As the Chargers prepare for the NFL draft, The Times will examine their roster. Part 4 of 8: Defensive line.
He has spent two seasons trying to confirm his status as a first-round draft pick, Jerry Tillery offering the Chargers both hope and frustration.
He has shone at times, rushing the passer up the middle and also stopping the run. But Tillery last season was called for eight penalties, including three 15-yarders.
In new head coach Brandon Staley, the former Notre Dame standout has a fan — one who’s already convinced.
“This guy’s production last year jumped off the page for me,” Staley said. “I know that people want to magnify some of the sack production. But I think the tape, what the film said, told me a different story.”
Tillery’s continued progress will be a main story line along the defensive front in 2021.
With the Chargers shifting to more of a 3-4 look, the plan is for him to remain inside, though Staley said Tillery proved in 2020 that he also can play on the edge.
Tillery has five sacks and 47 combined tackles in 31 career games. He finished last season with 14 quarterback hits, second on the team to three-time Pro Bowl selection Joey Bosa.
“Where he’s going to give us the biggest advantage is in interior pass rush,” Staley said. “But we feel like this guy’s got a chance to be a complete player. This guy’s a lot more tough, physical and rugged in the run game than I was expecting.”
Tillery, who was drafted 28th overall in 2019, arrived with the reputation of being an edgy player. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco has said he’s OK with Tillery’s occasional lapses.
“Love what Jerry did this year,” Telesco said. “Jerry took a huge step forward. Love the intensity and the edge he plays with. Does it get him in trouble at times? It does. But I’d rather have that and dial it back than the other way around.”
Under contract for 2021: Bosa ($20.75 million), Linval Joseph ($11.9 million), Tillery ($3.1 million), Justin Jones ($2.39 million), Cortez Broughton ($869,580), Jessie Lemonier ($780,000), Joe Gaziano ($780,000), TJ Smith ($660,000), Breiden Fehoko ($660,000).
Free agents: The Chargers did not re-sign edge rusher Melvin Ingram and allowed defensive end Isaac Rochell to depart. Nose tackle Damion Square also has not been re-signed.
Draft: The Chargers are expected to look for potential depth. They could use another option for their game-day rotation.
Roster decisions: Young players such as Broughton and Fehoko will be looking to solidify their spots this summer. Entering his 12th season, Joseph is in line to be a free agent again after 2021.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.