Chargers DC on rookie Jerry Tillery: 'You saw flashes'

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- As he returns from injury, Chargers first-round pick Jerry Tillery is making a strong impression -- on and off the field.

Tillery, 22, had surgery to repair a torn labrum before the draft in March and fell to L.A. at No. 28 overall. The former Notre Dame defensive tackle missed OTAs and minicamp but made his debut at training camp on July 25.

"We have a great training staff here and my rehab has gone really well," Tillery said after practice Sunday. "I'm feeling great and moving even better."

Missing all that practice time in the spring is especially tough for rookies, who aren't accustomed to the NFL offseason schedule. But Tillery was able to contribute off the field while he recovered.

"The way he works and the way he's been in meetings and walkthroughs (is impressive)," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "He's a very detailed and a very prideful person."

Finally back at practice, Tillery has begun to show what made him a first-rounder. He took reps with the first unit leading up to the Chargers' preseason game versus Arizona last week but was held out of the game as a precaution. He hopes to play against the Saints in the Chargers' second preseason game next Sunday.

Tillery didn't get as many reps with the first team at practice Sunday, but his work still stood out in the 90-minute practice.

"I think today was the first day, because he was involved more, where he stood out in a team situation," Bradley said. "You saw flashes of it and you were like 'Wow, OK. We just saw a flash of Jerry Tillery.' As he gets more and more reps (he'll improve).

"He's there mentally, I think he just needs the physical part of it now -- the lining up and block reaction, things like that."

The Chargers boast one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the league with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but the two tackles lining up inside are equally important.

Brandon Mebane, a 12-year vet, will start at nose tackle, while the other defensive tackle spot is obtainable. Justin Jones, a second-year player, has emerged as the probable starter, but Tillery and others will likely have a role.

"Jerry's a smart player. He's picking up things really, really quick," Jones said. "Once [Tillery] can align himself up without even thinking about it, and spend time thinking about what (offensive linemen are) going to do and how they're going to attack rather than what he has to do, it'll open up the game so much for him."

Like with any rookie, it will take time for Tillery to get used to the pro game. But if practice is any indication, it appears he will be a force as soon as he takes the field.

"I feel like I'm getting better every day, I'm better than I was yesterday," Tillery said. "It's a process of just trying to be the best me I can be."