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Los Angeles Chargers Defense Enjoying Talent Influx But Asante Samuel Jr. Leap Could Be Huge

The official numbers for the Kyle Van Noy one-year contract with the Los Angeles Chargers were unveiled Monday, and its base value and salary cap hit of $2.25 million break down to a $750,000 signing bonus and $1.5 million base salary.

And the Chargers know what they’re likely to get for that price.

Van Noy, 31 years old, typically delivers around 60 tackles, 10 or so for losses, maybe 6 sacks, and a combination of 3 or so forced and recovered fumbles on a given season.

So Van Noy, who plays multiple positions and calls himself “a chess piece,” is likely going to add versatility to a Chargers defense that has improved on paper this year.

About that paper:

The Chargers have added cornerback J.C. Jackson in free agency.

They’ve added edge rusher Khalil Mack via trade.

They added interior lineman Austin Johnson for run-stopping purposes via free agency.

So Los Angeles, best known for its offense because Justin Herbert has been outstanding, has done a lot of work to upgrade the defense this offseason.

But much of the upgrade we eventually see on this unit might just come from a player who was already on their roster last season:

Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr.

He was the team’s second-round draft pick last year and a starter in all 12 games he was healthy. (Yes, he missed one game with a midseason concussion and then four games with a concussion late in the year).

And if you’re wondering how the Chargers can get better by merely having a player they drafted last year back, then you should become familiar with the extraordinary leap so many players make between their rookie and second years.

It’s a thing in the NFL and it’s often significant.

Samuel is a prime candidate to make that leap and is talking like he’s about to show it based on his comfort with the Chargers’ defense.

“It’s night and day,” Samuel said Monday. “I know the scheme inside and out. I’m just asking more advanced questions instead of asking the regular, basic questions for the scheme. It gives everybody more of a better feel. This is the first time that I’ve been in a system for two straight years since high school, so it kind of feels good.”

Samuel yielded four touchdown passes and a 96.8 rating against opposing quarterbacks to go with his two interceptions last season. So improvement is expected and needed. And he’s working on it.

“I’ve been grinding, just working on my speed, strength and all of the little things — hand-eye coordination — just anything that I can think of,” Samuel said. “Balance and body control, too. Just attacking the ball more in the air. Just getting the ball back to the team.”

The Chargers need the Samuel Year 2 leap because their defense last year was not good enough. They allowed 27 points per game, which tied for the third most in the NFL and also allowed the third most rushing yards per game.

Yeah, no wonder the focus this offseason was adding talent such as Jackson and Van Noy, who came from a New England defense that was second-best in the league allowing only 17.8 points per game.

Jackson, who has 25 career interceptions in four seasons and 17 the past two seasons, has become something of a resource for Samuel, which also should help.

“We really haven’t been doing football things, just talking with him and stuff like that. Definitely, I can tell that he is trying to, not necessarily be a big brother, but a mentor — whatever he sees, and whatever I ask of him, he will tell me and try to help me get better with it.”

So while all eyes will be on the new additions the Chargers have made to improve the defense, it says right here to expect better things from a player who was on the team in 2021.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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