Chargers’ revamped defense has huge edge with Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa end to end

Chargers edge rushers Khalil Mack (52) and Joey Bosa (97) practice during camp.
Chargers edge rushers Khalil Mack (52) and Joey Bosa (97) are one of the scariest duos in the NFL.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

He opened his latest session with reporters by answering one of the first questions thusly: “I don’t like to talk a lot.”

He concluded the gathering a few minutes later by declaring, “I don’t like talking too much.”

Luckily for the Chargers, they didn’t trade for Khalil Mack to talk but rather to do — do the things that have made him a three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection, a star to align opposite their other star on the edge, Joey Bosa.


Together, they are expected to form the pillars of a rebuilt defense that will be just as vital in determining this team’s fate as any magic twirled by the right arm of Justin Herbert.

The Chargers missing the playoffs in 2021 had nothing to do with their young and immensely talented quarterback. Despite the shrieking protests that still echo, their failure had nothing to do with Brandon Staley’s fourth-down decisions, either.

The Chargers released veteran defensive lineman Christian Covington on Tuesday as they reduced their roster to the league-mandated 53 players. They don’t have much depth at edge rusher.

Aug. 30, 2022

The Chargers missed the playoffs last season because their defense wasn’t good enough at stopping the other team from running the ball or turning third down into first down.

The decision-makers responded by trading for Mack and fully guaranteeing $59 million to seven defensive free agents: linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson and Morgan Fox; cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Bryce Callahan; and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Troy Reeder.

The fact that the Mack deal started everything was both significant and symbolic — Staley reuniting with a player he coached with success, who arrived already grasping so much of a complex and teammate-dependent system.


That theme wove throughout the offseason as the Chargers enter Week 1 with a 53-man roster that includes only eight of their top 15 tacklers from a season ago.

With Mack and Bosa, Staley is convinced he has a pair that, when combined, will add up to more than just two.

Chargers defensive end Morgan Fox (56) walks to the locker room during a preseason game against Dallas.
Morgan Fox is back in Los Angeles, this time with the Chargers, after a stint with the Carolina Panthers.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

“I see a lot of really special things happening that can only happen between two players of that caliber,” Staley said during training camp. “There are a lot of things that are going on between them that not many people would understand.

“To see the game through two superstars’ lenses like that, two of the top players at their position in the last several years, to be teaming up and sharing their stories and what they see, it’s really special.”

Mack and Bosa spent much of August side by side, swapping ideas and secrets. They watched video together of other edge rushers and opposing offensive linemen. They pushed each other in meetings and in sprints.

Now entering his seventh season and with three consecutive Pro Bowl selections, Bosa suggested Mack’s impact has been so real that he has found himself appreciating his own maturity.

“Just having a guy like that to motivate me, always being first running to every drill, I’m like, ‘OK, I have to keep up with him, I guess,’ ” Bosa said. “But, he’s the man.

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Aug. 14, 2022

“I think as a rookie — or a few years into my career — it would have been a negative almost in a way where I’m too in my head, too hyper-competitive in that sense. Now, I just love to have a guy like that to lean on, ask questions.”

They are different players with opposing styles. Mack is power where Bosa is precision. Mack uses his shoulders where Bosa uses his hands. Mack will run over where Bosa will spin around.

What they share is production when it comes to pursuing quarterbacks and setting the edge on running backs, Staley linking the duo as “difference-makers.”

Mack has four seasons with double-digit sacks. Bosa has four too. Mack has 136 career quarterback hits. Bosa has 129. Mack was the 2016 NFL defensive player of the year. Bosa was the 2016 NFL defensive rookie of the year.

“They have really complementary styles,” Staley said. “They have really complementary personalities. I think that opposites attract a little bit, and you’re seeing a little bit of that between them. As a coach, you love to see that.”

Staley praised both Mack and Bosa for the totality of their influence, calling each “complete,” a player equally capable of disrupting the run and the pass. He indicated that he expects both to play 80-90% of the snaps, if healthy.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley was scouting school in Florida when he first saw the legendary Sony Michel, an eighth-grader playing on the varsity squad.

Sept. 1, 2022

What this all means once the games begin remains uncertain. But it can be noted that, over the last 15 years, the Chargers have had two players with at least 10 sacks apiece in the same season only once — in 2017, when Bosa and Melvin Ingram did it.

“They’re extremely detailed with their technique,” Chargers center Corey Linsley said. “When you get guys like that who have all the talent in the world and work on their craft day in and day out, that’s what makes them who they are.”

Another thing these two share: a lack of postseason success. Mack hasn’t won a playoff game since his only year of high school football, back in Florida. Bosa’s lone NFL playoff victory came in January 2019.

Could that be changing in a few months?

Just one of the expectations now attached to the Chargers involves them making a playoff run, Mack and Bosa forecast to have a lot of the say, even if one of them prefers to not talk much at all.