Chargers creating new edge on defense by deploying four tenacious pass rushers

The Chargers were supposed to be good defensively under former head coach Brandon Staley.

He had just coordinated the Rams’ defense to No. 1 in points and yards allowed when the Chargers hired him in January of 2021.

Instead, Staley’s defenses underwhelmed in an imperfect storm of unyielding inconsistency, blown assignments and general disarray.

In his just-short-of three seasons, the Chargers finished 29th, 21st and 24th in points allowed and 23rd, 20th and 28th in yards surrendered.

Staley’s final game featured his defense giving up seven touchdowns by the 10-minute mark of the third quarter. He was fired the next morning.

Now, the Chargers defense is under the direction of Jesse Minter.

“I think,” Mike Elston said, “he’s the best game-day coordinator I’ve worked with in terms of calling a game.”

Elston, who oversees the Chargers defensive line, is a veteran of 27 coaching seasons, including the last two with Minter at Michigan. All that time adds significant context to his words.

This new era of Chargers football dawned with the hiring of Jim Harbaugh in late January, his arrival signaling a transition to a more physical and pounding offensive approach.

The changes continue today with the development of a defense anchored on the edges.

The Chargers reworked the contracts of Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa to retain both and then signed veteran Bud Dupree, adding to a group that also includes Tuli Tuipulotu, who shined as a rookie in 2023.

Said Tuipulotu on Wednesday, “I think we’re kinda stacked, you know.”

For all the deserved hype attached to quarterback Justin Herbert, the fate of 2024 Chargers will be tied in a major way to Minter’s defense erasing the soured memory of the recent past.

“First thing we want to teach is technique and block destruction,” Elston said, following the Chargers’ latest offseason workout. “We gotta be able to knock people back and play the run.”

Then, it’s pressuring the quarterback to take some of the burden off a secondary that lacks in proven support pieces.

“We have some really good interior pass rushers,” Elston said. “I think we’re going to be good there. But where we can take a big step forward is utilizing those edge guys in a way to create disruption and wreck havoc in the backfield.”

In Mack, Bosa and Dupree, the Chargers have 27 NFL seasons and 221.5 career sacks. The addition of Dupree this month marked a notable commitment to building depth.

Having played with Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Atlanta, Dupree said joining the Chargers was an “easy decision.” He talked about being familiar with the games of Mack, Bosa and standout safety Derwin James Jr.

The opportunity to collaborate on the field and in the film room with two accomplished edge rushers was too appealing, explained Dupree, who said he’s embracing his status of being one part of a bigger whole.

“I’m at the point of my career now where it’s a different role for me,” he said.

The Chargers are expected to use their four edge options in multiple and varying ways. At different points during practice Wednesday, three were on the field together.

Tuipulotu entered the offseason unsure what his position group would look like just a few months later. Mack and Bosa were candidates to depart because of salary-cap issues facing new general manager Joe Hortiz.

When Bosa’s contract was settled, Tuipulotu said he received a text from his teammate that read, “One more year.” And Tuipulotu’s response: “Oh, hell yeah. Let’s go.”

While Bosa dealt with injuries that limited him to five starts last season, Tuipulotu emerged as a second-round pick out of USC. He finished with 53 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Despite that production, Tuipulotu said he was far from satisfied.

“A lot of people thought I had a good impact in the pass-rush game,” he said. “But I felt like I left so much stuff on the field. I had a lot of opportunities to make more plays and didn’t take advantage of it.”

The chances should be there again in 2024 and perhaps even more so. Built from the outside in, the Chargers defense will be looking to prove that it’s tough all over.


The Chargers signed free-agent offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, a 2021 first-round pick of Las Vegas. Leatherwood started all 17 games of his rookie season before being released. He also has spent time with Chicago and Cleveland.

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