The AFC West is arguably the best division in football, in part because every team has at least two players that can completely disrupt their opponent’s most important position: the quarterback.
In Denver, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware make up a Super Bowl champion duo. The return of Justin Houston in Kansas City has the Chiefs boasting a fearsome threesome of Houston, Dee Ford and Tamba Hali. The Raiders‘ march to the top of the division is being led by Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
Until this season, the Chargers didn’t have those dynamic threats swimming past tackles. But all that changed when they drafted Joey Bosa with the third selection of the 2016 draft. One nagging holdout and half a season of rookie dominance later, Bosa, alongside Melvin Ingram and Jatavis Brown, has turned San Diego’s defense into one that Chargers brass sees as on par with their division rivals.
“Our division really has the best pass rushers in football, which makes it a challenge for us. We felt last year, on our defensive front, we were looking for players to make more of an impact on the line,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said on Tuesday’s Move the Sticks podcast. “We had signed Corey Liuget to the extension last year, we were very pleased with that, but then to get a chance to sign Brandon Mebane to play nose tackle for us and draft Joey (Bosa), it’s been a good defensive front for us.
“Joey’s brought everything we’d hoped to us. He’s a big, long, athletic player that we can use in a lot of different alignments, whether as a four-down defensive end, a three-down defensive end, we’ve had to stand him up and play him as a Sam linebacker when we had some injuries earlier this year. He’s done a great job for us in how hard he plays, he hustles sideline to sideline and he brings not just the pass-rush ability, but to be a big impact in the run game as well.
Bosa’s prowess was on full display against Houston in Week 12. The rookie finished with seven tackles, 0.5 sacks, two QB hits and two tackles for loss in the win, frustrating the right side of the Texans‘ line all day and pressuring Brock Osweiler regularly. Bosa’s most recent outing only pads his resume for an inevitable Defensive Rookie of the Year honor coming his way. He is second on the team and fourth among rookies with 4.5 sacks and 13 QB hits despite missing most of training camp and then the first four games with a hamstring injury.
If only Bosa had been around for the opening quarter of the season, during which San Diego blew three games late, instead of on the sidelines struggling with an injury likely brought on by a delayed training camp schedule. While Chargers fans may mull over what might have been in 2016 if Bosa’s contract holdout had never happened, Telesco has put that period, and those thoughts, out of his mind.
“It was certainly a relief,” Telesco said of the holdout’s resolution. “It’s part of this business. But to be honest with you, I haven’t really thought about it at all since the day he put pen to paper. I haven’t really thought much about the contract situation after that.”
The franchise can only look toward the future, one uncertain in many respects. Will the Chargers play in San Diego next season? How much longer can Philip Rivers play at an elite level? Can the Bolts ever field a healthy roster of playmakers for a full 16-game slate?
At the very least, they know they have Bosa, Ingram and a defensive front ready to rival their rivals’.