Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram can get into the opposing backfield as well as any teammates in the NFL, celebrating a sack with three slaps and a shrug — their handshake — or a chest bump.
But to become the league’s most feared pass rushing duo, the Chargers’ star defensive ends have had to take unique routes to the same destination: soon-to-be-bruised quarterbacks.
Ingram’s production has matched his confidence, his love for football apparent each time he steps on the field. Bosa, more introverted than his counterpart, is addicted to the craftsmanship of his position.
Both were first-round picks, the Chargers taking Ingram with the No. 18 choice in the 2012 NFL draft. Bosa was selected at No. 3 in 2016.
After struggling with injuries during the first three seasons of his professional career, Ingram has broken out with 29 sacks over the last three and stayed healthy for all of them.
Ingram signed a four-year, $66-million extension before the 2017 season and responded to the new-found riches with his best season and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
“I don’t need anybody else to motivate me. I’m self-motivated,” Ingram said. He loves paraphrasing a quote from the sitcom “Martin,” telling people the money doesn’t change his approach because “the man who sleeps on the floor never falls out of bed.”
But don’t mistake that for humility. He enjoys the limelight.
Ingram asked Chargers staffers for help in acquiring courtside season tickets for the Lakers’ upcoming season. He records music under the names “SupaMel” and “King Mel.” He listens to his own music in his car when he wants to get hyped.
“He’s a character — for sure,” Bosa said. “But one thing about him, he loves football. He may joke around, he may say all this stuff, but you can just tell. What keeps him going is he’s a competitor. It’s just so obvious.”
The love for football is easy to see. At practice, he’ll sneak away from the defensive line to practice returning punts. He’s lobbying to play tight end. And, he thinks, he’d be a “dope” quarterback, if needed.
And the competition? He can find that everywhere.
During training camp, Bosa saw Ingram and some teammates decide to play a game of cornhole — the backyard, bean-bag toss game — at the team’s Irvine hotel. While Ingram started his trash talk, Bosa headed to his room.
“An hour, hour and a half later, I walked by and they were still playing, still yelling, a bunch of money riding on it,” Bosa said, laughing. “It could be anything in the entire world, and Mel wants to win it. So, you can only imagine how he is when it comes to his profession and what he’s done his entire life.”
“I shed blood for this ... ,” Ingram said. “Football is my life.”
And for Bosa, that’s just not the case.
“I wouldn’t say I love football in itself. I’m not going home and watching football that much,” Bosa acknowledged. “But I love being a D-lineman and I love pass rushing, the skill and the art of it. It’s what keeps me going.”
It’s the same reason Bosa retires to his house and sits at a computer, playing video games for hours on end ... so engrossed that sometimes he doesn’t notice friends have walked into the room.
“I’m addicted to getting better at it,” he said.
It turns out Bosa’s a bit of an obsessive too.
From “Star Wars” (he was “drooling” about the Episode 7 release in 2015) to fidget spinners (a series of escalating purchases led him to buy a $150 hand-crafted spinner after studying YouTube reviews) to sacking quarterbacks, Bosa’s interests are focused and immersing.
“When I get into something, it’s all in, fully addicted,” he said.
And luckily for the Chargers, his job as a defensive end is something he’s into even if he’s not watching every (or any) football game that comes on TV. It’s his addiction that fuels his well-regarded work ethic.
“Even when I don’t want to do it, and I come out and might be slacking a little bit, instantly it’ll be like, ‘What are you doing?’ I just don’t let myself get away with that. I can’t,” Bosa said. “My brain doesn’t let myself slip away like that from what I’m trying to do.
“It’s pass rushing, the skill of pass rushing. It’s something that I’m studying, dissecting and trying to learn even more now, just teaching myself.”
In 28 games he has 23 sacks and seems headed to stardom, if he’s not already there. But while Ingram loves the spotlight, Bosa is more of a recluse.
“When I retire, I’m probably just going to disappear to the middle of nowhere,” he said. “Nobody is going to see me. I’ll just chill, do whatever I want.”
That’s not to say he’s averse to celebrity — he parlayed his fame into a cameo in the upcoming season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — but he’s much more comfortable on his own.
On the field, across from Ingram, that all fades. The two work in concert to disrupt offenses, slicing through blocks or, in some cases, eluding them altogether. Their differences give way to football dominance.
And whether it’s Ingram’s flash and charisma or Bosa’s understated tone, the result is the same — a quarterback left to pick himself up and wonder who hit him this time.