As the Chargers prepare for the NFL draft, The Times will examine their roster. Part 7 of 10: Offensive line.
Throughout the 2019 season, Philip Rivers publicly backed his offensive linemen.
The veteran quarterback never failed to note their commitment and desire to protect him. The fact they cared deeply, Rivers said more than once, was why he valued them so much as teammates.
It wasn’t until December that coach Anthony Lynn suggested Rivers’ struggles might have been related to the offensive line’s inconsistent performance, the first open admission that there was a problem.
Now, there’s a very real chance the Chargers will open this season with four different offensive linemen from the five who started the finale last season.
They are hoping for the return of center Mike Pouncey, whose 2019 season ended after five starts because of a neck injury.
And Lynn has been frank about the possibility of adding a left tackle to start while 2019 third-round pick Trey Pipkins is allowed to further develop.
During an offseason in which they’re transitioning away from Rivers after 14 seasons, the Chargers have made it painfully clear that quarterback isn’t their lone priority.
No matter what ends up happening at left tackle, perhaps the biggest obstacle entering the season will be the rebuilt offensive line’s ability to jell, something that won’t be allowed to start — at least in the traditional sense — during an offseason program that will be virtual.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, who can be certain how much time the Chargers’ new linemen will have together in person before the season opens?
Bulaga called the time typically shared in April and May “vital reps.” He also noted that “it’s going to be a different training camp, for sure.”
“I’m more of a guy who likes to get out and rep things on the field,” he said, explaining why gatherings such as Zoom meetings aren’t the same as walk-throughs or practices.
However and whenever the 2020 NFL season plays out, the Chargers will be starting with a vastly altered look up front.
Under contract for 2020: Turner ($9 million), Pouncey ($7.25 million), Bulaga ($4.833 million), Dan Feeney ($2.364 million), Sam Tevi ($2.173 million), Forrest Lamp ($2.141 million), Pipkins ($894,269), Scott Quessenberry ($821,063), Trent Scott ($750,000), Cole Toner ($750,000), Koda Martin ($613,000), Tyree St. Louis ($610,000), Storm Norton.
Free agents: Longtime veteran left tackle Jason Peters remains available, and the belief is the Chargers have interest in the nine-time Pro Bowler. At 38, Peters spent the last 11 seasons with Philadelphia.
Draft: The 2020 class is considered strong at tackle. If the Chargers were more comfortable at quarterback, there is no question they’d be eyeing a left tackle with the No. 6 pick. As it is, they are still candidates to take an offensive lineman early.
Roster decisions: Feeney is the incumbent starter at left guard, with Lamp among those also competing for the job. A second-round pick in 2017, Lamp has appeared in only nine games in a career ravaged by injury. He is entering his most pivotal season yet.
NEXT: Running backs.