Charger fans should feel good about upcoming season
By Matt Pagels
If you talk to fans of opposing teams, majority of them would say they are optimistic about their respective team heading into the season.
That’s normal. The feeling of chance overrides any pessimistic thoughts before the season begins (right, Lloyd Christmas?).
For me, I haven’t felt this good about the Chargers in a while. It’s similar to the feeling I had in 2013, when I believed Philip Rivers and company we’re going to surprise people. They ended up doing just that by making it to the playoffs and shocking the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round. Unfortunately, images of Bront Bird trying to cover Julius Thomas on a key third down in the Divisional Round still haunts me.
Moving on. I’m even more confident this year. To outsiders, the Chargers are nothing more than a below-average team expected to finish at the bottom of the AFC West again. Hey, the team finished 4-12 last year, so there is nothing right now that will change their minds.
But this team has talent. Actually, it’s the most talent I’ve seen the Chargers have over the last several years. A (potentially) superb draft by Tom Telesco definitely helped. They’re a young team that has solid depth at most of the positions, too. Surprisingly, both ESPN and NFL Network have talked the Chargers up every now and then.
On offense, Rivers, who is still playing at an extremely high level, arguably has one of the top receiving groups in the league. Keenan Allen, who was just awarded a new deal, has the potential to be a top-five receiver (his statistics in the first eight games of last season proved that). Former Brown Travis Benjamin can be, dare I say it, our Emmanuel Sanders. And even if Stevie Johnson can’t stay healthy, Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams could shine if given the chance. Again, a lot of talent and good depth.
We know tight end Antonio Gates is getting up there, but he still makes an impact when he’s on the field. But I’m more excited for 2016 second-round pick Hunter Henry. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Henry so far. Forget the “future” starter label. Look for him to be featured in two-tight end sets, something the Bolts didn’t do as much with ex-Charger Ladarius Green.
The only thing I’m going to say about the offensive line is that they’re healthy going into training camp. That’s all that matters. Well, that and the addition of center Matt Slauson/Max Tuerk. Mark my words, aside from staying healthy, good play from the center position will impact the entire line in a positive way.
And that leads to the fixture of the running game. Expect a different Melvin Gordon this year, especially with Ken Whisenhunt back as offensive coordinator.
On defense, the loss of All-Pro safety Eric Weddle does sting, but this entire group looks better than ever on paper. The Chargers finally found a friend for Corey Liuget in 2016 first-round pick Joey Bosa. Don’t sleep on Darius Philon, either. Even though he’s on the wrong side of 30, Brandon Mebane is the nose tackle we’ve all been waiting for.
And remember when the Chargers’ strength on defense was the linebackers? Well, they’ve gotten back to that model with a bunch of playmakers including Melvin Ingram, Jerry Attaochu and Denzel Perryman. And I didn’t even mention the depth they have there–or the fact that they are ALL under 30.
The corners could potentially be the scariest part of the defense. Jason Verrett is a star, and should Casey Hayward continue to play like he did in Green Bay, and Brandon Flowers gets back to 2014 form, then look out. The depth here is also solid.
But this isn’t just about the talent on the team. It’s also about the atmosphere.
It seems like the players are working harder. Both Liuget and guard D.J. Fluker have lost weight. Flowers admitted he was out of shape last season, which I give him credit for saying. The energy from OTA’s and minicamp was just different (in a good way).
Even better, there’s no bad blood between the team and a player (I’m referring to the Weddle situation last year). Like I mentioned above, they locked up their No. 1 receiver already, so we don’t have to worry about that. A new stadium isn’t built yet, but it now seems more realistic that the Chargers will stay in San Diego. Last year, we were all biting our nails thinking Dec. 20 against the Dolphins would be their last home game.
The only negative aspect of the offseason has been the contract dispute between Bosa and the Chargers. Once he signs, it’ll be like it never happened.
It’s still very early. Training camp hasn’t even started yet. But what’s the fun in being salty? I feel good about this team, and you should, too.