He was the Chargers’ most outstanding rookie last season, Drue Tranquill making contributions extending off the field and beyond the final game.
Andduring this year's draft, the young linebacker’s work again had a noticeable impact on the defense.
“One of the first questions scouts and coaches ask you is, ‘If you could take one [college] teammate of yours with you to the NFL, who would it be and why?’ ” Tranquill explained. “I kid you not, my answer every time last year was Alohi.”
In the sixth round in April, following Tranquill’s advice, the Chargers selected safety Alohi Gilman, another addition from Notre Dame.
Gilman is expected to contribute immediately on special teams, where the Chargers have to replace several departed veterans, including safety Adrian Phillips, fullback Derek Watt and linebacker Nick Dzubnar.
Gilman eventually could work himself into a role on defense, in packages that beef up the secondary. Coach Anthony Lynn even likened Gilman to Phillips, who went from being undrafted to being an All-Pro.
“This guy reminds me a lot of A.P., just the way he carries himself, the way he goes about playing the football game,” Lynn said. “With the versatility that he has shown on the field, we believe he can fill that role.”
Gilman is joining a secondary that appears formidable, at least following an offseason program scrambled by the COVID-19 pandemic and a month removed from the scheduled start of training camp.
The Chargers are deep and skilled throughout the back end of their defense, particularly with the free-agent signing of Chris Harris Jr., one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks.
“We definitely should be in the top five,” Harris said. “If not, we didn’t accomplish our goal. That would be a failure for us. With all the talent that we’ve got ... we should be dominating.”
The Chargers also have past postseason award winners in safety Derwin James and cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Desmond King.
They spent their second-round pick a year ago on Nasir Adderley, a playmaking safety whose rookie season was limited to four games because of a hamstring injury.
“It’s just all on paper,” James said of the secondary’s robust potential. “We gotta go out there and show we are the best. Right now, it looks good, but we gotta go out there and perform.”
For a rookie such as Gilman, the chance to demonstrate his ability basically has been nonexistent so far. He has spent the last several months quarantining at home in Hawaii, participating like most NFL players in little more than Zoom meetings.
Tranquill called Gilman “a leader, a future captain” and noted his love for the sport. He also said the rookie will fit well with the culture in the Chargers’ locker room.
Gilman said he and Tranquill "have similar skill sets.”
“We’re tough-nosed, grind people who work really hard and believe in ourselves. ... To get another opportunity to play with him is amazing,” Gilman said.
Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly praised Gilman’s intelligence and “mental awareness traits.” He predicted that Gilman will have no issues picking up the Chargers’ basic defensive schemes.
After beginning his college career at Navy, Gilman transferred to Notre Dame for his final two seasons and was a team captain and one of the defense’s leading tacklers by the time he was finished.
“His smarts, intuitiveness, toughness … just makes your football team better,” Kelly said. “You don’t know how he does it sometimes, but he just influences others. He makes others around him better. That’s Alohi Gilman.”
Actually, to use his full name, that’s Alohilaniokala Gilman, though everyone calls him by the shortened version, which Gilman explained means “bright.”
That also is a word that could describe Gilman’s prospects as he waits to join his Chargers teammates.
“He’s super smart, tough and he hits,” general manager Tom Telesco said. “Those are some traits that are good to have in the secondary. We think between safety and some special teams, he has a real chance here.”