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Austin Johnson says he can pull his weight anywhere on Chargers defensive line

New York Giants nose tackle Austin Johnson walks off the field.
Austin Johnson played many positions along the Giants defensive line last season, but is considered a tackle first.
(Kamil Krzaczynski / Associated Press)
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He was brought in to help improve the run defense, a bigger body with intentions of clogging things inside … and then some.

“Just being stout in the middle,” Austin Johnson said, “making plays, running sideline to sideline.”

Signed by the Chargers last week as a free agent, Johnson was introduced to the local media Wednesday via video call.

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Highlights of that conversation plus a couple other tidbits from a day that saw Chargers nemesis Tyreek Hill traded some 1,500 miles out of the AFC West.

Big and moveable: After acquiring Johnson, coach Brandon Staley said versatility was one thing that made the veteran defensive lineman appealing.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley said the acquisition of cornerback J.C. Jackson is a key to fixing the NFL’s worst third-down defense.

March 22, 2022

Johnson explained that he lined up primarily at nose guard last season with the New York Giants but also said he played as wide as outside the offensive tackle at times.

“I feel like it’s very easy for me to adapt to whatever position I need to be in,” he said. “Wherever they want to put me that’s where I’ll play.”

The Chargers added Johnson and Sebastian Joseph-Day in free agency to replace the departing Linval Joseph and Justin Jones. The newcomers are listed at a combined 624 pounds and both stand 6-foot-4.

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So the Chargers are attempting to beef up across the middle in a more balanced way, even with the loss of the 6-4, 329-pound Joseph. Jones was playing at under 290 by the end of last season.

The one returning starter upfront, Jerry Tillery, is 6-6 and listed at 295.

The Chargers introduced Khalil Mack on Tuesday and the linebacker and coach Brandon Staley recalled how the two did special things together in Chicago.

March 17, 2022

Given an opportunity: Johnson is coming off his most productive season — by a lot. He finished with 72 tackles, seven quarterback hits and 3½ sacks, all career bests. He also played a single-season-high 57% of his team’s defensive snaps.

Entering 2021, Johnson had started 13 times over six seasons. He started all 17 games last season.

As a pass rusher, hereceived his highest annual grade by Pro Football Focus. But PFF also gave Johnson his lowest grades for a season against the run and overall.

Still, he clearly was valued by the Chargers, who signed Johnson to a two-year contract guaranteeing him $10.625 million. Before this deal, he was guaranteed slightly less than $6 million over his career.

“There’s no negative things about the organization at all,” Johnson said of his new employers. “You can’t really go wrong by choosing the Chargers.”

Arms race takes step backward: Khalil Mack, Davante Adams and Russell Wilson are among the big names that this offseason have joined the AFC West, prompting some observers to speculate about the division’s all-time prowess.

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Sebastian Joseph-Day made his mark in the NFL under Brandon Staley with the Rams, and gets a chance to reunite with the coach as a member of the Chargers.

March 17, 2022

But Kansas City halted the momentum by dealing Hill to Miami for five draft picks, taking a very significant weapon from quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Hill has appeared in 11 games against the Chargers and scored touchdowns in seven of them. He has caught passes for at least 75 yards in five of those meetings.

The Chargers signed Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson this month specifically to match up against receivers such as Hill. Jackson still will have that chance with the Chargers scheduled to host the Dolphins in 2022.

Mocking it: The Chargers have 10 picks in the draft next month, barring any more trading. But, considering the way this NFL offseason is unfolding, more trading is always a possibility.

Their first selection is set to arrive at No. 17. The latest national mock drafts have the Chargers taking offensive line, wide receiver, defensive line, edge rusher or cornerback. So not much consensus at this point.

Among the players mentioned: offensive linemen Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa), Kenyon Green (Texas A&M) and Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan); wide receivers Chris Olave (Ohio State) and Jameson Williams (Alabama); defensive linemen Devonte Wyatt (Georgia), Jordan Davis (Georgia) and Travon Walker (Georgia); edge rusher George Karlaftis (Purdue) and cornerback Trent McDuffie (Washington).

Tight end Gerald Everett, a former Rams draft pick who spent last season with the Seattle Seahawks, is joining the Justin Herbert-led Chargers offense.

March 20, 2022

This space has the Chargers drafting a speedy wide receiver but, unlike the past couple years, forecasting this pick is not clear. Justin Herbert and Rashawn Slater were much easier to project.

Up next: Tight end Gerald Everett is the lone notable Chargers addition who has yet to meet with the media that cover the team. His free-agent deal became official Tuesday.

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The Chargers also signed two specialists — punter JK Scott and long snapper Josh Harris — this week.

Among the moves the Chargers haven’t made is kick returner. Free agent Andre Roberts is the incumbent and remains available.

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