Chargers Edge Rusher Joey Bosa Put Mental Health Recovery Over Football in Offseason

The pass rusher feels a lot better heading into the 2021 season.
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When players line up for stretching and activation for the Los Angeles Chargers, it’s done in unison at Jack Hammett Sports Complex or Hoag Performance Center.

But when all players are on the ground going through a stretch, a silent figure is in the back doing his own thing.

Joey Bosa is backpedaling, doing lunges, and working out at his own speed. He is always working on his craft and always tries to improve. He works with his trainer Todd Rice in Florida, and his workout partner is his brother -- San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa.

He is out there in Florida from the moment the season ends until mandatory minicamp. Usually, they go through numerous pass-rushing techniques or work on getting stronger and faster.

However, this year was different.

Last season was challenging all around, with the pandemic and the offseason program being shortened. It was rough, but for Bosa, the whole season was strange.

"The impact of what I went through last year was real," said Bosa with a straight face.

He sustained numerous injures to begin the season. By the New Orleans game in Week 5, Bosa dealt with a triceps, ankle, and knee injuries that prevented him from playing any other down but third. He got a sack in the 4th quarter against Drew Brees using a spin move that would make Dwight Freeney proud.

Fast forward to Week 9 in Denver when the Chargers had a 21-point lead over the Broncos late in the third. Bosa took a hit to the head and would miss the rest of the game with a concussion. Things would change from here.

Bosa only remembered showing up at the facility on the bus. Everything else was foggy. The next few days would get even worse with him locking himself up in his room and only coming out to get his COVID test at the facility.

He would miss two games.

He returned feeling a little more upbeat. He had a dominating performance against the Buffalo Bills in week 11, sacking the opposing quarterback three times, collected nine tackles and six tackles for loss.

Three weeks later, it would happen again. He sustained a second concussion in Las Vegas against the Raiders. He wouldn't return for the last two games of the season.

"I undersold how much it affected me mentally with a concussion or what I had to deal with," explained Bosa. "It was really intense, and I kind of fell into a bit of a hole at the end of last year mentally."

One of the factors that helped him get out of his hole was that the fact that he had Nick living with him in L.A. The younger Bosa brother was rehabbing from a torn ACL he sustained in week two against the Jets.

Bosa decided to room with his brother again, like when they were kids. Growing up, they competed in anything and everything. They still kind of compete to this day.

"I think we have this intense competition against each other all the time," admitted Bosa. "That's kind of unspoken like, when somebody else does something, we're happy for him, but at the same time, we're like s***, and I want to do better."

During the back end of training camp this year, the 49ers were in town to have a joint practice with the Chargers. The younger Bosa is still coming back from his torn ACL, but he was able to practice on the side.

He also watched as his brother hand swiped, outpowered, and even used his agility to get past the 49ers offensive line. He was on a mission.

"I'm happy I was able to perform well against this team, and for him to see a few reps, it meant a lot," explained Bosa. "I was going to be really, really upset if I went out there and had a bad week because I can't have him show me up."

Bosa was Mic'd up for the Chargers, and the first thing he says when he bumps into his little brother is, "what's up, small guy?" to which Nick asked his older brother what moves he used to get past the offensive line.

It is the typical big brother, little brother love relationship. You always want your little brother to do great things, but not better than you.

"Sometimes the competition gets a little too intense, but luckily we don't play ping pong anymore or paddles are flying all over the place," said Bosa.

Bosa was happy to see his brother. He was thankful that Rice and his brother helped him climb out of that dark hole. He spoke out about mental health after what he had suffered through last season and has become more and more of an advocate.

"It's your health long term, and you see so many people losing their minds," Bosa said last November. "There's people around me that have been losing their fathers from, from brain diseases, and it's just it's a scary thing to think of."

Sometimes athletes are seen as Supermen, nothing can get to them, and nothing can hurt them, but people forget that they are more like Clark Kent. A couple of years ago, Bosa started to see a therapist, who helped significantly with what was going on during the end of last season.

"Ever since then, I've been super open about all of it, my meditation, therapy sessions, and all that," said Bosa. "So, it was just a tough time, and I had him to help me every week."

Bosa is a workout warrior. So, after the season ends, he takes some time to himself then jumps back on it with Rice and his brother in Florida. This offseason, though, Bosa felt like it was more about getting back mentally.

"The last few months, I've been steadily climbing and climbing and climbing and I'm just back to my old self, you know, feeling great," said Bosa. "Feeling great physically feeling great mentally."

He took his time.

While he did that, some changes were going on back in Los Angeles. The team had fired head coach Anthony Lynn and hired 38-year-old Brandon Staley.

The new head coach called every single one of his players on the phone to explain to them who he was, and he wanted to get to know them. He wanted to show the players that he cared for them as people, not only as players.

"It's pretty obvious that this is who he is, and he's really passionate and knowledgeable about every single position," said Bosa. "He's a younger guy who listens and knows how to take care of us."

The head coach would talk to Bosa here and there but knew that his star pass rusher wouldn't be coming until mandatory minicamp. When Bosa showed up in Costa Mesa, he sat down with his head coach, and they just talked for a little over two hours.

Bosa opened up to his coach about what he had gone through last season.

"I think that for him to be so outspoken," said Staley. "It's very courageous to me; there's a lot of bravery. Then there's also a selflessness too because he's not thinking about himself. He's thinking about other people. Anytime you have a star player like him that thinks that way, it's amazing."

He also talked football with Staley, realizing quick that Bosa is a unique person with a high football capacity.

"He's kind of an artist," said Staley about his initial thought after meeting with Bosa. "You don't get that way without being fully invested in your game, and I think he's so insightful about the details of his craft."

Bosa was quickly impressed by his new head coach.

