game, No. 7 in the NFL.
On a talented defense that includes playmakers such as Derwin James, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Casey Hayward, Brown has served as the glue holding things together. He's directing traffic in the middle of the defense.
"Overall, I feel like he's been leading us," Hayward said. "He's the guy with the mic, so he's a leader when he's out there.
"The more snaps you get under the same defense, the better. This is our second year in this defense, and I feel like we've been playing at a high level, and he's part of that reason."