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Shelley SmithESPN Reporter
- Shelley Smith joined ESPN in January 1997 after working part-time as a reporter for the network since 1993. She has covered Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, the BCS championship game, the Stanley Cup playoffs, golf and tennis championships and more.
COSTA MESA, Calif. — To see Joey Bosa move — like, say, between the field and the (healthy) snack cart after practice — you’d think he was more like a sloth. Slow, deliberate, slower. You’d never guess he was one of the best and fastest edge rushers in the NFL.
But put Bosa on the football field, specifically in this new defense the Los Angeles Chargers are running, and the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Bosa has cat-like reflexes, brutal off the ball and even more brutal when he makes contact, which is often — even without pads.
That’s not to say that Bosa is completely comfortable standing on the edge, rather than down with a hand in the dirt. He does both, depending on whether new coach Brandon Staley has the Chargers in a 3-4 defense or a 4-3. It’s all designed to keep the opposing offense guessing and is completely unpredictable, which is how Staley likes it.
And the thought of Bosa being utilized in many different ways is a scary thought to opposing defenses.
“There’s a lot going on,” Bosa said. “A lot of moving pieces. Usually I’m coming in here and I’m solely focused on how I’m rushing each day, which is another dynamic. I get to judge myself on another level, and it’s fun. But yeah, it’s going to take some time.”
But football smarts are not an issue for Bosa.
“I’m going to make a few mistakes here and there, but by the time camp is over, I’m sure it will be second nature,” he said.
On one sequence, Bosa took on rookie offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, who has been praised by just about everyone in camp. Slater was a first-round draft pick for a reason, a player who got the best of defending rookie defensive player of the year Chase Young (then at Ohio State) during his junior year at Northwestern — setting up a great Week 1 matchup between Slater and Young when the Chargers head to Washington.
But back to Bosa and his gait … the quick, game-time one. He faced Slater, who slowed him initially and held up until the whistle blew to end the rep. But if the whistle had blown just a little bit later, who knows if the rook would have held up.
“I turn into a different guy when I get mad,” Bosa has said many times.
Bosa isn’t the only player who loves the new scheme.
“It’s refreshing,” said defensive lineman Justin Jones. “It allows a team the inability to adjust to what we’re going. It keeps them on their toes, which means offensive linemen are on their toes. They’re not going to know who’s blitzing — who’s coming and who’s not coming.
“It’s going to be hard to figure us out (for the opponents). What we’re doing, what we’re bringing. We’re never a standstill defense and that’s going to make us really hard to beat.”
That suits Bosa just fine, even if it means learning a new scheme and a new stance. But Bosa admits they’re not easy to learn, which he’s fine with.
“A good defense shouldn’t be easy to learn in two days,” Bosa said. “So it’s a fun challenge. Obviously seeing it live is a lot different than sitting at home reviewing on my book.
“It’s not as much the athletic part of it. It’s just seeing the field, understanding the formation, seeing shifts. There’s a lot of moving pieces. I think it’s a dynamic defense.”
It’s a defense who involves fast and relentless hitting, which is how Bosa has played his entire career. Even last season, when he was battling a bunch of injuries, Bosa still recorded 7.5 sacks and 39 tackles.
“Joey Bosa, he’d be good doing anything,” Staley said. “We’re trying to get him into a new comfort zone — there are some things we’re asking him to do that he hasn’t done before. I think that more than anything, what he does best he’ll be able to do at a high level. Some of the other things that are brand new for him will help not only himself but his teammates and we’ve tried to map that out for him. He’s been great.”
“You need premium players to play the type of defense we hope to play.”
Perhaps the safest way to slow Bosa down is to bring a dog around, which perhaps is why Bosa doesn’t have one (“I can barely take care of myself,” he has said).
But he loves them. He slowly crawled up on the field to hug the Chargers’ rescue mascot “Bolty” saying, “Come play with me,” and hugged him tight.
So the best way to stop Bosa? Dog hugs and a sports drink from the snack cart.