1708683527 Chargers coordinators Jesse Minter and Greg Roman explain their philosophies

Chargers coordinators Jesse Minter and Greg Roman explain their philosophies and plans

COSTA MESA, Calif. – Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Jesse Minter and offensive coordinator Greg Roman met with beat writers at the team facility on Thursday for introductory media availability. Special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken, who took over from the previous coaching staff, also answered questions.

Minter and Roman discussed their philosophies, their plans, their assessments of the roster and more. We'll focus on their workouts as Chargers fans will already be very familiar with Ficken, who is now in his third season with the team.

Here are notes and insights from my time with Minter and Roman.

Minter strives for “toughness and physicality”

• Overall, Minter has boiled down his philosophy to one important point.

“I really believe that defensive football is 50 percent of what you play and 50 percent of how you play,” he said.

On one side you can see the diagram and Xs and O's. On the other side is the style of play and the four pillars he emphasized over the last two seasons as Michigan's defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh – block destruction, shocking delivery, ball disruption and obnoxious communication. On Thursday he put it differently.

“There is a style of football that we both believe in, to play winning football,” Minter said, referring to Harbaugh. “It requires toughness and physicality.”

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• On the scheme side, a key aspect of Minter's defense is disguise play and post-snap rotations. It's a strategy that Chargers defenders should be familiar with, as the disguise was a big part of how former head coach Brandon Staley wanted to play defensively. Staley often talked about making things as difficult as possible for opposing quarterbacks by “changing the picture.”

In theory, it is an attractive approach. But the way these disguise elements are implemented and taught is important. In Staley's case, his defense became far too complex for his players to execute consistently. Minter was asked about disguises in his defense and how he balances complexity against opposing quarterbacks and palatability for his players.

“I really stay true to the doctrinal belief of the 'Concept,'” Minter said. “When we bring guys in in the offseason, we try to understand what we want to take away from certain coverages and what that should look like. If the quarterback knows you are in that coverage, that is the likely place the ball would go based on the quarterback's development. So if you play a certain coverage and know where the weak point is, let's develop a concept for the pre-snap together. What would make him throw the ball where we have the advantage and give him that different look?

“I really think that trying to get that concept across from the beginning is the strength of this reporting and that's the weakness of this reporting. If they know you're in this coverage, here's where the ball will go. And then I really think the players start to take control. OK, let's show this because we know we're trying to actually get him to throw the ball here. It's all connected. It's all calculated. And I really believe that the players, when they really learn what we do, are the ones who own the disguises and all that.”

The last part of the answer is crucial. In the final days of Staley's tenure, the defensive players painted a bleak picture. They often turned to Staley and other members of the defensive staff to tell the coaches that the plan was too complicated. They called for certain aspects to be weakened. They felt like it would allow them to play faster. They tried to take over this property. But these requests too often fell on deaf ears.

Minter's approach appears to be a departure from that, at least based on his comments Thursday.

“We will move at the speed at which these people can operate,” Minter said. “Maybe it won’t be as much in the first year. Depending on how it starts, it could be a lot.”

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• Minter said he has been working on the recent Chargers film since signing earlier this month. When asked what stood out, he named the first group: “There aren't a lot of guys that have the rushers, the edge guys that we have.”

Of course, this group could look different depending on how the Chargers handle their cap situation in the coming weeks. Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa are projected to make peak earnings of more than $30 million in 2024, according to Over the Cap, and it will be very difficult to keep both on the roster with their current contracts. Minter said these cap decisions were “above my pay grade.” But he offered this: “As a coach, you would love that. I would like to have those three.” The third player is second-year edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu, who will certainly be on the roster. Tuipulotu is a rising star.

1708683521 70 Chargers coordinators Jesse Minter and Greg Roman explain their philosophies

Tuli Tuipulotu, Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack (not pictured) give the Chargers a dangerous pass-rushing trio — if they can find a way to keep them all on the roster. (Brad Rempel/USA Today)

• After the edge rushers, the next player Minter mentioned was safety Derwin James Jr. “Phenomenal player,” Minter said. Versatile safeties can thrive in this defensive system. Just look at how Mike Macdonald — the defensive coordinator at Michigan before Minter's arrival — used All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton with the Baltimore Ravens last season. James can do so many different things. Minter's most important task will be figuring out how best to use him. At times, James wore too many hats under Staley, which impacted his performance, particularly in 2023.

