‘We gotta make a name for ourselves.’ Chargers’ defense driven to match elite offense

Chargers receiver Quentin Johnston and cornerback Ja'Sir Taylor participate in drills
Chargers receiver Quentin Johnston (1) and cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor (36) participate in drills during the team’s training camp Monday in Costa Mesa.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

Their latest first-round pick was a receiver, their quarterback just signed an extension worth up to a quarter of a billion dollars, and their most trumpeted offseason addition was their offensive coordinator.

When they possess the ball this season, the Chargers are expected to be something beyond special.

But football is a street that runs in both directions. And during training camp Wednesday, the team’s touted offense hit a dead end — three consecutive times.


“Everyone knows we’re star-studded on that side of the ball,” cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor said. “When they talk about the Chargers, that’s all we ever hear about. As a defense, we gotta make a name for ourselves, as well.”

Brandon Staley watched his parents battle cancer and then had his own bout, but the Chargers coach believes the experience can help him be a stronger coach.

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After stops on back-to-back red zone series, the defense rose up again and thwarted quarterback Justin Herbert in a two-minute drill that closed practice with a flourish.

Third-year corner Asante Samuel Jr. successfully defended rookie Quentin Johnston — that most recent first-round pick — three times during the final four snaps to force a turnover on downs inside the five-yard line.

“I’m just trying to get better,” Samuel said a few minutes later, “and make plays for this team.”

Taylor and Samuel are part of a secondary that is deep and versatile. They both have been training inside and outside and in a variety of packages as the Chargers search for their most effective combinations.

With cornerback J.C. Jackson returning from a knee injury that ended his 2022 season in October, this is a group that could prove to be strong and dependable.


Austin Ekeler is just what NFL teams want in a running back. He can run inside and out and catch like a wide receiver. He scored 18 touchdowns last season. Yet, where’s the pay?

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Moving into the spot occupied last season by now-departed veteran Bryce Callahan, Taylor has been the team’s No. 1 slot corner for much of the last several months.

He started three games as a rookie last year because of injury and particularly shined in the Chargers’ mid-December victory over Miami when the Dolphins’ speedy offense was slowed to only 219 total yards.

Similar to Samuel, Taylor’s ability to play multiple positions is something the Chargers are trying to maximize this summer.

“They’re just keeping me prepared to be valuable,” he said. “It’s the NFL. You never know. A lot of change happens. They just want to make sure I’m ready to go.”

During seven-on-seven drills Wednesday, Taylor found himself matched up against five-time Pro Bowler Keenan Allen on one snap and two-time 1,000-yard receiver Mike Williams on the next.

Triggered by Herbert’s powerful right arm, the Chargers can be a monster to defend, and that’s before even mentioning running back Austin Ekeler, the NFL’s leading touchdown producer over the last two seasons.


“Welcome to defensive back in the NFL,” defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley said.

Still stinging from the third-worst collapse in NFL playoff history, Chargers coach Brandon Staley met with Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who had been there before.

July 28, 2023

“[Taylor’s] not the only person who has gotten beat. A lot of people have gotten beat. You just get back in the huddle and get the next play called and go make something happen.”

The Chargers’ defense has done that repeatedly over the first six training camp practices, trading body shots with an offense now under the direction of first-year coordinator Kellen Moore.

Herbert set up the final goal-to-go situation Wednesday with a long scramble. Under normal game conditions, however, he might have been sacked on the play by linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr.

Even though he has been victimized a few times over the last week, Taylor said that the experience ultimately will be a positive.

“It’s great work,” he said. “We’re competing out here. I win a rep. I lose a rep. It’s all growing and learning. I’d rather lose some in practice than get to game day and do it.”

Passionate play

The Chargers have had a mostly clean camp to date with the lone obvious exception coming Tuesday when Murray and tight end Gerald Everett engaged in a brief physical confrontation after one play.


Everett was removed and spent the final portion of practice on the sidelines.

Coach Brandon Staley said he addressed the situation afterward but also suggested he didn’t mind the passion on display.

“We want that competition,” he said. “We want that edge on our football team. We want the guys that are going to compete. Gerald cares about this team. He cares about doing it the right way.

“When you see two guys going at it like that, that’s a good thing. We just don’t want any punches being thrown and stuff like that, because that’s when you get penalties and thrown out of the game … but we want guys like Gerald Everett.”


The Chargers are off Thursday before returning for a padded practice Friday and going through a lighter session Saturday.

They are then scheduled to conduct an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday evening in Costa Mesa with the starters expected to get about 35 snaps.