No. 1 pick Jerry Tillery answers a tall order for Chargers’ defensive line

Los Angeles Chargers NFL football defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, center, poses with a jersey alongs
Chargers defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, center, poses with a jersey alongside coach Anthony Lynn, right, and president of football operations John Spanos, left, during a news conference at Chargers headquarters on Friday in Costa Mesa.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The Chargers expect first-round pick Jerry Tillery to deliver some notable moments this season.

Not even one minute into his official tenure with the team Friday, the defensive lineman provided the first.

He also allowed everyone to exhale with a laugh, the sort of thing that can ease any formal introduction.

After graciously thanking the “Spanos family” and “Mr. Telesco,” Tillery made a reference to “Coach Swann.”


Toward the back of the room, head coach Anthony Lynn smiled.

“First off, I’m coach Lynn, not Lynn Swann,” Lynn said he told Tillery afterward. “You beat Lynn Swann this year.”

Then, speaking to the media, Lynn added, “I told him he’s going to have to make it up to me.”

Tillery should have plenty of chances to do just that, the Chargers projecting their latest top pick to be an immediate contributor along the defensive front.


A starter for most of his four seasons at Notre Dame, Tillery did beat Swann in 2018 when the Fighting Irish topped USC 24-17 at the Coliseum in November. Swann is the Trojans’ athletic director.

Tillery sacked USC’s JT Daniels that night, one of a team-leading eight Tillery had last season as Notre Dame rode its defense to an undefeated regular season and a spot in college football’s playoffs.

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said Tillery’s size — 6-foot-7, 295 pounds — combined with his athletic ability made him the obvious choice when it came time to pick 28th Thursday.

Lynn said Tillery is a candidate to play three downs, and both inside and outside, although the Chargers are interested in him primarily as a tackle. He also figures to be used on special teams.

What the Chargers really would like from Tillery is an inside pass rush that could tighten the pocket and provide support for Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edges.

“For a man his size and his capabilities, he has a lot of versatility,” Lynn said. “We just love his upside. He had some games this year where he was pretty much unblockable.”

Tillery, 22, enrolled early at Notre Dame after a stellar high school career in Louisiana. He graduated last May with a degree in economics.

He called playing in the NFL “the opportunity of a lifetime” and for the Chargers his “dream job.”


Tillery said he has spoken to Lynn about his potential role in 2019 and promised, “It’s going to be good.”

When a reporter noted that Tillery’s versatility is a strength, he deadpanned, “I would agree with you.” Asked about playing in Southern California as opposed to a colder climate, Tillery answered, “I’m in favor of it.”

This is a well-rounded, well-educated draft pick, the Chargers adding personality to a locker room that Telesco and Lynn both have credited for featuring great chemistry.

One of Tillery’s teammates at Notre Dame was defensive lineman Isaac Rochell, who is entering his third season with the Chargers. Rochell said he has no doubt that Tillery will fit in.

As an example of Tillery’s broader perspective, consider his answer to a question about what he learned in college that will help him in the NFL.

“How to work hard, how to pursue what you want to do in life,” he said. “How to treat people. [Notre Dame] taught me relationship skills. Obviously, they play great football there. I learned the game. I fell in love with the game. These are all things that led me to this moment, standing at this podium.”

Before Thursday, many football fans in Southern California might have known Tillery best for two incidents that occurred in the Coliseum in 2016.

In a game the Fighting Irish would lose 45-27, Tillery used his foot to make contact with the head of an injured Aca’Cedric Ware while the running back was down, and later stomped on the foot of offensive lineman Zach Banner.


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He was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the latter play and removed from the game by Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. Tillery did publicly apologize.

“That was a lapse of my judgment and was a frustrating moment,” he said Friday. “That’s not the type of player that I am. I think I’ve shown that over and over. I’ve definitely moved past that moment in my career.”

While many of the first-round prospects spent Thursday night in Nashville, site of the draft, others hosted viewing parties.

Dwayne Haskins, the former Ohio State quarterback who would go 15th overall to Washington, staged a gathering that featured multiple television networks, a red carpet and $25 commemorative T-shirts.

Tillery was in Hawaii, in Maui, surrounded by family and friends and wearing an aloha shirt and lei, the event something he had planned for awhile.

“It was really something special,” he said. “It was a beautiful place to celebrate the biggest day of my life. It’s just a place that I love. I associate it with happiness.”

Twitter: @JeffMillerLAT