Renaldo Hill was hired to be the pass game coordinator and defensive backs coach for the Miami Dolphins, leaving the Los Angeles Chargers without a defensive coordinator for the 2023 season. Derrick Ansley, the secondary coach for the Chargers, was just promoted on Monday and will be the Chargers new defensive coordinator. Before promoting Ansley, the team still had to go through the usual interview process and also looked at the Patriots defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington, and the University of Houston’s defensive coordinator/associate head coach Doug Belk for the role.
Let’s look at what all three candidates could bring to the team and determine if Ansley was the right choice for the role.
Derrick Ansley, the Choice for the Chargers Defensive Coordinator
Ansley has spent the last two seasons as the secondary coach for the Chargers and has the most experience working with that position group. He worked with defensive backs at Huntingdon (2005-2009), Alabama (2016-2017), Tennessee (2012 and 2019-2020 where he doubled as the defensive coordinator), Kentucky (2013-2015 as defensive backs coach and in 2015 also took on the co-defensive coordinator role), He coached in Oakland where he worked with the Raiders for the 2018 season. He also previously worked at Alabama as a graduate assistant from 2010 to 2011. He played safety for Troy from 2001 to 2004.
In Ansley’s media availability, he said that he wants to be an extension of Brandon Staley and be another set of eyes for him. He also wants to be a coach that touches the whole team, that’s one of Staley’s philosophies.
In a press conference during OTAs in 2021, Ansley detailed his relationship with Staley. They first met when both coached at Tennessee. He says that Staley was always eager to learn and was impressive from day one.
Ansley was also familiar with Derwin James. James played against Alabama when Ansley coached there. Ansley also has relationships with other players; Josh Palmer and Chris Rumph II. Having ongoing relationships with players and with Staley, plus the last few years coaching the secondary, as well as his college playing experience, all make him well-suited for the defensive coordinator position.
The biggest way that Ansley will impact the defense as a whole is that he seems to share Staley’s mentality of making the team multiple and versatile, and expressed that during that OTA press conference in 2021.
When asked during that media availability what he meant by being a high-capacity player, he went on to say that they try to develop defensive backs and not just corners, safeties, nickels, and dimes. They want to put together the full defensive back and teach multiple roles so they know what’s going on around them.
‘High capacity’ looks at how much they can learn and how much they can put into them. The way Ansley talks about his secondary is the way that Derwin James operates as a player and the way that many others on the defense like Kyle Van Noy have operated in these varied roles for the last season.
This past season James played the majority of his snaps in the box (356) and in the free safety position (296) but also played a lot in the slot (174) and a few snaps on the defensive line (65) and at cornerback (18). Safety Alohi Gilman divided the majority of his snaps between the box (129) and the free safety (340), though he did play a few snaps in other field positions. Nasir Adderley played a lot of snaps at free safety (522) but also played a fair amount in the box (191) and the slot (161).
The corners played more traditional cornerback roles but even Ja’Sir Taylor was moved around the backfield, playing pretty evenly at cornerback (88), in the slot (76), and in the box (20).
Having variation in the placements of these position groups helps to throw opposing team defenses off, as it’s hard to predict where these guys will be from game to game.
James’ performance is always pretty steady throughout the season but to have such great performances from Michael Davis, a multi-year veteran, whose pass rush and receiver coverage grades were up from previous seasons. He also had a career-high in pass breakups (12), and a rookie like Taylor, who came in and looked competent with multiple tackles and STOPS (three), is impressive.
Granted, there definitely needs to be improvements in terms of receiver coverage and run defense, but these will hopefully come as Ansley settles more into the role. Ansley has demonstrated a solid impact on this secondary already, so it will be interesting to see how that will translate to the defensive unit as a whole.
DeMarcus Covington, Patriots Defensive Line Coach
Covington has been a defensive line coach for the Patriots since 2020 and before that worked for them as an outside linebackers coach (2019) and a coaching assistant (2017-2018). The defensive line is his wheelhouse. He also worked as a defensive line coach at Eastern Illinois and doubled as a co-defensive coordinator in 2016 and at the University of Tennessee at Martin in 2015. He also worked as a defensive graduate assistant at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 2012 and at Ole Miss from 2013 to 2014. Covington played wide receiver for Sanford University from 2007 to 2010.
If the Chargers choose to re-sign Van Noy, given Covington’s previous experience coaching him, it would have been great to see that relationship reignited. According to “Mass Live“ in 2019, Jamie Collins (9.5 sacks) and Kyle Van Noy (6.5 sacks) posted career-high numbers.
This season, the Patriots are one of the best teams in the NFL against the run – ranked 12th in yards per game (111.3) and tenth in yards per carry (4.23).” Despite not making it to the playoffs, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades the Patriots ended this season eighth in the league for run defense (71.7) and ninth for overall defense (75.8).
With Covington’s extensive experience coaching the defensive line and outside linebackers and given the success the Patriots had in a less-than-stellar season, Covington looks like he could have been a good person to right the Chargers’ defensive ship.
Doug Belk, University of Houston Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator
Belk doubled as a defensive and special teams assistant in 2011 for Valdosta State, and from 2012 to 2013 he shifted to working with their secondary. From 2014 to 2016 he worked as a graduate assistant at Alabama and worked with their cornerbacks. He was the cornerback’s coach from 2017 to 2018 at West Virginia. He then started with Houston in 2019 and has been there ever since. He began as the safeties coach and the co-defensive coordinator. In 2020 also took on the title of associate head coach.
In 2021, he still had the duties of a safeties coach and associate head coach but has since been given the reins of the defense. He’s now their associate head coach and defensive coordinator.
Per PFF grades, Houston ranked first in pass rush (92.6) and 22nd in overall defense (89.1). The Chargers finished 21st according to the PFF in the league in pass rush (68.2). Much of that can likely be attributed to missing the pass-rush super human, Joey Bosa for so long. Given Belk’s success in the pass rush for Houston, he would have definitely impacted that part of the game for the 2023 Chargers team.
In addition to his edge expertise, Belk is also a people person and has solid relationships with players. Harry Lyles Jr. of ESPN wrote of Belk in 2022, “The players joke with him a lot about being two different people. The first one is the coach, and the ultimate competitor…The other side of Belk is the one that’s going to “love you harder” as he puts it…These two sides of Belk also result in the ultimate trust on the football field.”
This description reminds me of the relationship that Staley has with the Chargers players and how throughout each season, there’s always a refrain of respect and trust encircling him. Having a leader and a producer like Belk would have been interesting to see on the Chargers staff.
Given the prior relationships that Ansley has with this Chargers defensive back group, and the fact that has been molded by Staley’s ideas and philosophies shows that he and the Chargers align, so he’s a good choice. If he can make this group deep and versatile, we’re in for a defense that not only starts strong but continues that momentum throughout the season.