The Chargers opened the second phase of their voluntary offseason program Monday, taking another step toward what they hope is a Super Bowl-winning season.
The otherwise optimistic occasion arrived with a harsh warning: Take nothing for granted.
“You can’t really live off of what happened the year before,” new linebacker Thomas Davis said. “It’s all about building and coming together as quickly as you possibly can for the next year.”
Davis, who signed as a free agent, has been a Charger for only a matter of weeks. Before that, he spent 14 years with Carolina, where he personally learned how steep the fall can be from one season to the next.
Davis and Panthers played Denver in Super Bowl 50 in February 2016. They lost 24-10. Then they kept losing.
The Panthers dropped five of six games to open the 2016 season and finished 6-10. From first in their conference to last in their division.
“You want to look back on some of the things you did the year before and build on that,” Davis said. “But understand and know that that year’s behind you. Teams are ready for you.
“They know how good this team was last year. They’re going to give you their best week in and week out. We have to be prepared for that. Every week, we’re going to get that team’s best. So we’ve got to give ’em ours.”
The Chargers went 12-4 last year and beat Baltimore to open the postseason before losing to New England.
On Monday, they were as all-together as they’ve been since, quarterback Philip Rivers joining the offseason program after missing the first phase because of a family trip.
A few other veterans, including running back Melvin Gordon, were not present. These workouts remain optional.
The Chargers’ roster has not changed dramatically over the last three months. They are expected to again contend in the AFC West, their chances perhaps enhanced because of the off-field troubles of Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill.
They finished last season tied with the Chiefs but lost the tiebreaker. The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas released its 2019 forecast over the weekend and had the two rivals again finishing atop the division.
“No doubt,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said Monday when asked how crucial it will be to win the AFC West. “It’s on our minds. We knew how important it was last year. We came up short.”
Allen has been visible around the Chargers’ Costa Mesa facility for weeks. He said it was good to get back on the field with Rivers, even if all the players were only in shorts and T-shirts.
The Chargers’ quarterbacks and receivers worked on basic routes Monday as the program ramps up toward the more traditional OTAs coming next month.
“Ever since I’ve been here, he always approaches it the same,” Allen said of Rivers. “He is still the same leader. I feel like his communication level has gotten better with me. We talk all the time now. Even when he was just away for vacation, we kept in communication.”
In Davis, the Chargers have another veteran voice in a locker room who combines learned experience with youthful enthusiasm. Several of his new teammates already have spoken glowingly of Davis’ off-field presence.
Now 36, he was taken 14th in the 2005 draft, two picks after the Chargers selected Shawne Merriman. Two years younger than Davis, Merriman retired after the 2012 season.
Davis nearly was done with football in 2011, after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the third time. In the immediate aftermath of the injury, he figured he was done. What team would want him now?
Turns out, the Panthers still did, and 112 NFL games later, he’s starting anew with the Chargers.
“There were a lot of people who told me I should quit football,” Davis recalled. “I should walk away if I want to be able to play with my kids one day after the game was over.
“Good thing I didn’t listen to those people. Good thing I had an owner [Jerry Richardson] in Carolina who believed in me and gave me an opportunity. And I’m still able to play the game at a high level because of that.”