The Chargers are set to begin their second year back in Los Angeles, and they’re here with a roster that’s ready to challenge for a trip deep into the postseason.
While teams in their division hired new coaches or swapped out quarterbacks, the Chargers held pat, keeping a core intact that finished last season playing as well as anyone in the league.
“Continuity is really important to have in this league. It’s hard to get,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. “I think we’re the only team in the division probably with the head coach and the coordinators coming back, right? Denver made one change. Obviously Oakland was a big change, and Kansas City made one change.
“So it’s, yeah, I love that part of it.”
But here’s the thing: Even Telesco isn’t sure what that will do for his team.
The continuity certainly won’t hurt, but no one knows exactly how much it’ll help. Telesco is fond of saying that one season doesn’t matter when it comes to the next, meaning the momentum from the Chargers’ 9-3 finish over the final 12 weeks has evaporated.
“Last year doesn’t really mean anything,” Telesco said Thursday.
Whether or not he’s right is just one of the questions facing the Chargers as they open training camp Saturday.
Just how good can this defense be?
The ingredients are there for this to be a special group, and keeping coordinator Gus Bradley around was one of the biggest non-moves of the offseason.
The combination of a star in Casey Hayward with Trevor Williams and Desmond King at cornerback, plus two top-end pass rushers in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.
The Chargers were soft against the run a year ago, though they improved as the season went along. Having linebacker Denzel Perryman for a full season would be huge, but they need more production in the middle of their defense. And losing Jason Verrett to yet another injury (Achilles) hurts.
How much does Philip Rivers have left?
At some point it’s going to be too difficult for Rivers, who will turn 37 this December, to keep side-arming passes all over the field. But as the Chargers quarterback enters his 15th season, he has shown terrific adaptability, especially in 2017 when he threw only 10 interceptions, his lowest total since 2009.
Six of those 10 picks came in two games — losses to the Chiefs — showing a more conservative, possession-conscious Rivers could lead the offense.
Still, there were concerns. The team sputtered greatly in the red zone, and some of that falls on Rivers. Physically, he’s as durable as they come, but how long can that last?
The Chargers are banking on him because they still haven’t figured what to do whenever Rivers runs out of gas.
How big of a deal is the Hunter Henry injury?
The Chargers, who avoided a lot of bad luck on the injury front a season ago, lost their talented tight end on a nothing play during offseason workouts, one wrong step costing Henry his season because of a knee injury.
The team’s not exactly flush at the position, either, with Virgil Green — who was known mostly for his blocking in Denver — as the only experienced option.
Antonio Gates, 38, is still a free agent and seems destined for at least one more year with the Chargers, but that’s not a full-time answer, either. Remember, the Chargers were ready to move on.
A season ago, the Chargers were at their best when Henry was a big part of their offense, and they’ll miss him dearly.
Are the Chargers for real?
Speaking of optimists, it’s not too difficult to imagine the Chargers as a possible Super Bowl team. Las Vegas has them in the third tier of contenders, with teams such as New Orleans, Green Bay, Atlanta and Jacksonville.
Many consider them the favorites in the AFC West, and the Chargers were — without question — the best team to not make the playoffs last season.
So, what could hold this team back?
Well, the offensive line still isn’t settled, with no one sure when guard Forrest Lamp (knee) will play or how healthy he’ll be when he does. They were not balanced offensively a season ago, and they’ve got issues on the interior of the defensive line and at linebacker. Plus — oh man! — did they struggle to kick the football a season ago.
If a few of those factors show up, it could be trouble. If they don’t, the Chargers should be headed for the playoffs.
Will you notice?
The Chargers’ fight for attention in Los Angeles won’t lessen in their second season, and they’ll do their part starting Saturday.
From a chance to greet players as they walk onto the field, to skill tests to food trucks, the team is trying its best to gain a foothold in their new home — with mixed results.
While the Rams stole headlines with a spending spree this summer, the Chargers operated quietly, making minor changes.
They have top-tier talent at a number of positions, but it’ll take more than that to make a bigger dent in Los Angeles. It’s going to take winning — lots of it.
How much? That’s not something they’ll be able to answer quite yet.