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Biggest question for Chargers: Can the momentum carry over?

Biggest question for Chargers: Can the momentum carry over?
Running back Austin Ekeler appears poised to have a larger role in the Chargers' offense this season. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

As the Chargers entered their offseason, they did so fully knowing that one season in the NFL doesn’t carry over to the next. At least, that’s what general manager Tom Telesco has always said.

Momentum in the NFL is harder to capture than Todd Gurley on a screen pass, than Russell Wilson on a scramble, so counting on it is a fool’s errand.

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But, the way the Chargers finished 2017 was so tantalizing, so promising, the team had no choice but to bet on continuity, to bet on some of the good carrying over.

They kept all three coordinators, re-signed key free agents and counted on there being fewer distractions with everyone accustomed to their new lives in Orange County instead of San Diego.

Once the epitome of instability as a franchise trying to settle on a home, the 2018 Chargers have the best foundation in their division.

The Oakland Raiders overhauled their coaching staff and have a star pass rusher not in camp. The Denver Broncos changed their starting quarterback and lost a top-line corner while bringing in a new offensive coordinator. The defending AFC West champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, did the same.

And the Chargers, they just added to what they already had.

Will betting on continuity be the smart move? It’s just one of the important questions facing the Chargers this season.

Were the kickers really to blame?

The Chargers were a single win away from making the playoffs in 2017, and left the season with a feeling they could’ve done something special had they reached the postseason.

The easiest direction to point blame for their shortcomings is at the placekickers — and they used five! A blocked kick in Week 1 kept a game from going to overtime. Misses in Week 2 cost them a win. Another miss in Week 8 hurt them in a loss to New England.

But those were hardly the only problems in those losses. Pro Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward dropped a sure “pick six” in the opener. The Chargers were so sloppy in their home opener that they blew a game in which they never trailed with less than two minutes remaining. After an 0-4 start and a rally to 3-4, Travis Benjamin ran a punt backward into his own end zone for a safety against the Patriots to start another skid.

The kicking game was a big part of the Chargers’ problems, but they were more than a foot short of the playoffs.

Who is going to be the breakout star on offense?

Two players seem poised for bigger roles in the offense than they had a season ago, with Mike Williams set for the biggest jump.

A non-factor after the Chargers took him No. 7 overall — thanks to a back injury that cost him an entire offseason — Williams has been healthy and dominating in camp, giving Philip Rivers the kind of big target he’s used successfully in the past.

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With each practice, Williams has looked more and more confident and, perhaps, can give Rivers the red zone target he lost when tight end Hunter Henry tore an ACL this spring.

Running back Austin Ekeler also seems as if he’s ready to be a bigger part of the offense. One year after he made the team as an undrafted free agent, the Chargers have found more ways to get him involved and utilize his big-play skills.

How big of an impact will the defensive rookies have?

The Chargers used their first four picks in the NFL draft on defense in an effort to fortify what was already a strength.

After training camp, it seems more than likely at least two, if not three, of those picks will be on the field a lot early in the season.

With the size of a linebacker and the speed of a defensive back, first-round pick Derwin James seems as if he’s destined to be able to play both safety spots on the first team. He’ll be a difference maker.

Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu also has surprised coaches with his ability to be more than an edge rusher. He could be starting soon.

Kyzir White’s transition from safety to weakside linebacker has gone fairly smoothly, and he’ll be in the mix for playing time.

Only third-round pick Justin Jones, who missed most of the preseason with a foot injury, doesn’t seem to be in the immediate plans, though that could change if the Chargers struggle to stop the run.

Will they be embraced in Los Angeles?

This question, maybe the most important for the franchise, has a lot to do with how this season plays out.

While there’s little question that the Chargers are more on the fringes of the sports scene in town, that can change fairly quickly if they can live up to their potential. Injuries, it seems, are always a factor with this team, so they’ll need some good fortune.

But, if the Chargers can earn a spot in the playoffs and look like a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they’ll take a big step forward in the marketplace and lay a needed foundation in their new home.

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