He never has been more obvious during his four seasons with the Chargers.
The blitzing sack ended the Broncos’ final chance in regulation and was the latest glaring highlight for Tranquill in a season during which he has stood out like never before.
At times away from the field — in his most private moments — Tranquill acknowledged that his best, most productive NFL stretch has him feeling more than a little blessed.
“I just smile at my wife [Jackie] every morning,” he said. “I’m like, ‘I feel like this is a movie that I’m living.’ I feel like I’m really an unlikely candidate to be where I’m at today. I feel young. I feel spry. I feel really good.”
Tranquill has started five of the Chargers’ six games and has played every defensive snap the last three weeks, something he did only once over his first three seasons.
He had 1½ sacks for his career before dropping Wilson twice in the span of five Denver offensive snaps Monday. Both stops came on third down, resulting in a field goal and a punt — significant point-saving developments in a game the Chargers won in overtime 19-16.
“He’s communicating at a high level, playing with a lot of energy, being a factor in run game, pass game, pass rush,” coach Brandon Staley said. “He’s having a really nice season.”
Tranquill and the Chargers look to extend their run Sunday when they play Seattle at SoFi Stadium, seeking a fourth consecutive victory, a streak the likes of which this franchise hasn’t had since the end of the 2020 season.
Three games ago, the Chargers added to Tranquill’s responsibilities, designating him as their signal-caller in the huddle. The job previously belonged to safety Derwin James Jr.
Relaying the defensive calls is a significant assignment in the NFL, one that carries consequence among teammates and requires calmness, consistency and unwavering trust.
“You take a lot of pride in it,” Tranquill said. “I think, being a linebacker specifically, you want to command and call the huddle. To be given that opportunity meant the world.”
Just three years ago, as a rookie who converted from safety to linebacker during his time at Notre Dame, Tranquill was earning his playing time mostly on special teams.
He did start three games on defense before returning for his second year and earning a start in the Chargers’ season opener at Cincinnati. Just five snaps into that game, Tranquill suffered a broken ankle that ended his season.
The setback was another major one for a player who, in the span of eight months early in his college career, tore the anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees.
Tranquill said the back-to-back injuries cast him in the role of underdog and set up a future where he always has felt the need to prove himself.
“After those freak injuries, I felt like I’ve come back as a better version of myself each time,” he said. “I’m just amazed every day that I get to come and play football for a living and do it at a high level.”
Tranquill reached new heights with his fourth-quarter showing against Wilson and the Broncos.
On his first sack, he lined up to Wilson’s left, easily shook a block and ran the quarterback down to the right of the formation, making the tackle outside the numbers.
The second came when — based on a Wilson tendency the Chargers had identified — Tranquill employed perfect timing, darting across the line of scrimmage before the quarterback even had secured the shotgun snap.
James also blitzed on the play, forcing Denver running back Mike Boone to make a choice of whom to pick up. Boone blocked James, leaving Tranquill an unfettered lane.
“That was one of those moments where it’s like, ‘Wow, that film study and all that studying very practically paid off with a sack,’” Tranquill said. “Just seeing all that come to fruition was pretty cool.”
For the season, Tranquill is second to only James in solo and total tackles. Khalil Mack is the lone Charger with more quarterback hits than Tranquill. In the opener against Las Vegas, Tranquill had his first career interception.
James called him the “heart and soul of the middle right now.” Defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said Tranquill, in his second year in Staley’s defensive system, is displaying increased confidence. Asked what Tranquill has brought in 2022, Staley said, “Consistency of performance and production in that consistency.”
Still relatively new to linebacking, Tranquill described himself as very much a developing project.
“I’m thinking every week about how can I improve, how can I make more plays on the ball, how can I be around the ball more,” he said. “This year, it feels like it’s my first year of having this as a full-time job. I feel like there’s just constant room for improvement in my game.”
Good but getting better, Tranquill is trying to upgrade the movie script.