Chargers’ biggest questions include Melvin Gordon, Russell Okung as camp opens

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon reacts with fullback Derek Watt after Gordon scored a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half of the AFC wild-card playoff game on Jan. 6.
(Erik S. Lesser / European Pressphoto Agency)

Anthony Lynn is entering his third year as a head coach, his Chargers having won 21 of their past 28 regular-season games and again regarded as an AFC favorite.

The 2019 Chargers are well beyond the disorienting effects of franchise relocation and return a roster nearly intact after falling a game short of playing for the conference title six months ago.

The situation at training camp in Costa Mesa could be a very cozy one these days, something that makes Lynn feel slightly less than toasty inside.

“The word ‘comfortable,’ that’s what makes me nervous,” he said. “Going into the third year, I think it’s kind of natural for people to be more comfortable. They’re understanding one another a little better. They know what direction we’re heading in.

“I’ve said what I have to say and I’m not changing that now. I just might re-emphasize it in a different way. But I do think you have to be careful being comfortable.”


With the first practice set for Thursday, there is one topic that could put the entire franchise on edge as players report Wednesday: Running back Melvin Gordon is not expected to arrive until he is satisfied with his contract situation.

Suddenly facing an uncertain future, Melvin Gordon made it clear Saturday that he wants to remain a Charger.

His holdout will give the otherwise-content Chargers one potentially thorny distraction. Minus Gordon, the offense will be playing with one weapon tied behind its back.

Another unsettled issue remains the availability of left tackle Russell Okung. The two-time Pro Bowler missed minicamp last month because of an undisclosed ailment.

Beyond those two notable uncertainties, however, the Chargers are starting the season with abundant optimism.

“We will figure out a way to get better and continue to improve,” Lynn said. “And a lot of times, that doesn’t come with comfort. I could be wrong. We’re all raised by different mamas. We all have different opinions. But to me, the word ‘comfortable’ makes me a little nervous.”

Here are the main questions that will have Lynn’s attention over the next several weeks:

When will Gordon appear?

The running back’s agent recently informed the Chargers that his client would not report to camp without a new contract.

Gordon is due to make $5.6 million in the final season of the five-year deal he signed as a rookie.

He has said he wants to remain a Charger and acknowledges feeling indebted to the team that gave him his first NFL chance. But negotiations on an extension are clouded by the fact that Gordon is coming off a season in which he missed four games because of injuries.

The market for running backs also is somewhat volatile as teams are being more cautious guaranteeing money to players at such a physically demanding position.

The Chargers will play internationally for the second consecutive year when they host their AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca during the 2019 season, the NFL announced on Monday.

What is Okung’s status?

The Chargers have offered no specifics on what kept the veteran sidelined during minicamp. They also have said nothing about when Okung might return.

During workouts last month, starting right tackle Sam Tevi switched sides and second-year, undrafted free agent Trent Scott moved into Tevi’s spot. The Chargers are likely to stick with that alignment until Okung is back or performance dictates otherwise.

Okung, scheduled to make $13 million this season, is the third-highest-paid Charger in annual average salary. His absence could greatly impact an offensive line that already is not considered a strength.

As the left tackle, Okung has the primary assignment of protecting Philip Rivers and the quarterback’s 37-year-old knees. After Rivers, he might be the most important player on offense.

Who will start at cornerback opposite Casey Hayward?

This was supposed to be — no question — Trevor Williams’ job a year ago until an ankle injury cost him the preseason and lingered well into December, at which point he was placed on the reserve/injured list.

After starting 15 games in 2017, Williams was limited in seven starts last year. But throughout the offseason, the coaches praised him for his progress, Lynn particularly noting that Williams’ “confidence is back.”

Michael Davis took over as the starter last year and finished seventh on the team in total tackles. The performance was impressive for a former practice squad player who originally signed as an undrafted free agent.

Davis and Williams figure to have one of the more spirited battles for a starting job this summer.

The Chargers announced Wednesday they have sold out their season tickets for 2019, their final season in Dignity Health Sports Park.

Who will replace Jahleel Addae at free safety?

After being with the Chargers for six seasons — the past four as a starter — Addae was released in March.

The team decided to make a change in part because Addae was being forced to play out of position. A natural strong safety, he was moved to free safety with the arrival of Derwin James.

Rayshawn Jenkins started both playoff games last season when the Chargers went with seven defensive backs, including four safeties. They drafted Nasir Adderley in the second round in April with the idea that he could compete with Jenkins for the No. 1 spot. Adderley, coming out of Delaware, is considered to be a ball-hawking playmaker.

The Chargers also re-signed Jaylen Watkins after he missed last season because of a knee injury.

What do the Chargers have in rookie Jerry Tillery?

Taken with the 28th pick in the draft, Tillery is expected to contribute along the defensive line soon.

There remains some mystery, though, because he was limited throughout the offseason following shoulder surgery. The Chargers have maintained that he should be ready for the start of camp.

Tillery is listed at 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, the sort of bulk that any NFL team could use on the defensive front. But the Chargers are especially excited about Tillery’s footwork and athleticism at that size.

General manager Tom Telesco has talked glowingly of Tillery’s flexibility, long arms and ability to run. An inside pass rush could help open space for Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming from the outside.