Science may not support Chargers’ aim, but coach says ‘scientists don’t play football’

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn looks on from the sideline against the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 7.
(Getty Images)

In a season that already has seen its share of depths, the Chargers on Tuesday reached a new height.

To be exact, 6,621 feet.

According to a sign hanging over the main tunnel at Falcon Stadium, that’s the altitude here, where the Chargers will prep this week at the home of the Air Force Academy’s football team.

On Monday night, they will play Kansas City at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, which sits roughly 7,300 feet above sea level.


In an attempt to ready for the thin air conditions, the Chargers decided their players needed an altitude change.

“It’s a little bit of an ease of mind for the players,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “It has a mental effect, I believe. …Going from sea level to 73 [hundred feet], I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I think it will be helpful.”

The general science of altitude training doesn’t support the notion that the Chargers will receive a physical benefit, given that their stay here will be brief. They’ll practice three more times before departing Sunday for Mexico.

If the Chargers are to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, they will need running back Melvin Gordon to continue the success he’s had in the last two games.

Lynn, however, played and coached in Denver, which is approximately one mile above sea level. He said personal experience is more important to him than whatever the case studies might suggest.

“I know research and science say it takes more days …” he said. “But, as a player, I’ve been on that field. I’ve been in Dallas, Texas, and Wyoming the very next day and I’ve felt the effect. … A lot of scientists don’t play football.”

The Chiefs remain in Kansas City and aren’t altering their practice routine. But, in terms of playing at altitude, it is worth noting that strong-armed quarterback Patrick Mahomes has said he believes he’ll be able to throw a football 100 yards in Mexico City.

After the Chargers played Cleveland in Week 6 last season, they worked out in northern Ohio for a few days before traveling to London to play Tennessee the next weekend.

That came during a stretch in which they won 10 of 11 games. The Cleveland-London extended journey was widely credited by the players as being a key bonding experience.

This trip, however, doesn’t seem to hold a similar appeal. Running back Austin Ekeler acknowledged some teammates would have preferred to remain in Costa Mesa.

Defensive end Joey Bosa sounded less than ecstatic about spending a week in the Colorado mountains.

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“You notice a difference out there a little bit with breathing,” he said. “I don’t know if a few practices is enough to get acclimated to it. But, we’re here. We’ll make the most of it.”

Asked a follow-up question, Bosa began to answer and then said: “I don’t really want to talk about this. I don’t want to say anything stupid.”

The Chargers, as would be their typical schedule for a Monday game, will take Wednesday off before returning to practice Thursday.

In the Chiefs, they’ll be facing an opponent that also has had a more difficult time winning this season than was forecast.

After opening with four victories, Kansas City has dropped four of six. The Chiefs were without Mahomes for two of those games, but they have lost three of his last five starts.

So, even sitting at a disappointing 4-6, the Chargers are only two games behind first-place Kansas City in the AFC West. The teams will meet twice over the final seven weeks.

“Every time a team in our division loses it makes it easier on us,” Bosa said. “But we need to take it upon ourselves. We can’t worry about what other teams are doing. We know we can’t lose another game.”

Tranquill delivers

With linebacker Denzel Perryman dealing with a knee problem, rookie Drue Tranquill played every defensive snap Thursday in a 26-24 loss at Oakland. The fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame led the Chargers with 14 tackles. Perryman was active against the Raiders but did not leave the sideline.

“He came in and played well,” Lynn said of Tranquill. “He’s doing an outstanding job on special teams. Right now, he’s one of my best teamers. When he’s been called upon to play linebacker, I have not been disappointed in what he’s done.”

Through three quarters vs. Steelers, Todd Gurley had 12 carries for 73 yards, an average of 6.1 yards per carry. Yet the Ram didn’t have a touch in the fourth.

Tranquill has 34 tackles on defense and another nine on special teams. Fullback Derek Watt is leading the NFL with 12 special-teams tackles.

“What he’s done for a running back, I think that’s pretty incredible,” Lynn said of Watt. “But it also speaks to his unselfishness.”


Left tackle Russell Okung (groin) was not working with the team Tuesday during the portion of practice open to the media. Lynn said last week that Okung’s status against the Chiefs would be questionable.

If the veteran can’t play, rookie Trey Pipkins will make his first NFL start. He played 70 of the Chargers’ 77 offensive snaps against Oakland after Okung left the game.

Trent Scott will remain at right tackle with Sam Tevi unlikely to play Monday. Tevi had minor knee surgery last week.