Amid disappointing season for Chargers, Joey Bosa still playing at elite level

Joey Bosa introduces himself to Jaguars rookie QB Gardner Minshew. Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley remembers one of the first conversations he had with defensive end Joey Bosa when the team selected him No. 3 overall in the 2016 draft.

Bradley was well aware of the immense talent the Ohio State product possessed, but what caught him off guard was Bosa's willingness to improve in the mental aspect of the game.

"That was the conversation we had," Bradley recalled. "I said, 'That's good, you'll get a chance to do that. We'll talk through some things, but I think it's just more that you play,' and I've seen him grow in that part -- just the way he talks, the way he is with his teammates, the way he goes about his business. I think he's always been a true pro there."

Bosa totaled four combined tackles and two sacks in a 45-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. At 5-8, Bosa knows the Chargers are not where they want to be, but there's still an emphasis on finishing out the season strong.

"It's fun to dominate," Bosa said about his performance against the Jaguars. "It's a lot easier to pass rush when your offense is putting up points. It just seemed like a motivated team. We're not sitting in a great position right now, but guys haven't lost that edge or motivation, so it's fun to watch."

In his fourth NFL season, Bosa's 10.5 sacks lead the Chargers and are No. 8 in the NFL, the third time in four NFL seasons the Ohio State product has reached double-digit sacks. The only season he didn't, 2018, he missed the first nine games due to injury.

Bosa is the AFC's leading vote-getter at defensive end for the Pro Bowl. Tight end Virgil Green pointed to something else that he believes gives Bosa an advantage: He's pigeon-toed.

"Every pigeon-toed guy who I've met, who I've ever seen play football has been a great athlete," Green joked. "Ed Reed, Joey -- we had a guy when I was in college [at Nevada] who was a defensive end and was just crazy. Those pigeon-toed guys are just ridiculous."

"He's an excellent football player," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn added. "He's very unselfish, plays a lot of techniques that a lot of pass-rushers don't like to play, to be honest with you, and he's doing a good job with that."

The Chargers know Bosa can rush the passer. That much was evident when he came out of Ohio State. However, his commitment to being an overall player has been the most enlightening aspect of Bosa’s development as a player to both coaches and his teammates this season. Bosa is third on the team with 55 combined tackles, a good number for a defensive end.

Even more impressive, Bosa leads the Chargers with 18.5 tackles for loss, according to team stats.

His selflessness in both stopping the run and rushing the passer hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.

"He's not a guy who was drafted in the first round, made a few plays and thinks he's reached the top," Green said. "He's always trying to get better. He's always trying to figure things out.

"He's just a guy that yearns to learn. He's a strong, powerful guy."

Added quarterback Philip Rivers: "He just doesn't stop. As long as you're back there with the football, he's coming."

Bosa also has benefited from having one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL on the other side of him in Melvin Ingram. Since 2016, Bosa and Ingram have combined for 70 sacks, the fourth-most of any pass-rushing duo in the league over that time frame.

"It's always great to have Mel out there," Bosa said. "He's always going to get some push, and if he's not getting to the quarterback, he's going to get some push and he’s great reading off and making plays off that."

One of the ways Bradley and defensive line coach Giff Smith have freed up Bosa more often is using him as a stand-up rusher from the interior of the defensive line. The Chargers have used Ingram in a similar manner over the years, and it has paid dividends for Bosa as well.

"We're trying to find ways to get guys in one-on-ones," Bradley said. "To see Joey Bosa standing up, [you think] why not just get his hand in the ground and let him come?

"It was felt that we got to find ways to get one-on-ones, and that was the way we felt like [we could], and it was good. He really took to it. I think it was something that he was very open to, but it was a little out of his comfort level. 'Hey Joey, we're going to ask you to stand up and get a one-on-one on the guard and beat him that way.' It was pretty cool to see that it was effective for him."