COSTA MESA, Calif. – A grin grew across the face of Joey Bosa.
What made the Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker attend voluntary organized team activities?
“I mean, the coaches telling me,” Bosa said with a chuckle. “So, yeah, it’s no problem.”
As he prepares for his eighth NFL season, Bosa would otherwise be in Florida, training with his younger brother, San Francisco 49er and defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa.
“For Joey to be here, I think that it shows all of these young players what it takes to be successful,” coach Brandon Staley said, “that you have to be here with your team to improve.”
Consider it a bonus that Bosa’s attendance will allow additional time to further develop with veteran counterpart Khalil Mack.
“It's always good when you have Joey B out there,” Mack said. “A lot of knowledge. A good friend, a good dude to have around in the locker room and the meeting room.”
Bosa and Mack, along with safety Derwin James Jr., headline a group that returns eight of 11 starters from a 10-7 squad that made their first playoff appearance in four years. The Chargers also are expecting the return of cornerback J.C. Jackson, who is continuing to recover from season-ending knee surgery, and welcome veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks, who signed a two-year, $13.25 million deal in free agency.
But the attention remains on Bosa and Mack. Two premium pass rushers who have another rare opportunity to line up together, and who will be depended on to perform if the Chargers want to improve on a 2022 run that ended in a brutal 31-30 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a wild card playoff game.
“That's one of the things that we talked about when we got on the plane,” Mack said of last season’s finale in Jacksonville. “We were like, 'Man, just give me one more.' That's what we're looking forward to."
Expectations for the Bosa-Mack duo were sky high in 2022 after the Chargers acquired Mack in a blockbuster trade with the Chicago Bears. However, their partnership never grew out of its infancy after Bosa suffered a groin injury in a Week 3 loss to the Jaguars and spent 12 weeks on injured reserve.
This season the pair get another chance to prove that those expectations were not out of reach and that -- despite being a year older -- they can establish themselves among the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
“It's rare that you can find two players of that caliber that you can get together,” Staley said. “Our goal is for those two to get to play together.”
Despite a late-season surge, the Chargers’ defense in 2022 ranked 21st in the NFL, allowing an average of 22.6 points. In six games together, including a playoff matchup, Bosa and Mack combined for 7.5 sacks.
“Not even close,” Mack said about whether he and Bosa displayed their potential in 2022. “Just can't wait to get out there with this guy. Not talk too much but get to work."
Bosa, who turns 28 in July, insisted that this offseason felt different than any previous after he underwent in-season surgery to repair his groin, a source of chronic pain.
“I was talking a lot last year about how it was the best I've felt,” Bosa said. “It was true at the time, but I think I got used to a lot of the chronic pain that I was in, so it was hard to judge where I really was. Kind of getting back to work this year, it's been fun to put up some times running and stuff. We're getting back to the old me or whatever you want to say.”
In 2021, Bosa posted 10.5 sacks, forced seven fumbles and had 20 quarterback hits.
Now a year into his move to Los Angeles, Mack, 32, has proven more comfortable in his surroundings, even sitting courtside to watch LeBron James and the Lakers' playoff run. The 10th-year pro has established a routine, which includes Pilates and stops at his favorite food spots.
“It feels very good not to have to figure all of that out,” Mack said. “It matters... Getting in that routine of knowing what to do and where I am going to be and what I am going to do throughout the week, it's much-needed."
Mack, similar to Bosa, also said that physically he’s feeling “pretty good,” a difference in what he felt a year ago as he worked to return from in-season foot surgery.
“Being able to get into it and get into a regimen faster and run and do all of the things that I would normally do during the offseason, it feels great,” Mack said.
And, in Bosa’s fashion of brutal honesty, he admitted something else. It wasn’t only at the coaches’ urging that he attended voluntary workouts. He likes being with Mack, too.
“Khalil and I, off the field, I think we've grown close just in the short amount of time that we've been together. I'm excited to keep it going,” Bosa said. “I'd say he's definitely part of the reason that I came out early. I feel obligated to do my stuff when I have him watching me, have him counting on me. It's nice to have that.”