Chargers want Thomas Davis' leadership as well as his game

PHOENIX -- Every offseason, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco identifies a potential target at a position of need to pursue at the start of free agency.

This year, that player was linebacker Thomas Davis.

Looking for an edge in the push for a potential Super Bowl run, the Chargers added an experienced, grizzled veteran in Davis.

“It worked out pretty well,” said Telesco after Davis’ introductory news conference at the Chargers' headquarters.

The 36-year-old outside linebacker had spent his entire career with the Carolina Panthers, but he stepped out of his comfort zone in moving to the West Coast for an opportunity to return to the Super Bowl.

Davis also had some ties with the Chargers to help guide him out West. He played with assistant defensive backs coach Chris Harris when he was a safety with the Panthers. Chargers linebackers coach Richard Smith and defensive backs coach Ron Milus also were on the coaching staff in Carolina when he was a player.

Mostly, Davis said he was drawn to the Chargers because he believes the team is close to winning a championship, and he wants to be a part of it.

“I feel like I still have a lot left in the tank,” Davis said. “I am one of the more athletic linebackers in this league. I feel like [with] the wisdom and knowledge of the game that I have been able to learn from a bunch of veteran guys over the years, I can really help some of the younger guys on this defense. Just whatever I can add and whatever I can bring, I am willing to do and just come in and be the ultimate teammate.”

The Chargers finished the 2018 campaign with three of the team’s starting linebackers on injured reserve in Denzel Perryman, Jatavis Brown and Kyzir White.

Perryman re-signed with the Chargers on a two-year deal at the start of free agency. The Chargers believe the University of Miami product can be a Pro Bowl-caliber player when healthy.

Part of Davis’ task will be to serve as mentor for a young but talented linebacker group.

“He’s going to be the Philip Rivers of the defense,” Perryman told the team’s website. “I’m excited for him to get in here so I can pick his brain, see what he sees and just get his take on football in general.”

However, the Chargers also believe that Davis still can play, and the stats show that.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Davis, who was suspended for the first four games of 2018 for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, finished with 79 tackles and six pass breakups in 12 games for the Panthers last season. He’s penciled in to start at weakside linebacker outside and was brought in to help improve a Chargers defense that at times struggled to defend the run.

The Chargers allowed just 106 rushing yards per game during the regular season, No. 9 in the NFL. However, the New England Patriots ran for 155 yards in a runaway win over the Chargers in an AFC divisional-round playoff game earlier this year.

The Chargers had to play with seven defensive backs most of the game defensively because of injuries at the linebacker position.

Davis also has played in big playoff games, including a Super Bowl for the Panthers after a 15-1 regular season in 2015.

“He brings a lot to the table for us,” Telesco said. “... He’s still playing at a remarkably high level for 14 years in the league. That’s one thing you have to look at -- is he still playing at a high level? And he is.”

Added Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn: “I love the way he comes downhill and gets off blocks, and so I think he can help our run defense tremendously. The way he plays the game, you can’t have enough guys with that type of intensity. And that’s what we wanted, to bring him in so he can do that.”

In January, the Panthers told Davis they were looking to get younger at his position and would not bring him back. After considering retirement, a motivated Davis feels that he still has some gas left in the tank, which should benefit the Chargers.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s my first year or if this is going to be my last year. I’m going out with the same mindset that I’m going to show and prove,” Davis said. “I’ve always done that, and this year isn’t going to be any different. ... You don’t get any passes in this league. If you don’t play well, they’re going to replace you.

“My mindset, I’m going to come in and be the best linebacker on this team, be the best linebacker in this league week in and week out.”