Wednesday, October 5 2022

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Joey Bosa is on the move, going through his meticulous warmup routine at the start of practice for the Los Angeles Chargers

He effortlessly bends over to touch his toes, then takes off on high-knee sprints across the field. Meanwhile, Bosa’s teammates are lined up, going through a traditional stretch period with the team’s training staff.

Bosa beats to his own drum. It’s not uncommon for the Ohio State product to work on his own during early portions of practice, However, soon after he’s done, Bosa saunters over to the sideline toward a new teammate to talk technique and get ready for the team’s scrimmage.

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That new teammate is none other than one of the best pass rushers in the NFL over the past several years — Khalil Mack.

“As a rookie, or a few years into my career, it would have been a negative almost in a way where I’m too in my head, too hyper-competitive in that sense,” Bosa said about Mack’s arrival. “Now, I just love to have a guy like that to lean on, ask questions — whether it’s about football or just life in general. 

“He’s just a great guy, and I feel like we’ve been talking for the last two weeks every single day. We’re always taking a knee next to each other, laughing, talking. It’s just a huge benefit. The competition, having an elite guy like that to look at and be like just keeps you on your toes.”

After notching seven sacks in his last 10 games in 2021, the 27-year-old Bosa spent the offseason working out back home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with younger brother Nick. Joey said it was his best offseason — and that he has carried that diligent work ethic and mental frame of mind into training camp.

“These are the best two weeks I’ve had in any of my years, so far, coming into camp,” Bosa said. “I remember after the scrimmage last year I was like, ‘Dang, I suck.’ 

“[This year] my moves are coming nice and naturally. My body is feeling good-ish, good enough. I am dealing with things in year seven, but I feel much better than I did last year.” 

The arrival of Mack, acquired in a March trade with the Chicago Bears, has helped to reinvigorate Bosa.

“Those guys are playing well together,” said Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, who served as Mack’s linebackers coach in Chicago in 2018. “That’s what we were looking for, to really find that style that these guys can really commit to together and find that rhythm for both of them. Every time you see them out there, you see two difference-makers.

“And where they’re at now is nowhere near where they’re going to be. We’re really trying to be purposeful in how we build both of those guys up this training camp.”

Los Angeles needs Bosa and Mack to click, needing to ignite a defense that was one of the worst in the NFL last season. The Chargers allowed 27 points per game, tied for third-worst in the league. L.A. allowed offenses to convert on third down a league-best 49.5% of the time and gave up 173 points in the fourth quarter, worst in the NFL.

The Chargers had just 35 sacks, tied for 20th in the league. Bosa totaled 10.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hits in 2021, earning Pro Bowl honors for the fourth time in his career.

With the addition of Mack, the Chargers would like to get back to when Bosa and Melvin Ingram were one of the best pass-rushing combinations in the league. The two combined for 72.5 sacks in their first four seasons together from 2016 to 2019.

Ingram left in free agency last season, playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. He’ll play for the Miami Dolphins in 2022.

Bosa has 58 sacks since being selected No. 3 overall by the Chargers in the 2016 draft, good for sixth overall in the league during that period. He ranks third with 250 quarterback pressures over that time frame. By comparison, Mack is second with 256 pressures and seventh with 57.5 sacks.

The Chargers hope to have a healthy and productive Mack, who is 31 and still on the mend from a foot injury suffered last season. In 2021, he totaled six sacks in seven games but missed the last 10. Overall, Mack made three Pro Bowls during his four years in Chicago after arriving in a blockbuster trade from the Raiders, but the Bears reached the playoffs just one time. 

“Khalil is obviously working back and getting that foot stronger,” said Bosa, who had a foot injury early in his NFL career. “I just keep trying to tell him he’s so hard on himself, as you can imagine a guy like that would be. I just keep telling him that it’s going to take time. I’m sure a few weeks into the season he’s really going to be rolling and feeling great. 

“We still have plenty of time until that first game. We just need him to be safe and keep working hard like he always does. Just having a guy like that to motivate me, always being first running to every drill, I’m like, ‘OK, I have to keep up with him, I guess.’ But he’s the man.” 

For his part, the quiet and unassuming Mack believes he’s in the right place at the right time, ready to lead the Chargers on a deep postseason run.

“I feel like up to this point in my career, I’ve accomplished things, but ultimately we want to get to a Super Bowl, and we want to win it,” Mack said. “That’s the only thing on my mind at this point in my career.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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