Chargers’ coordinator Shane Steichen is ready to answer the (play) call vs. Packers
As he pondered his immediate future, with a task of revving up the Chargers’ offense and reviving the running game, Shane Steichen felt compelled to connect with his not-too-distant past.
Among the first calls the Chargers quarterbacks coach made upon learning he would take over play-calling duties — after the firing of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt on Monday — was to Norv Turner, the former Chargers coach and offensive guru who gave Steichen his first NFL job in 2011.
“Norv gave me a chance,” said Steichen, 34, a former Nevada-Las Vegas quarterback who was an offensive assistant at Louisville in 2010. “He said, ‘Hey, I got a job for you — it’s on defense, though.’ I said, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow.’ I got in the car in Louisville and drove across the country, and I was fired up.”
What kind of advice did the 67-year-old Turner — the current Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator who spent 14 years as an NFL head coach, 13 years as an offensive coordinator and won two Super Bowls while calling plays for the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993 — give him?
“He just said, ‘Be yourself — go let it rip,’ ” Steichen said. “We joked around about some old-school plays. It was good. I love talking to him. He’s a great play-caller, a great person.”
Steichen, who is three years younger than Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, is not expected overhaul an offense that ranks sixth in the NFL in passing yards but 28th in rushing, including 142 yards (a 35.5-yard average) over the last four weeks.
The Chargers fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt with the team struggling to score points en route to losing five of their first eight games.
“Right now, we have a game in four days, so to tweak a whole bunch of stuff is gonna be hard,” Steichen said before Thursday’s practice in preparation for Sunday’s home game against the Green Bay Packers. “We have to do what we do and go play.”
An inability to establish an effective ground game with backs Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon and find a pass-run mix that would generate more offensive flow were among the reasons Chargers coach Anthony Lynn gave for firing Whisenhunt, who was in his fourth season guiding the offense.
“I think we have to stay on the field as much as we can,” Steichen said. “We’ve had some three-and-outs the past few weeks. You have to get some first downs, have a little rhythm, mix the run and pass, be as balanced as we can.”
Though offensive line coach Pat Meyer will coordinate the running game and Lynn will provide input, Steichen will be the primary play-caller, a role he has never had at any level.
After spending the 2011-2012 seasons as a defensive assistant with the Chargers, Steichen spent three years as an offensive quality control coach, 2013 in Cleveland and 2014-2015 in San Diego. The Sacramento native has been the Chargers quarterback coach since 2016.
“When you’re a position coach, everyone wants to be a coordinator at some point, a head coach,” Steichen said. “You think about how you’d call [plays].”
Starting Sunday vs. Green Bay, Shane Steichen — quarterback coach since 2016 — will take over calling plays for the Chargers, his first experience doing so.
Steichen came to work on Monday as a positions coach. He left Monday night as an interim offensive coordinator.
“It was pretty wild how it all went down,” Steichen said. “You never want it to happen like that, but it did. … I have a ton of respect for coach Whisenhunt and love him to death. At the same time, we have a game on Sunday, the Packers are a good football team, and we have to be ready to go.”
Turner believes Steichen will be up to the task.
“He’s a sharp guy,” Turner told reporters in Charlotte. “He’s been [with the Chargers], he knows the system, he’s very familiar with all of the coaches and, obviously, with Philip. I think he’ll be real good.”
A linebackers corps that has struggled at times to contain opposing running backs in the passing game will have its hands full Sunday with Aaron Jones, the Green Bay back who has caught a team-high 34 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for a team-high 466 yards and eight scores.
“I think [Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers is doing a great job of connecting with him, and the kid is doing a tremendous job of creating plays once he has the ball in his hands,” linebacker Thomas Davis said of the 5-foot-9, 208-pound Jones, a speedy and elusive third-year pro from Texas-El Paso.
Most of the eight first-year coaches have had their difficulties this season, except for the Packers’ Matt LaFleu,r who has had a franchise best 7-1 start.
“You try to eliminate his ability to catch the ball and make sure you know where he is at all times. He’s a guy who is definitely a focal point of their offense.”
In last Sunday’s 17-16 win at Chicago, Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman was beaten on a 31-yard pass from Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky to running back Tarik Cohen in the first quarter.
Davis also got caught in man-to-man coverage on a fourth-quarter play in which wide receiver Taylor Gabriel had run past the linebacker for what would have been a 58-yard touchdown pass, but Trubisky overthrew the receiver by three yards.
“We had some busts,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said of the pass-coverage of his linebackers. “But overall, they’re playing better. It’s been a work in progress. I love the skill set — it’s just understanding the system. I’m seeing them play a lot faster and make more plays.”
There was encouraging news on two key players as receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring) and left tackle Russell Okung (calf), who were limited in practice Wednesday, were full participants Thursday. Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane (knee) and Cortez Broughton (mononucleosis) remained sidelined, but Justin Jones (shoulder) participated on a limited basis. Strong safety Roderic Teamer (groin), receiver Geremy Davis (hamstring) and Thomas Davis (not injury related) did not practice Thursday.
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