Chargers coordinators Jesse Minter, Greg Roman detail their philosophies, schemes

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 for their introductory media availabilities. Special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken, who was retained from the previous coaching staff, also took questions.

Minter and Roman discussed their philosophies, their schemes, their assessments of the roster and more. We will focus on their sessions, as Chargers fans should already be very familiar with Ficken, who is now in his third season with the team.

Here are notes and takeaways from the time with Minter and Roman.

Minter seeks ‘toughness and a physicality’

• On a broad level, Minter distilled his philosophy down to an important point.

“I really think defensive football is 50 percent of what you play and 50 percent of how you play,” he said.

On one side is the scheme and X’s and O’s. On the other side is play style and the four pillars he emphasized as Michigan defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh the past two seasons — block destruction, shocking effort, ball disruption and obnoxious communication. On Thursday, he framed it a different way.

“There’s a style of football that I think we both believe in to play winning football,” Minter said, referring to Harbaugh. “That requires a toughness and a physicality.”


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• On the scheme side, one important facet of Minter’s defense is playing with disguise and post-snap rotations. This strategy is something Chargers defenders should be familiar with, as disguise was a big part of how former head coach Brandon Staley wanted to play defensively. Staley often discussed making things as difficult as possible for opposing quarterbacks by what he called “changing the picture.”

It is an attractive approach in theory. But the way those disguise elements are implemented and taught are important. In Staley’s case, his defense became far too complex for his players to execute consistently. Minter was asked about disguises in his defense and how he strikes that balance between complexity against opposing quarterbacks and palatability for his players.

“I really hold true to the ‘concept’ teaching belief,” Minter said. “When we get the guys in the offseason, we’re trying to understand what we’re trying to take away in certain coverages, what we want that to look like. If the quarterback knows you’re in this coverage, this is the likely place that the ball would go based on the quarterback’s progression. And so when you’re playing a particular coverage and you know where the weak spot is, then OK, let’s all conceptualize pre-snap. What would get him to throw the ball where we’re at the advantage and showing him those different looks?

“I really just think trying to teach that concept right from the beginning of, 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 is going to go. And then I really think the players begin to take ownership of, OK, let’s show this because we know we’re trying to actually get him to throw the ball over here. It all ties together. It’s all calculated. And I really think that as the players really learn what we’re doing, they begin to be the ones to take ownership of the disguises and all that.”

That last part of the answer is crucial. In the waning days of Staley’s tenure, defensive players painted a stark picture. They would frequently approach Staley and other members of the defensive staff to tell the coaches the scheme was too complicated. They asked for certain aspects to be pared down. They felt that would allow them to play faster. They tried to take that ownership. But those requests fell on deaf ears too many times.

Minter’s approach, at least based on his comments Thursday, feel like a deviation from this.

“We’ll go at the rate of which those guys can operate,” Minter said. “It might not be as much year one. It might be a lot, depending on how it starts going.”



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• Minter said he has been working through recent Chargers film since he was hired earlier this month. When asked what stands out, the first group he mentioned: “There’s not a lot of people that have the rushers, the edge guys, that we have.”

Of course, that group could look different depending on how the Chargers navigate their cap situation in the coming weeks. Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa are both set for cap hits of more than $30 million in 2024, according to Over the Cap, and it will be very difficult to keep both on the roster on their current contracts. Minter said those cap decisions are “above my pay grade.” But he did offer this: “As a coach, that’s what you’d love. I’d love to have those three.” The third player being second-year edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu, who will certainly be on the roster. Tuipulotu is a rising star.

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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 all of them on the roster. (Brad Rempel / USA Today)

• After the edge rushers, the next player Minter mentioned: safety Derwin James Jr. “A phenomenal player,” Minter said. Versatile safeties can thrive in this defensive scheme. Just look at how Mike Macdonald — the defensive coordinator at Michigan before Minter arrived — utilized All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton with the Baltimore Ravens last season. James can do so many different things. Minter’s most important job will be figuring out how best to use him. At times, James was wearing too many hats under Staley, and that affected his performance, particularly in 2023.

“There’s a fine line there because he is so versatile,” Minter said of James. “We want to try to teach the defense conceptually, and we want to teach things as concepts, both in front structures and coverage concepts. If we’re able to do that over the course of between now and September, it gives guys the ability to move around 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, hey, this week, maybe we can move you down here so we can do a little bit more with you. Or maybe there’s a matchup problem here that we want you to be able to handle. And so we want him to be a matchup piece, and we want to allow him to do the things that he does really well.”

Minter added that when watching James, he determined that “the closer he is to the action, the better he is.”

“He’s a dynamic blitzer,” Minter said. “He’s dynamic in man coverage. I think he could shut down a lot of the tight ends, backs, those type of matchup problems that other teams present. And so, we’re super excited to work with him. But we want to make sure that we’re utilizing him in the best place possible. I don’t know where that’s at yet, but really look forward to working with him. I think he is going to be a dynamic player.”

Roman seeks a balanced offense

• At his introductory news conference earlier this month, Harbaugh said one of his priorities will be to “beef up the run game.” That is Roman’s speciality. And on Thursday, Roman quite clearly vocalized that as part of his vision.

“We want to be a balanced offense,” he said. “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 present looks that are favorable to run it, then we want to be able to run it at a high level. Every place I’ve been, that’s kind of been the goal, to try to have that complete attack.

“We want to have an identity as an offense. And we want that to be a strong, powerful identity. And that’s what we’re working on. But I think in this league, you can really help dictate to defenses if you have a strong running attack. If you really talk to most defensive coordinators in this league and got them off to the side when they’re playing a really good running team, they’re sweating a little bit. They’re sleeping a little less that week. So I think it’s in our favor to be able to have that balanced attack.”

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

“That’s where you have to come back to what your ultimate concern is, and for us, it’s winning,” Roman said. “So whatever that might be that particular week. We might have to throw it a lot this game to win. Might have to run it the 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 that stuff happen and come through production and success. So if you have a balanced attack, you should have pretty good stats in both areas.

“I can frame it this way: Can you imagine Justin Herbert with a great running game? That’s kind of how I look at it.”

Herbert, of course, has never had an even above-average running game during his career. The truth is, no one can answer the rhetorical question Roman posed because we just haven’t seen it yet.

“We want to have an offense that supports his talent, and there’s a lot of different ways to do that,” Roman said. “But the quarterback can’t do everything on his own.”

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Justin Herbert with an above-average running game? That’s something we haven’t seen yet 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 in his coaching career, and he said the key to building that phase is “commitment.”

“You have to invest in it,” Roman said. “Then you got to get the buy-in from the players, and then you actually have to do it. You actually have to call runs during the games. We’re going to do what it takes to win, but you got to commit yourself to do it or else you got no chance at being anything better than average.”

This will be encouraging for the Chargers offensive linemen and backs. There was often a feeling, both under Joe Lombardi and Kellen Moore, that past play callers did not stick with the run game. Players sometimes felt like it was hard to get into a rhythm. One thing is clear: That will not happen with Roman calling plays.

“You got to give the players an opportunity to express their physicality by actually what you do, the plays you call,” Roman said.

• Roman did make 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.”

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

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