Trio makes case for more work in Chargers’ defensive line rotation

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Without primary interior defensive linemen Linval Joseph, Jerry Tillery, and Christian Covington, the Chargers had to call on the backups and practice squad in the 41-37 victory over the Steelers.

Joining Justin Jones were first and second-year undrafted players Breiden Fehoko, Joe Gaziano, Forrest Merrill, and Andrew Brown.

What was viewed as a mismatch coming into the game, they made rookie running back Najee Harris a non-factor. They limited Pittsburgh to 55 yards on 18 carries — a 3.1 yards per attempt average.

While Jones anchored the unit, playing 81% of the defensive snaps, the others aided, with Gaziano and Fehoko being the standouts of the crop.

Playing the second-most defensive snaps out of the positional group (62%), Gaziano made positive things happen in both facets, creating inside pressure and stacking the run.

Gaziano finished with three tackles, a quarterback hit, and a pass deflection.

“I really felt Joe in pass rush and in run defense,” coach Brandon Staley said on Gaziano. “He just was active. He blocked a couple of shots. This guy was really active.”

Besides occupying blockers to help keep his teammates clean, Fehoko showed off brute strength to reset the line of scrimmage and some quickness to work his way through gaps.

Fehoko finished with three tackles.

“He has that warrior spirit,” Staley said on Fehoko. “He’s a multiplier, man. He just makes you feel good at the game because you know this guy is going to give you everything that he has.”

Merrill had just 11 snaps, but he still made the most of them.

Merrill’s highlight play showed off his press strength and natural low pad level, walking rookie center Kendrick Green to the lap of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Even though it was one of the best showings in the trenches this season with those guys, Los Angeles is likely to get Tillery and Covington back for the Week 12 matchup against the Broncos.

Tillery and Covington will likely resume their roles upon returning. But after Sunday, Gaziano, Fehoko, and Merrill proved they should be part of the rotation the rest of the way out.