On the morning of June 15, Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley gathered the Bolts together for a team meeting at Hoag Performance Center.
The Chargers were set to begin a two-day minicamp, and Staley had a message to deliver to his squad.
"There's a lot that's being talked about with this group right now," Staley said. "They're going to use words like 'talent' and 'AFC West' and 'Super Bowl.'
"It actually should upset you when someone says you're a 'talented' team, or you're a 'talented' player," Staley continued. "We're not a talented team. We're a tough team.
"You're going to hear me talk a lot of about it in training camp - Toughness. Discipline. Physicality," Staley added. "We've got a football team. We're an organization. We're about something. It starts with your practice field, your weight room. If all of us in here have that mindset, then this team will be special."
The Chargers 2022 season kicks off in exactly one month with a home opener against the Raiders.
Over the next few weeks, Chargers.com will look at each of those themes Staley wants to represent his team, beginning with Physicality.
The second-year head coach explained on a macro level how he wants physicality to resonate within his team.
"It establishes a mindset of how you want to play the game. Physicality is the essence of football, especially at the point of attack," Staley said. "This is a contact game and there's a lot of different forms of that. Blocking and tackling are the essence of that.
"But when you're covering people or trying to get open, there's a physicality that needs to express itself for you to be as good as you need to be," Staley continued.
"You do it by bringing in physical players, but then creating a lot of confidence in their assignment and technique so they can truly play as physical as they can," Staley added. "It's a theme for us this year, but we really want to be able to see it. Not just talk about it, but see it."
The Bolts have seen that play out to fruition this summer during training camp practices.
But in order to see that in August, and once the regular season begins, you have to go back to March to discover how parts of this roster were built.
In the span of three days - from March 16 to 18 - the Bolts beefed up their defense.
On the first day of the New League Year, the Chargers acquired edge rusher Khalil Mack from the Bears for a 2022 second-round pick, plus a 2023 sixth-round selection.
The 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Mack has 76.5 career sacks and is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2010s All-Decade Team that was announced in April 2020.
Mack is also one of the league's top run defenders on the edge and will be counted upon to help shore up a run defense that ranked 30th in the league in 2021.
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Mack will have some help, too. On March 17, the Bolts added defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day to the roster. A day later, defensive lineman Austin Johnson was added as a free agent.
That trio has nearly 250 games of total NFL experience, nearly all of it in the trenches.
"I believe in size at the point of attack. I believe this is a big man's game. I truly believe that," Staley said. "That can look a lot of different ways, but for us it's size and length on the edges, with an anchor inside. I believe we're a lot closer to being where we want to be [on defense]."
Even in training camp practice, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler noticed the lack of space when trying to squeeze through running lanes.
"I see a lot bigger bodies in the box," Ekeler said. "So, I like to see that too because as a runner, I'm like, 'Man, we've got a lot of people in here. There's a lot of big bodies that we've got to try to run through.' It's a little bit tougher on the run game in my opinion."
Linsley has noticed the extra mass up front, too.
"They're super strong with heavy, heavy hands," Linsley said of Joseph-Day and Johnson.
But it wasn't just the run defense that was addressed in free agency. Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco and his staff bolstered the pass defense, too, by adding cornerback J.C. Jackson.
The premier cornerback available in free agency, Jackson had also established himself as one of the league's best at his position. Jackson has 25 career interceptions in four seasons, including 17 over the past two years.
Yet it wasn't just Jackson's ball skills that interested Staley and the Chargers. It was his physical style in press coverage and ability to jam and disrupt opposing wide receivers in man coverage.
Jackson went into detail to Chargers.com about the mentality he brings to the field each play.
"Playing man-to-man and being a physical corner, it's not making it easy for the receiver," Jackson said. "That's what being physical is to me. When you're in a guy's face all game, that's aggravating, you know?
"Imagine somebody lining up in your face, touching you and jamming you up every play," Jackson added. "You won't like that, right? It's being hands-on, being aggressive ... little things like that. That's what great defenses do."
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Jackson has been in Powder Blue for just a few shorts months. But his aggressive style has already shown up in camp.
And he said Staley is constantly harping that physicality to his team.
"He talks about it every day," Jackson said. "He talks about being a physical, dominant team, especially on defense.
"We have the guys to do that this year," Jackson added. "The team did a lot of work this offseason, and that's what Coach wants."
But make no mistake about it, that mindset also applies on offense, too.
While most of the 2022 free-agent priorities might have been on defense, the Chargers have been building up the other side of the ball in recent seasons, too.
In the spring of 2021, the Bolts added Linsley and left guard Matt Feiler to help protect quarterback Justin Herbert up the middle. Left tackle Rashawn Slater was added in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and all he did was earn All-Pro honors as a rookie.
The Chargers went back to the offensive line well in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, too, tabbing right guard Zion Johnson out of Boston College with the 17th overall pick.
Linsley, regarded by many as the best center in the league, had high praise for his for his linemate earlier in camp.
"He's a really good player. He has a ton of raw talent. You can see he's already put a lot together," Linsley said of Johnson. "Honestly, the sky is the limit. He's very talented. I'm excited to play next to him.
"There's really not a whole lot that I've seen where I'm like, 'Eh.' He's just a calm, confident individual who loves playing ball," Linsley added.
The fifth spot on the offensive line - a battle between Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins III - will be determined as the preseason plays out, but both players have flashed and fared well in camp.
As the 2022 season approaches, Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi likes the mindset up front.
"We're really strong inside on the O-line, between Corey and 'Anchor,' which is what they call Matt Feiler," Lombardi said. "All of those guys are strong. You feel the line of scrimmage moving in the run game. You feel a real sturdy pocket inside in the pass game. I've been really pleased with the physicality."
Sure, Staley knows the Bolts will need to run the ball effectively this season. And a strong offensive line will help ensure that success.
But with Herbert leading the offense, being physical also applies in the pass game, too.
"I don't think it's just exclusive to the run game. It's the people who are running the routes and catching the football," Staley said. "It's the people in pass protection. Physicality isn't just about the run game. It's all parts of the game.
"On offense, we have a lot of size in our skill position players," Staley added. "Those guys are going to be tough to match up against."
That means keeping No. 10 upright at all costs and letting him spread the ball around.
While Keenan Allen is known for his shiftiness, fellow wide receiver Mike Williams is the bruiser of the bunch at 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds.
"I'm a big, physical receiver. I just try to use my size to an advantage," Williams said.
Tight end Gerald Everett, who measures up at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, also brings that element to the field.
Add it all up, and Staley wants his team to bring the fight to opposing teams this season.
And in what appears to be a loaded AFC West, that means all three phases will have to be physical when division games roll around.
"You have to factor [opposing] quarterbacks into the equation, because that's where the game starts," Staley said. "Our division has four quarterbacks of [high] caliber, so you're trying to build your team to be able to defend those guys.
"It's not just defense defending that quarterback. It's your offense, too. It's your special teams," Staley added. "It takes a team to take down quarterbacks that are as good as that."
The Chargers went 9-7 and just missed the playoffs in Staley's first season in charge.
As he enters Year 2 as the head coach, it's clear that Joey Bosa has gotten the message that the entire teams needs to be more physical.
"You have to be smart, obviously, but it's a violent game," Bosa said. "If we want to play for a championship, we've got to get rugged and kick some ass. You can't be afraid to get after each other sometimes."
The Bolts have been physical against each other in recent practices, but they know that's not the end goal.
Instead, the real tests will begin in Week 1 and beyond.
"Every time you have to play the Chargers, you have to go through them," Staley said. "It's not going to be an easy game. You want to make teams go through you."
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