The Chargers were together on a football field Monday for the first time since they were in pieces on a football field.
The team opened Phase 1 of its voluntary offseason program in Costa Mesa 13 weeks after being shattered by New England in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“We got embarrassed,” safety Derwin James recalled. “We got [blown] out. … Just being in the playoffs, you know, two games away from being in the big dance. We got a little taste of it last year. But we want to get there this year. We’re going to start right now.”
The Chargers fell behind on that chilly Sunday afternoon in Foxborough 38-7 before losing 41-28.
Their 12-win regular season and impressive opening-round victory at Baltimore were buried in the rubble.
Personnelwise, they aren’t a vastly different team today, the front office keeping the roster mostly intact as the draft approaches next week.
But they are decidedly healthier. Among those who participated in on-field work were linebackers Denzel Perryman and Kyzir White, both of whom wore knee braces after suffering season-ending injuries in 2018.
Tight end Hunter Henry also was present after missing most of last season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He made it back to play 14 snaps against the Patriots.
“It was a long year,” Henry said. “Obviously, the season that we had was awesome. But, at the same time, it was kind of grueling to have to sit out.”
Most prominent among the veterans absent Monday was quarterback Philip Rivers, who has one year remaining on his contract and figures to sign an extension before the 2019 season.
Coach Anthony Lynn said Rivers is in Florida with his family on an annual trip that is happening later this year because of the timing of Easter.
“I didn’t want him showing up here just for today and tomorrow and then going back,” Lynn said. “That’s why he’s not here.”
Rivers, 37 and entering his 16th season, signed his previous extension — a four-year deal in 2015 — in mid-August. He has indicated that he wants to play at least two more seasons.
Running back Melvin Gordon also has only one year remaining on his contract and was not seen during the workout Monday. Gordon, however, traditionally hasn’t been present this early in the team’s offseason program.
As for Perryman, one of the key pieces in the middle of the Chargers’ defense, he arrived looking noticeably trimmer than a year ago.
“When I first got here, he’s 205 [pounds],” Lynn said of the coach’s arrival in 2017. “I’m looking for my [middle] linebacker and he’s standing right in front of me and I didn’t even know it.
“The next year, he’s 245. Then he’s 220 this year. He has the discipline where he can be at whatever weight he wants to be at. But he looks good at all those weights.”
James, coming off an All-Pro rookie season, also showed up with his abdominal muscles in prominent definition, as was his custom a year ago.
He was a leading candidate to be the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year in 2018 after establishing himself as one of the league’s most versatile and dynamic safeties.
The honor instead went to Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard, who led the league in total tackles with 163 and was second among rookies with seven sacks.
“It kind of was disappointing,” James said. “I felt like I deserved it. But Darius Leonard’s a hell of a player … he deserved it. The numbers he put up and the way he helped his team fight back from a losing season … I was just happy to be in the conversation.”
Last year at this time, James was a 21-year-old who had played only two full seasons at Florida State. His relative inexperience meant nothing after he joined the Chargers and began to shine.
Now, he said the key to the first phase of the offseason program is getting to know his newest teammates, such as veteran linebacker Thomas Davis, who signed as a free agent in March.
“It ain’t about killing yourself right now,” James said. “Like coach said, ‘Building a base.’ It’s a long season.”
One thing James promised the Chargers won’t see him doing anytime soon is soaring through the air and dunking a basketball.
A video of him doing just that shortly after the season created a social-media stir and caught the attention of Lynn, who discussed the video with his young defensive standout.