The new Chargers team is better than last year’s 9-7 version in several substantial ways.
On Defense & Special Teams
What Makes Gus Grin
The Fast and the Furious: The Linebacking Corps is Better
Not one, but two rookie linebackers will soon be starters, Uchenna Nwosu and Kyzir White. Finally, real depth to cover the butcher’s bill (the inevitable injuries). Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can hardly disguise his excitement.
The James Gang: The Secondary is Better
Jason Verritt’s season-ending Achilles snap was a bitter blow but not fatal: he hardly played last season and the D was top five in the league. This year adds the Black Panther, Derwin James, with much improved sophomores Michael Davis and Desmond King.
Release the Kraken: The D Line Is Better
Suspended defensive lineman Corey Liuget should beware of the story of Wally Pipp, the New York Yankees’ first baseman back in the day. Pipp complained of a headache and was replaced with a rookie for that day’s game.
The Kid went on to play first base for 2,130 consecutive games. Pipp now is only known for sleeping on his backup, the second stringer, the immortal Lou Gehrig.
We’re not saying Justin Jones or Chris Landrum is football’s Iron Man, but Liuget being in the pokey for four games is not going to doom the Bolts’ season, not with those Terminators up next.
Equally tantalizing: Isaac Rochell is remarkably improved and, as hard as it is to fathom, defensive end warhorse Joey Bosa is still improving. Significantly improving.
Da Nutshell: We’re not just believing, we’re seeing.
Surprise, Surprise: Special Teams are Better
Have they really found someone who can kick a pointy ball between posts over 18’ apart? In J.J. Jones as a return man, the team finally found the fleet-footed Golden Snitch (the elusive object of the pursuit game of Quidditch in Harry Potter books).
As the special teams is largely second stringers, and this year’s backups are easily an upgrade over recent seasons’ past. The whole special teams will be special. Look for an uptick in forced fumbles, blocked kicks, longer returns and making kicks when needed.
The Whiz Kids
Philip Rivers is better. Seriously.
Yes, seriously. Just look at his entourage, groomed by offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt:
The Seven Sumos: The Offensive Line is Better
Give Forrest Lamp some early games to get his griddle warmed up, and he will make pancakes. Lots of pancakes. I’m Canadian, so I know a big snow plow when I see one.
There’s a powerful genie in that Lamp.
The addition of Mike Pouncey is also a tangible and tough upgrade. He makes everyone around him badder. And better.
The Six Samurai: The Wide Receivers are Better
New family man Keenan Allen has both raised the bar and commanded leadership. The only reason Artavis Scott and Dylan Cantrell weren’t kidnapped by other teams is injuries. The Bolts’ depth here is probably the league’s best.
Mr. Williams is a new man. He is currently a steal in most fantasy leagues, because ranking computers’ dumpy algorithms only analyze his skewed stats from last year. I got him in the eighth round for my fantasy team. I like Mike.
J.J. Jones will be borrowed from special teams from time to time on raw speed plays. Tyrell Williams will feast on an enlarged passing strategy.
Above all, this corps can sufficiently compensate for The Loss, tight end Hunter Henry. The tight end corps is NOT better. But it is not bad. Trust the Whiz to find the yellow brick road.
Austin Mini reaches Top Gear: The Running Backs are Better
Their output will benefit from the concerted effort to improve the O-line’s rushing game. Further, sophomore Austin Ekeler is still getting better in the passing game. Detrez Newsome will grow, and contribute to special teams. The Warhorse, Melvin Gordon, has a better cavalry in front of him.
** You’re probably reading this on your phone, and maybe a fish taco awaits you, so we’ll close with these:
Tight Ends are Better: Said No One
Whiz has earned our confidence to make the current reality work. Can the resurrected Antonio Gates be just a little faster? Pleeease? Maybe Big Mike Williams will be made an honorary tight end on some plays.
LA Confidential: Coaching has Crystallized
- They are no longer new. They’re settled into relationships, routines and LA.
- Head coach Anthony Lynn is resisting micro-managing and pissing contests, and he stands tall on the quarterdeck when the cannonballs are flying.
"The Nutshell in the Nutshell"
Philip Rivers is the same old, same old. And that’s wonderful. And now he has a new shiny boat to play with.
And it’s a nuclear aircraft carrier.
Dennis J. Hassell is the self-appointed president of Canadian Chargers’ Fanclub. He will be in Buffalo NY covering the first road game. Bills QB will again be Nathan Peterson (5 INTs in half a game against the Chargers last year. Sweet.)