Expect Chargers' defensive scheme to be versatile under Brandon Staley, Renaldo Hill

Brandon Staley caters his defense to its stars, so expect him to emphasize Joey Bosa's pass-rushing abilities. Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- If there's anyone who knows what to expect from Brandon Staley, the new head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, and new defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill, it's cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who played for them when they were all with the Denver Broncos.

The coaches are young -- Staley is 38, Hill 42 -- and they are hungry. And they are relatively new in the NFL -- this is Staley's first head coaching job after spending a year as defensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams and three seasons before that as an outside linebackers coach with the Broncos and Chicago Bears. Hill has never been a coordinator, serving as an assistant defensive backs coach with the Miami Dolphins in 2018 before serving as Denver's DB coach the past two seasons.

And even though Staley says he will call the defensive plays, Hill says he plans to soak up what Staley brings to the table and resume a partnership that started on Vic Fangio's staff in Denver.

And Harris Jr. described that dynamic as "energy."

"I just know it's going to be fun," he told Chargers.com. "Make sure we're gonna have a great gameplan every week. That's what excited players, when you have coaches that are gonna give you the best chance to go out there and perform great."

By now, they are likely to have decided what their scheme or schemes will be. It's been nearly two months since the staff was hired, and Hill and Staley know one another well from their Broncos days. Their offices were next to each other and there were a lot of meetings, formal and informal, where the two would discuss defense long into the night.

It was a quick ascension for Hill.

"It may have been a fast move up, but I felt like I was preparing myself," Hill said. "You have to say there was some luck there. But I'm thankful for every opportunity I've been in."

Staley is resolute in not being resolute. That means that even though Staley headed the NFL's No. 1 defense last season with the Rams, who gave up a league-low 18.5 points per game, he's not going to necessarily force the Chargers into that particular scheme.

"We want to uniquely shape (the defense) around our guys," he said. "I think that's probably the hallmark of the way we play, that agility that we have to feature our premium players."

Meaning that while they are said to favor a 3-4 scheme, they're not going to stick strictly to it. They will rely on defensive ends Joey Bosa and Uchenna Nwosu to bring the speed and the muscle and strong safety Derwin James to fill in, well, everywhere else.

After spending last season not playing because of a torn meniscus, and missing 11 games in 2019 due to a stress fracture in his right foot, James is as hungry as the new staff. When asked in 2018, the last year he was 100% healthy, where on the field he planned to play, James answered, "wherever the ball is."

That's the kind of enthusiasm Staley and Hill hope to bring to this unit, no matter what the scheme is, to keep offenses guessing. Staley constructs his defensive schemes from the secondary in, so expect to see a lot of emphasis placed on that position group in free agency and the draft now that the offense seems to be set.

The last time the Chargers had a promising quarterback and an emphasis on defense was when the late Marty Schottenheimer was hired in 2002. He ended up with a 12-4 record with Drew Brees at quarterback in 2004 and a 14-2 mark in 2006 with Philip Rivers at QB.

And they have a promising first-round pick in linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr., who struggled at first thanks to a shortened training camp and no preseason but came on toward the end of last season, leading the team with 107 tackles. He should acclimate better to Staley's defense because of his acumen for stopping ball carriers and making plays in front of him.

Staley is naturally optimistic about what he is trying to do, especially with Bosa, who hasn't played in a 3-4 since his rookie season.

"He's going to be on the edge of our defense in a playmaking role," Staley said. "I think that the facet that he has a unique physical skill set allows you to have that versatility that we like to play with."