Derrick Ansley concedes Chargers’ defense had ‘growing pains’

Derrick Ansley said the words out loud Tuesday that many Chargers observers from near and far had been saying for almost all of Brandon Staley’s two-year tenure as the team’s head coach.

“Obviously, the first two years, we’ve had some growing pains,” said Ansley, who was promoted to the Chargers’ defensive coordinator position from their secondary coach after the departure of Renaldo Hill to the Miami Dolphins.

The Chargers improved defensively after Staley’s and Ansley’s first season. They ranked 21st in points given up this past season after ranking 29th in the 2021 season. They ranked 20th in yards surrendered this past season after ranking 23rd in ‘21.

But there was a sense that the Chargers could do better this past season, given their many talented defensive standouts, including edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, cornerback J.C. Jackson and safety Derwin James Jr.

Injuries to Bosa (groin) and Jackson (knee) proved difficult to overcome, though.

The Chargers managed to win four of their final five regular-season games, rallying for a 10-7 record and their first AFC playoff berth since the 2018 season. In many ways, it was their defense that sparked their late-season run, coming alive when it mattered most down the stretch.

However, the Chargers’ wild-card playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, when they coughed up a 27-0 lead en route to a 31-30 defeat, cast a dark cloud over what had been a rousing end to the regular season. Change was inevitable and it began with the naming of new offensive and defensive coordinators.

Kellen Moore was hired to replace Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator.

Ansley was then promoted to replace Hill, getting a thumbs-up from James.

“One of the hardest workers I know,” James wrote, in part, on Twitter of Ansley, whose résumé includes a stint with the Raiders as a defensive backs coach in 2018, as well as assistant coaching positions with the universities of Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee after playing collegiately at Troy.

Staley will call the defensive signals, as he did in the past, so don’t expect any drastic changes in the Chargers’ method of operation with Ansley as defensive coordinator. Ansley suggested the game plan will not be altered in any great way, except perhaps to play better.

“In 2023, we’re going to focus on all 11 guys playing as one, just as we had the first two years,” Ansley said during a video conference call with reporters. “We’re going to put guys into positions to make plays, coach guys hard, play to our standard, our way, and get the results that we need.”

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As for Ansley’s vision of the Chargers’ defense, that’s not going to change, either. He said he expects to be “an extension of Coach Staley” and “another set of eyes to support him and his vision of the defense” and an “extra set of hands.” He also said the way the players are evaluated, developed and coached wouldn’t change.

“The biggest thing that you learn in the NFL is that this game is about relationships,” Ansley said. “It’s about partnerships, give and take. It’s about seeking input and giving input, and that’s player-to-coach and coach-to-player. No coach has all the answers. The players are the ones that are seeing it through their helmet. I think that’s big for a coach, especially at this level, to have some flexibility to listen to the players, because the players sometimes know best.”

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