These young Chargers are making giant leap in Brandon Staley's defense

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Los Angeles Chargers' Uchenna Nwosu (42) and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) dive for a fumble by Burrow during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Cincinnati. Nwosu recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
The Chargers' Uchenna Nwosu (42) and the Bengals' Joe Burrow dive for the quarterback's fumble. Nwosu recovered. (Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

He has elevated his play to the point where the Chargers are asking him to back off just a bit.

Third-year safety Nasir Adderley was told this week that he might accomplish more by trying to demolish less.

“He wants to just do everything kind of Tasmanian devil-like,” defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said. “I told him, ‘Hey, you can do all those things and still be able to play under more control.’ ”

Adderley is among the Chargers who have emerged this season under the defensive scheme brought in by rookie head coach Brandon Staley.

Last weekend in Cincinnati, Adderley shared in his first career sack with fellow safety Derwin James Jr. On Sunday against the New York Giants, he likely will set his single-season high in tackles — with four games to go.

“His ceiling, he’s nowhere near it,” Hill said. “We’ve still got a lot to tap into.”

The Chargers' Nasir Adderley looks over the Bengals offense from his safety position before a snap.
The Chargers' Nasir Adderley looks over the Bengals offense from his safety position before a snap. (Zach Bolinger / Associated Press)

Said Staley: "The thing that he’s shown is that he can be a difference-maker out there. Now, we have to see that establishment of consistency and performance from him, where they’re not flashes, they are bursts all of the time."

Along with Adderley, edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu and linebackers Kyzir White and Drue Tranquill have advanced their games this season.

Then there’s James, who has returned after two years of injuries to reestablish himself as one of the NFL’s most dynamic defenders.

James, too, likely will set his career high for tackles in a season on Sunday. He already has reached 100, five short of his 2018 total, to go along with three forced fumbles and two interceptions.

Staley called James “the central figure in our defense” and noted that, along with everything else, he also has been unselfish. Rather than just leave James at safety and allow him to flourish, the Chargers have had to move him around to a variety of positions for the betterment of the defense.

“He's the key to how we play structurally, schematically,” Staley said. “He’s the key to how we play from an energy and a pure intangible standpoint because of his leadership, his toughness.”

Nwosu just played one of the best games of his four-year career. He had his first two-sack performance and also forced and recovered a fumble as the Chargers beat the Bengals 41-22.

During training camp, Hill talked about Nwosu’s progress being slowed by the transition to a new system. Nwosu said this week that he reached a comfort level about two months ago.

“Going into the bye week is really when I figured out, ‘Hey, I can do this,’ ” he said. “I’ve settled in a little bit more, not really trying to push everything.”

In the final year of his contract, Nwosu also admitted that the uncertainty about his future clouded his thoughts early on. He was born and raised in Southern California before playing at USC.

The Chargers drafted Nwosu in the second round in 2018, allowing him to continue his career without having to leave home.

“I can say that that was kind of getting into my head in the beginning,” Nwosu said. “But once I settled in, knew what I was capable of doing and trusting my path, my coaching and my practice habits, it just all fell into place.”

Chargers linebacker Kyzir White reads the eyes of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
Chargers linebacker Kyzir White reads the eyes of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. (Zach Bolinger / Associated Press)

Also drafted in 2018, in the fourth round, White started the Chargers’ season opener as a rookie. He remained a starter until injuries ended his first year after three games.

White now has become a dependable force in the middle of the defense, playing a career-high 82% of the defensive snaps entering this weekend. He has finished with double-figure tackle totals in three of the last four games.

With four more stops, he’ll also reach 100 for the season, joining James. The Chargers haven’t had two players with at least 100 tackles in the same season since 2000.

Staley has called White “a commander” and “a complete linebacker.”

“When I can see 44 [White] flashing across the screen and I see 33 [James] flashing across the screen, it lets me know that these guys are hunting and running,” Hill said. “If I'm on that defense, I want to be doing the same thing.”

As with James, Tranquill has come back impressively from injury. He played only five snaps in 2020 after being hurt in the season opener. Against Cincinnati last weekend, he had a 10-tackle performance that included his first career solo sack.

Tranquill, behind White and Kenneth Murray Jr. to open the season, played only three defensive snaps in Week 1 and just 11 more in Week 2. Murray has dealt with lingering ankle issues since. He also has been cross-training on the edge, opening an opportunity for Tranquill, who's only in his second full season.

“Drue's so sharp mentally,” Staley said. “This guy knows a lot of ball. He plays far more mature than his years. … He thinks like a coach.”

Etc.

The Chargers added backup offensive lineman Scott Quessenberry to the COVID-19 reserve list, where he joined wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. Allen, Williams and Harris all still could play Sunday. Those determinations will be made Saturday, when rosters must be set by the league’s 1 p.m. PT deadline.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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