“It’s a fine line because he’s so versatile,” Minter said of James. “We want to try to teach defense conceptually and we want to teach things as concepts, both in front structures and coverage concepts. If we can do that over time between now and September, the boys will have the opportunity to move around a bit more.

“I want him to understand how we play certain coverages. And I think if you really try to look at it and understand it like, hey, maybe we can bring you here this week so we can do a little bit more with you. Or maybe there's a matchup problem here that you can solve. That’s why we want him to be a partner and to be able to do the things that he’s really good at.”

Minter added that as he watched James, he concluded, “The closer he is to the action, the better he is.”

“He’s a dynamic blitzer,” said Minter. “He is dynamic in men’s coverage. I think he could eliminate a lot of tight ends, backs and those types of matchup problems that other teams have. That’s why we’re really looking forward to working with him. But we want to make sure we use it in the best possible way. I don't know where the status is yet, but I'm really looking forward to working with him. I think he will be a dynamic player.”

Roman aims for a balanced offense

• At his introductory press conference earlier this month, Harbaugh said one of his priorities would be “improving the running game.” This is Roman's specialty. And on Thursday, Roman made this very clear as part of his vision.

“We want to be a balanced offense,” he said. “We want to be able to run it when we want to run it and throw it when we want to throw it. If they provide a look and feel that is favorable to operations, then we want to be able to execute it to a high standard. Every place I've been, that's kind of been the goal, to try to do this full attack.

“We want to have an identity as an offense. And we want that to be a strong, powerful identity. And we are working on that. But I think in this league you can really help impact the defense if you have a strong running attack. If you really talk to most defensive coordinators in this league and put them on the sidelines when they're playing against a really good running team, they sweat a little bit. You're sleeping a little less this week. So I think it’s beneficial for us to be able to have a balanced attack.”

• The next logical question was: How do you manage to execute the vision of a running game while maximizing the talents of quarterback Justin Herbert?

“This is where you have to get back to what your real concern is, and for us it’s about winning,” Roman said. “Whatever that may be this week. We may have to give a lot to win this game. It may need to be run next week. I don't really care what it looks like in the statistics line and so on. It's really not part of what I'm trying to do. Statistics and all these things come from production and success. So if you have a balanced attack, you should have pretty good stats in both areas.

“I can put it this way: Can you imagine Justin Herbert having a great running game? That's how I see it.

Of course, Herbert has never had an above-average running game in his career. The truth is that no one can answer the rhetorical question Roman asked because we simply haven't seen it yet.

“We want to have an offense that supports his talent, and there are a lot of different ways to do that,” Roman said. “But the quarterback can’t do everything by himself.”

1708683523 574 Chargers coordinators Jesse Minter and Greg Roman explain their philosophies

Justin Herbert with an above-average running game? That's something we haven't seen at the NFL level, but it will be a goal under Greg Roman. (David Butler II / USA Today)

• Roman has built great running games throughout his coaching career, and he said the key to building that streak is “commitment.”

“You have to invest,” said Roman. “Then you have to get the buy-in from the players and then you have to actually do it. You actually have to call runs during games. We will do everything we can to win, but you have to commit to it, otherwise you have no chance of being above average.”

This will be encouraging for the Chargers' offensive linemen and backs. There was often a feeling under both Joe Lombardi and Kellen Moore that previous play callers weren't sticking with the run game. At times players felt it was difficult to find a rhythm. One thing is clear: this won't happen with Roman calling plays.

“You have to give players the opportunity to express their physicality through what you do, the plays you call,” Roman said.

• Roman made one thing clear: “We try to run the ball well and we try to throw the ball great. We always try to be great in both areas.”

(Top photos of Jesse Minter and Greg Roman: Junfu Han and Mitch Stringer / USA Today)