SAN DIEGO (AP)—Illinois defensive lineman Corey Liuget is as confident as he is tough.
“I knew they needed a heck of a defensive player and that’s why they drafted me,” Liuget said after the San Diego Chargers took him with the 18th pick overall in the NFL draft Thursday night. “I’m going to come in, play some hard-nosed football and help them win championships.”
Liuget might not be the player many outsiders thought the Chargers would take, but team officials think he can add some nastiness to a team that got knocked off its perch atop the AFC West, in part because they had a hard time stopping the run when it really counted.
Liuget’s most outstanding quality is toughness, said Jimmy Raye, the Chargers’ director of player personnel.
“I think we were looking for a guy that had some edge,” Raye said. “He’s a guy that plays with a lot of passion. He is a physical player. He’s one of those guys we thought could knock people back off the ball. We wanted to get a little more physical up front. We wanted to bring more of a presence to our defensive front at the end position and I think we addressed that.”
Raye said Liuget can clog up the middle and free the outside pass rushers in the Chargers’ 3-4 defense.
“We think he brings something to the table that we didn’t have,” Raye said.
Asked about his toughness, Liuget said: “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 12.”
The Chargers had the NFL’s No. 1 defense last year, holding teams to 271.6 yards per game. But that was largely an empty stat, especially with all the short fields they gave opponents with special-teams blunders and turnovers.
Part of the Chargers’ thinking had to do with division rivals Kansas City and Oakland finishing 1-2 in rushing in the NFL.
Kansas City beat the Chargers on opening night and went on to win the division. Oakland swept the Chargers, including a 28-13 victory in San Diego on Dec. 5 in which the Raiders rushed for 251 yards and manhandled the hosts on both sides of the ball. San Diego allowed more than 100 yards rushing seven times, including three times in the final five games.
“In our division where you probably have the best run teams in the National Football League, I think it helps to have a guy who can be physical at the point of attack and keep you from getting knocked backward,” Raye said. “We want to be aggressive and go forward and be more physical at the line of scrimmage.”
Liuget skipped his senior season to enter the draft.
He was a second-team All-Big Ten pick in 2010, when he had 4 1/2 sacks and 63 tackles.
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