COSTA MESA, Calif. -- While he did not make regular appearances in the opponents' backfield, Los Angeles Chargers defensive Jerry Tillery flashed enough to show why the Chargers made him a first-round selection.
Further, the Notre Dame product made it through his first year in the NFL without landing on injured reserve and is looking forward to making more of an impact next season.
"I think it was a good year," Tillery said. "I learned a lot. I have a better understanding of the professional game, how it works and my place in it -- how I can help my team win and play great football.
"The year had its ups and downs, and I definitely learned from all of it. And I'm excited to use this year to come back bigger, faster and stronger for next year."
On the surface, Tillery's stats are not anything to write home about. He finished with 17 combined tackles and two sacks in 15 games played, including three starts. Tillery was a healthy scratch in Week 14 against the Jacksonville Jaguars because Chargers coach Anthony Lynn wanted a bigger body up front in veteran defensive tackle Sylvester Williams to slow bruising running back Leonard Fournette.
However, Tillery missed all of the offseason and most of training camp due to a torn labrum in his shoulder that required surgery last March. And he played his best football toward the end of the season, giving Chargers badly needed interior pass rush to pair with talented edge guys Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Selected No. 28 overall by the Chargers in last year's draft, Tillery played 340 defensive snaps, most coming at defensive tackle, with a handful at defensive end.
"I think he was learning the game a little bit," Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "Some of the things that maybe he got away with in college, he had to just adjust it.
"I give credit for [defensive line coach] Giff [Smith] for really sticking with it. There were the first couple of games where he got double-teamed and he was driven off the ball some yards. Giff really said, 'No, that's how he’s going to learn. He'll learn by playing, not just watching.' He would get him in sporadically. You could see him getting better."
Bradley went on to say that Tillery showed improvement from the first time he played against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 8 to the rematch in December, and that this would be a big offseason for him.
"His motor has been fine all year," Lynn said. "It is just learning what we are doing and defeating double teams. He's a tall man and very long, so learning to play with leverage in the National Football League has been a process."
Added general manager Tom Telesco: "For him, like most of our guys, he just had to come in and earn a role in rotation first, which he did. After that, try and expand that role. As we got towards later in the year, we saw a lot more. This will be a big offseason for him and the rest of our rookies to kind of take the role that they have now and expand on those."
Tillery has spent some time in Florida this offseason but plans to return to Southern California to train for the offseason program, which begins in April. The expectation is a jump in production with a full offseason to prepare.
"It's a grind," Tillery said. "It's every day and every game -- you have to take it all into account as you are playing. Each day I'm learning something new and I'm able to apply it. So all of the experience I gained definitely helped me as I moved through the year. Last year is definitely going to inform my preparation in the offseason as I get ready for next year."