SAN DIEGO -- Defensive line coach Giff Smith, popular with the players in his position group, remains in place for the Los Angeles Chargers. However, with the addition of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, the Chargers likely will move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive front, which means the way Smith’s group is utilized could change in 2017.
The good: Bosa led the Chargers with 10.5 sacks in just 12 games and earned AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He should play more on the edge in Bradley’s scheme, which is a better fit for his skill set. Bosa played defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at Ohio State. Ingram totaled eight sacks and played a full, 16-game season for a second straight year. The addition of Mebane at nose tackle helped improve the Chargers’ ability to stop the run. Los Angeles allowed just 3.8 yards per rush in 2016, which ranked No. 7 in the NFL. Creating turnovers was a point of emphasis for the Chargers as they forced 28 last season, tied for No. 4 in the NFL. For this exercise, I moved Attaochu, Ingram, Landrum and Hekking from outside linebacker to defensive end because they project as a Leo (pass-rushing) defensive end in Bradley’s scheme.
The bad: Even with Bosa and Ingram doing work, the Chargers managed just 35 sacks in 2016 (tied for No. 14 in the league), including 10 in the fourth quarter (tied for No. 15 in the NFL). Liuget, the highest-paid player on the defensive line in 2016, finished without a sack for the first time in his six-year NFL career. Attaochu finished on injured reserve for the second time in three seasons. A second-round selection in the 2014 draft, Attaochu has just 10 career sacks in three seasons.
The money: Liuget’s scheduled to make $8 million in 2017. Mebane is scheduled to make $3.5 million in the second year of his deal. Bosa will make $1.63 million in base salary in the second season of his rookie contract. Attaochu is scheduled to make nearly $1 million in the final year of his rookie contract. Ingram, Square and Lissemore are unrestricted free agents. Ingram and Square have a good chance to return, and Lissemore could provide rotational depth inside. Palepoi is a restricted free agent and still has to serve one more game of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Draft priority: You can never have enough pass-rushers, and the Chargers should consider adding depth at defensive end later in this year’s draft or in the second wave of free agency. Bradley has been successful at finding players at the end of the draft who can create pressure off the edge. Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, a third-round selection in last year’s draft, led the team in sacks in 2016 with eight. If the Chargers do not bring Square back, they should look to draft a developmental nose tackle prospect to groom behind Mebane.