"He could walk in any room really and talk about technique, and it's not just like, 'Oh, yeah, what are you guys running?' It's like he breaks it down exactly what's going on technique because he loves football," explained Bosa. "He has this kind of freaky memory where he just remembers things."

Staley was also impressed with Bosa. Staley has worked with some of the best pass rushers in Chicago's Khalil Mack, Denver's Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, and L.A. Rams’ Leonard Floyd and Aaron Donald.

"I learned a lot from those guys like what he sees and what his approach is, and, and tapping into that, so you can coach him better," said Staley. "I felt like he's just has a lot of insights because he's such an accomplished player."

There will be some changes to this defense, though.

Since being drafted by the Chargers in 2016, Bosa has been a big reason why the defense has generated a consistent pass rush. He has played 63 games in a Bolt uniform, sacked the opposing quarterback 47.5 times, and has 109 quarterback hits.

He also had his partner in crime in Melvin Ingram. When one of them got a sack, Bosa would do his signature shrug, and Ingram would cross his arms. They were a solid duo, but that has come to an end. Ingram wasn't re-signed and is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"He was great," said Bosa about Ingram. "He was the polar opposite of me, which I mean, opposites attract. I think we had a great relationship. Great player. I learned a lot from him. But I'm just happy he found a good spot, and he's probably going to have another great year over in Pittsburgh."

The Chargers brought Kyler Fackrell from the New York Giants to compete with Uchenna Nwosu for that spot opposite the Pro Bowl pass rusher.

"I love having Kyler," explained Bosa. "I think he was a great pickup. He had a great game the other day, was really impactful. I think Chenna's definitely coming into his own. He's been a great rusher for the past few years already, and he's finally going to have a real opportunity to get a lot of reps, but I think all three of us are going to do a really good job rotating in, and we're going to all have a lot of reps every game and keep each other fresh."

The significant change in Bosa's game will be that the team will ask him to take his hand out of the dirt and drop back into coverage.

"I obviously want to rush the passer," said Bosa. "It's what I love to do. It's what I love about football and what I love to work on. But this is a new skill I have to learn. So, it's been a fun challenge. It's been frustrating at times, definitely. But at the same time, anything worth doing isn't going to be easy all the time -- corny, corny saying, but it's true."

That change also came with him not being with defensive line coach Giff Smith, who has been his defensive line coach since he entered the league. Bosa has always thought highly of him.

The Chargers hired Jay Rodgers from the Chicago Bears, who coached with Staley, to be the outside linebacker's coach.

"He's definitely a very positive guy, levelheaded -- which sometimes I need that," said Bosa. "So, I'm excited to keep on getting to know him. It has been a challenge for him, too, because he was with the big guys the last few years. So, he's been open about that. It's a new situation for him. He hasn't coached edge in a while, so it's been a fun learning process for both of us."

Rodgers had spent the last five years as the defensive line coach in the Windy City before moving out west.

"This guy loves football," Rodgers said about Bosa. "He's very knowledgeable about his skill set what he's trying to do. His specific blockers run and pass. So, I've really enjoyed getting to know him and see how he reacts to some of the things that we're installing."

When camp started, Bosa was excited to work with Rodgers, but there was some hesitancy about last season.

"I was a little nervous coming into camp with how I feel at some certain things that have kind of built up over the years, but I have been feeling great," said the pass rusher. "I feel like I've got my rhythm back."

When on the defensive field at Jack Hammett, Bosa did one of two things during every practice, either going through a drill or talking to Rodgers.

"He's constantly working on his body, his timing, his footwork," explained Rodgers. "And then, as far as our conversations go on the sideline, different scenarios that could come up to help him play faster because I think the more you know, the faster you can play. Faster guys like him can play the more production they wind up having."

When it was 7-on-7, or there was a special team drill, and he wasn't needed, Bosa would be at a machine or workout dummy working on his craft, as Staley put it, like an artist.

Something else that Bosa noticed without Ingram being present is that he is now the leader of the pass rushers. Make no mistake about it, Bosa isn't a ra-ra guy; he is the furthest from that. He leads by example but doesn't mind giving tips.

"I feel like it's most effective when I'm coaching guys up one on one and telling them how I see things," said Bosa. "I understand everybody rushes differently. So, I don't want to like tell him this was the only way but tell him what I see what's been successful for me."

He has been a silent leader in the pass-rushing room. He has helped guys from Nwosu to third-year player Davin Bellamy to rookie fourth-rounder Chris Rumph.

"I mean, at the end of the day, Joey has been doing this at a high level for a long time, since his rookie year, and so any advice I go to him and talk to him about anything pass-rushing wise anytime I go to him after advice," said Rumph.

Things have certainly changed a lot since last season. The team has a new head coach with a new direction. Bosa will have some new duties to go along with getting after the quarterback.

So, the fans should expect a 10-sack season and a five-interception season from Bosa?

"Hopefully, more than ten sacks, but I'll take one interception. It's all I need," joked Bosa.

Bosa said he is excited about the season to start, but there will be a lot of factors that will go into how the Chargers will do this season. He knows that one factor he can count on is his quarterback Justin Herbert, whom Bosa has been a massive advocate for a la Paul Heyman since last training camp.

"I'm excited to see what he can do this year," said Bosa about his quarterback. "Another thing that I love about him is I don't think he… I mean, he must know is that good, but I feel like he's such a humble and normal dude. So, it's like it never comes off as arrogant or full of himself for like this super talent that he is, which was he's a 6'5 fast like he's the ideal quarterback, and I think he's got a Hall of Fame future, for sure."

From everything Bosa has gone through from last season to this one, he feels re-juiced and is looking ahead and not back.

"I don't come into practice where you don't want to bump my head or anything like that," said Bosa. "I think I've done everything right to heal my brain and heal my body, so it's part of the game."