Philip Rivers and the Chargers have a new home and a new head coach
After years of posturing and threats, the Chargers finally pulled the plug on San Diego after 56 seasons and moved to the Los Angeles area because voters said no to a large subsidy to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium. They leave behind what had been a loyal fan base and enter an already crowded market where fans are known to be fickle and demand a winning product.
Technically, the Chargers won’t be in L.A.; their headquarters will be in Costa Mesa in Orange County, and they’ll play for two seasons in a 30,000-seat soccer stadium in Carson before moving into the stadium that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is building in Inglewood. They’ll have a new coach, Anthony Lynn, as they try to regroup after winning only nine games the last two years. Unless they win right away, they could struggle for attention in a vast market where the most popular teams are the Dodgers, Lakers, USC football, UCLA basketball, the Kings, Clippers, Rams, Ducks and Angels.
There’s a lot to like about the Chargers’ offense, if only it could stay healthy. There are plenty of playmakers, but they can’t seem to stay on the field together very long.
|Head Coach||Anthony Lynn|
|Record With Team||0-0|
|Offensive Coordinator||Ken Whisenhunt|
|Defensive Coordinator||Gus Bradley|
|Asst. Head Coach/Special Teams Coord.||George Stewart|
|Running Backs||Alfredo Roberts|
|Wide Receivers||Nick Sirianni|
|Tight Ends||John McNulty|
|Offensive Line||Pat Meyer|
|Defensive Line||Giff Smith|
The one guy the Chargers can ill afford to lose, for any length of time, is quarterback Philip Rivers. While he doesn’t seem overly excited about the move to L.A., Rivers is willing to give it a go and is trying to win the support of new fans while trying to keep some of the old fans who weren’t totally turned off by team chairman Dean Spanos’ actions the last two years. While Rivers is coming off another 4,000-yard passing season, he led the NFL with 21 interceptions and will have to reduce that number to help give the Bolts a chance.
Rivers showed his usual leadership as he tried his best to hold things together as the receiving corps was depleted by a season-ending knee injury to Keenan Allen in Week 1. The Chargers gave Rivers another playmaker when they took Clemson receiver Mike Williams with the seventh overall pick in the draft, and then they gave him some help up front by drafting guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney. Unfortunately, Lamp tore the ACL in his right knee early in training camp and is out for the season, while Williams’ availability is up in the air due to a herniated disc in his back.
The Chargers finally appear to be addressing their ongoing offensive line concerns. The line last season was beset by injuries and poor performances. Before the draft, general manager Tom Telesco released left tackle King Dunlap and right guard D.J. Fluker and signed free-agent left tackle Russell Okung. Fluker and center Chris Watt were among Telesco’s recent draft mistakes, and both are gone. However, center Matt Slauson was a strong addition last year, and the Bolts will look for a big contribution from Max Tuerk, who was drafted a year ago despite coming off an injury in his final season at USC. Lamp and Feeney could challenge immediately for starting jobs at guard, though both can also play tackle. That means right tackle Joe Barksdale has to play better, whether it’s committing fewer penalties or figuring out how to stay healthy. Orlando Franklin, who started all 16 games at left guard last season, was released in May.
Williams, when healthy, is a definite upgrade and will likely start opposite the oft-injured Allen, who has been limited to nine games and four TDs in the last two seasons (knee injury in 2016, lacerated kidney in 2015).
There should be nothing but positives from running back Melvin Gordon, who bounced back from a woeful rookie season to rush for 997 yards and score 12 touchdowns. But his season was cut short by hip and knee injuries. The Bolts are certainly going to miss Danny Woodhead’s change-of-pace play, both rushing and receiving, although he was injury-prone. Star tight end Antonio Gates returns for his 15th season, as motivated as ever to win an elusive championship. His next TD catch will be his 112th, giving him sole possession of the NFL record for tight ends. If this is Gates’ final season, the Chargers are in good shape, because Hunter Henry, part of Telesco’s solid draft class from 2016, had a strong rookie season with 36 catches for 478 yards and eight touchdowns. Henry has also impressed offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt with his blocking.
Joey Bosa served notice that he is going to be a force to deal with for years to come. He was named Defensive Rookie of the Year after recording 10.5 sacks in 12 games. When he wasn’t collecting sacks, he was drawing double teams and otherwise causing mayhem, both against the pass and the run. Fans were left to wonder what could have happened had Bosa, the No. 3 pick overall, played a full season. He missed all of training camp in a contract dispute with the Spanos family and then pulled a hamstring, causing him to miss the first four games. Three of those games were close losses. Having Bosa from the start of the season will help this unit set the tone. Bosa gives new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley a cornerstone for a new 4-3 alignment, although there will still be some elements of the 3-4 that the Chargers have run for years.
Although he’s a threat from pretty much wherever he lines up, Bosa is looking forward to rushing more from outside the tight end. He and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram can give the Chargers a lethal pass rush. Ingram played well enough last year, with eight sacks, that the Chargers put the franchise tag on him before signing him to a four-year extension worth $66 million, including $42 million guaranteed, in June.
While Bosa is the force up front, cornerback Casey Hayward is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he led the NFL with seven interceptions. The Chargers need another great season from Hayward, because the other cornerback, Jason Verrett, can’t stay healthy. Verrett has shown he can be one of the NFL’s best cover corners, but he’s missed 24 of 48 games since being taken in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Inside linebacker Manti Te’o was lost to an injury early in the season and then left for New Orleans as a free agent. However, the Chargers’ linebacking corps is probably in better shape, because young players Jatavis Brown and Korey Toomer played well when given more playing time. The depth will be tested early, however, as starting middle linebacker Denzel Perryman will miss between two to three months after injuring his ankle in the first preseason game.
Special teams remain an adventure with the Chargers, and not in a good way. The Chargers lost to previously winless Cleveland 20–17 on Christmas Eve in a painful performance that will be remembered for Josh Lambo’s 45-yard miss as time expired. That came a few minutes after Cleveland blocked Lambo’s 32-yard attempt. Another special teams gaffe contributed to a 34–31 loss at Oakland when holder Drew Kaser, the punter, lost the handle on the snap as Lambo lined up to attempt a game-tying 36-yarder in the closing minutes. Kaser was replaced as the holder by backup quarterback Kellen Clemens. Kaser and Lambo return, as does long snapper Mike Windt.
The return game also remains unremarkable, even after the Chargers signed Travis Benjamin, who had a couple of critical turnovers. They tried Dexter McCluster, but he broke a forearm moving luggage at home. Benjamin remains on the roster, although Isaiah Burse got the bulk of the return work last year and will be in the mix this season.
The Chargers were roundly ridiculed for the “Fight For L.A.” slogan they introduced immediately after announcing they were relocating. In retrospect, that’s what it’s going to take, both on and off the field. Most important, the Chargers have to win in order to capture the imagination and support of the fans in Los Angeles. It’s not going to be easy. They have the third-toughest schedule (opponents’ winning percentage of .568 in 2016), and there certainly will be plenty of distractions involved with the relocation process. Everything will be new: training camp at a community sports complex, games in a soccer stadium, finding a place to live and then dealing with new routines and notoriously bad L.A.-area traffic.
So far, Lynn seems to be the kind of coach who can keep it all together. But Los Angeles fans are an unforgiving lot and care only about wins and losses, not cute slogans and free Philip Rivers jerseys for season ticket holders.