Shipping coordinators Jesse Minter and Greg Roman detail their philosophies and plans

Shipping coordinators Jesse Minter and Greg Roman detail their philosophies and plans

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Jesse Minter and offensive coordinator Greg Roman sat down with beat writers Thursday at the team facility to get their introductory media briefings available. Special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken, who was retained from the previous coaching staff, also took questions.

Minter and Roman discuss their philosophies, schemes, roster evaluations, and more. We'll focus on their sessions, as Chargers fans should be very familiar with Ficken, who is now in his third season with the team.

Here are notes and takeaways from Minter and Roman's time.

Minter looks for “toughness and physicality”

• On a broad level, Minter has reduced his philosophy to an important point.

“I truly believe defensive football is 50 percent what you play and 50 percent how you play it,” he said.

On one side is the chart and the X and O. On the flip side, there's the style of play and the four pillars he emphasized as Michigan State's defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh the past two seasons — destroying blocks, shocking effort, disrupting the ball, and obnoxious communication. On Thursday, he phrased it differently.

“There's a style of football that I think we believe in to play winning football,” Minter said, referring to Harbaugh. “This requires toughness and physical strength.”

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• Scheme-wise, an important aspect of Minter's defense is his disguise play and post-snap rotations. This strategy is something Chargers defenders need to be aware of, as disguising was a big part of how former coach Brandon Staley wanted to play defense. Staley often discussed making things as difficult as possible for opposing quarterbacks through what he called “image change.”

It's an attractive approach in theory. But the way these elements of disguise are performed and taught is important. In Staley's case, his defense became so complex that his players couldn't execute it consistently. Minter was asked about disguise in his defense and how he strikes that balance between complexity against opposing quarterbacks and palatability for his players.

“I really stick to the belief of teaching ‘concept,'” Minter said. “When we get players in offseason, we try to understand what we're trying to extract from certain coverages, and what we want that to look like. If the quarterback knows you are in this coverage, that is likely where the ball will go based on the quarterback's advance. So when you run a certain coverage and you know where the weakness is, well, let's do a pre-shot scenario. What would cause him to throw the ball where we are at an advantage and show him those different looks?

“I really think trying to teach that concept from the beginning, here's the strength of this coverage, here's the weakness of this coverage. If they know you're in this coverage, here's where the ball's going to go. And then I really think the players start to take the initiative and, well, let's We show this because we know we're really trying to get him to throw the ball here. It all ties together. It's all calculated. And I really think that when players really learn what we're doing, they start to be the ones to take ownership of the disguises and all that.

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This last part of the answer is crucial. In the final days of Staley's tenure, the defensive players painted a stark picture. They would often approach Staley and other members of the defensive staff to tell coaches the scheme was too complicated. They demanded that certain aspects be reduced. They felt it would allow them to play faster. They tried to seize that property. But these requests fell on deaf ears many times.

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

“We'll work at the rate these guys can work at,” Minter said. “It might not be that way the first year. It might be a lot, depending on how things start.”

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• Minter said he has been working on the latest Chargers movie since he was hired earlier this month. When asked what stands out, he mentioned the first group: “There aren't a lot of people who have the drive, or the people who stand out, like we do.”

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 both set to make a cap hit of over $30 million in 2024, according to Over the Cap, and it would be very difficult to keep them on the roster on their current contracts. These cap decisions are “above my pay grade,” Minter said. But he offered this: “As a coach, this is what you like. I would love to have those three. The third player is Tuli Tuipulotu, a second-year pass rusher, who will definitely be on the roster. Tuipulotu is a rising star.”


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 rushing to the rim, Minter mentioned the next player: safety Derwin James Jr. “An exceptional player,” Minter said. Versatile safeties can thrive in this defensive scheme. Just look at how Mike McDonald — the defensive coordinator at Michigan before Minter arrived — used All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton with the Baltimore Ravens last season. James can do a lot of different things. Minter's most important task will be to figure out how best to use it. At times, James wore too many hats under Staley, which affected his performance, especially in 2023.

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“There's a fine line there because he's so versatile,” Minter said of James. “We want to try to teach the defense conceptually, we want to teach things as concepts, whether in forward structures or coverage concepts. If we can do that over the course of between now and September, it gives guys the ability to move a little bit more.”

“I want him to understand how we play certain coverages. And I think when you really try to look at it that way and understand it, this week, maybe we can move you over here so we can do more with you. Or maybe there's a matchup issue here that we want you to be able to address.” So we want him to be a competition piece, and we want to allow him to do the things that he does really well.

Minter added that upon watching James, he decided that “the closer to the action, the better.”

“He's a dynamic fighter,” Minter said. “He's dynamic in man coverage. I think he can stop a lot of tight ends, linebackers, those kind of matchup problems that other teams have. And so, we're very excited to work with him. But we want to make sure we're using him in the best possible position. I don't know where “That's yet to come, but I'm really looking forward to working with him. I think he's going to be a dynamic player.”

The Romans strive for a balanced offense

• In his introductory news conference earlier this month, Harbaugh said one of his priorities would be to “advance progress.” This is Roman's specialty. On Thursday, Roman made it very clear as part of his vision.

“We want to be a balanced attack,” he added. “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 give the right looks to run it, we want to be able to run it at a high level. Everywhere I've gone, that's kind of been the goal, trying to run that offense.” The complete one.

“We want to have an identity as an offense. We want it to be a strong, strong identity. That's what we're working on. But I think in this league, you can really help dictate defenses if you have a strong offense. If you really talk to most of the defensive coordinators in this league “And I take them out to the side. When they're playing a really good team, they're sweating a little bit. They're sleeping a little less this week. So I think it's in our best interest to be able to have that balanced attack.”

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• The next natural question was: How do you balance executing the vision of this run game while also maximizing the talents of quarterback Justin Herbert?

“This is where you have to get back to what ultimately matters to you, and for us, that's winning,” Roman said. “So whatever it is that particular week. We might have to throw it a lot in this game to win. We might have to run it next week. How that looks in the stat line and all that, I really don't care. It's really not part of what I'm trying to do.” “Stats and all those things happen and they come through production and success. So, if you have a balanced attack, you should have very good stats in both areas.”

“I can frame it this way: Can you imagine Justin Herbert having a great running game? That's kind of the way I look at it.

Naturally, Herbert has never played an above-average running game during his career. The truth is, no one can answer Roman's rhetorical question because we 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 a quarterback can't do everything on his own.”


Justin Herbert with an above-average running game? This is something we have yet to see at the NFL level but will be a goal under Greg Roman. (David Butler II/USA Today)

• Roman has built excellent running games everywhere he has been during his coaching career, and said the key to building on this stage is “commitment.”

“You have to invest in it,” Roman said. “Then you have to get buy-in from the players, and then you have to actually do it. You have to actually call the run during games. We'll do what we can to win, but you have to commit yourself to doing it or you have no chance of being better than average.”

This will be encouraging for the Chargers' offensive linemen and running backs. There was often a feeling, under Joe Lombardi and Kellen Moore, that previous play-callers didn't commit to the run game. Players sometimes felt it was difficult to get into a rhythm. One thing is clear: this will not happen with Roman plays.

“You have to give players a chance to express their physical abilities through what you actually do, the plays you call,” Roman said.

• Roman made one thing clear: “We're trying to be great at running the ball, and we're trying to be great at throwing the ball. We're trying to be great at both all the time.”

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

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