The Chargers defensive tackles will be crucial this upcoming season. On the defensive side of the football, that position has the most questions around it. They need to be able to help rush the passer while also helping stop the run.
The Bolts defensive line hasn’t been the best at stopping the run the last few seasons, and they face a lot of very good running backs this season. They will need a good group who can stay healthy for all 16 games and can make an impact.
Lock: Justin Jones, Linval Joseph, Jerry Tillery
On the bubble: Christian Covington, Cortez Broughton, Breiden Fehoko, Forrest Merrill, Frederick Smith Jr., Jared Goldwire, Willie Yarbary
Making it: Joseph was maybe the best free-agent signing of the Bolts last offseason. He played in all 16 games and made an impact on the defensive line. He brought leadership and never gave up on plays running guys down. Jones has been a starter for two seasons but has yet to play all 16 games. He shows glimpses at times but hasn’t put it together, but the hope is that head coach Brandon Staley can help him be a breakout player this season. Tillery is a lock because he is a former first-round draft pick. He has shown small glimpses of being an impact player but also had crucial mistakes. He had a handful of penalties last season that led to a first down for the opposing offense on third or fourth down. The belief is that he could break out with Staley as the defensive mind. When hired, Staley did mention how excited he is to work with Tillery and help take his game to the next level.
Bubble guys: Covington is a player to watch during training camp. He was with Cincy last season and had 39 combined tackles in 16 games played. Two seasons ago, he had 3.5 sacks, and with the talent on, the Chargers could have an impact. One of the weaknesses of this pass rush has been that the defensive tackles don’t crowd the quarterback so that they fall into the arms of the edge rushers. Broughton is a former seventh-round pick and has slowly worked his way into being a rotational piece. Fehoko played in two games last season and showed some good stuff with another year under his belt. He will compete for a spot. All of the remaining players will need to show something to try to make the squad.
Reinforcement: Geno Atkins was just cleared to get to practice, and he happens to be a free agent. He has been one of the best defensive tackles in the league for years. He had a rough season last year, only playing in eight games, but if he is healthy, the Chargers need to make a move. They have the money. Atkins brings that push upfront that could help Joey Bosa’s numbers improve. He is also only two years removed from having a ten sack season.