Finding chemistry between quarterback and receiver will be a challenge for Chargers

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler had 92 receptions last season, but only one came on a pass from Tyrod Taylor, who is scheduled to be the starter in 2020.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

The Chargers are trying to rebound from a 5-11 finish so underwhelming that it helped end the 14-year reign of Philip Rivers as their starting quarterback.

And they’re trying to do a whole lot more, too, all during a COVID-19 pandemic that has produced the most discombobulated offseason in NFL history.

“If it were like last year when it was basically the same team, it would be a little bit easier,” running back Austin Ekeler said Wednesday on a media conference call. “But it’s not.”

A year ago at this point, the Chargers’ roster was largely unchanged from the previous season.

But, now, they’re trying to develop a rookie quarterback in Justin Herbert, the No. 6 pick in the draft, while building chemistry in two places where it matters most: between quarterback and receiver and among the offensive line.


The Chargers are scheduled to open the preseason — against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 16 and the Rams on Aug. 22 — at their new home, SoFi Stadium.

Veteran Tyrod Taylor is expected to be the Week 1 starter, while Herbert is being groomed to eventually take over.

Though he spent last season with the Chargers, Taylor completed just four passes, not one of which went to top receivers Keenan Allen or Mike Williams or No. 1 tight end Hunter Henry.

He did connect with Ekeler — once — late in a five-touchdown victory in December in Jacksonville. Each of Ekeler’s other 91 receptions came from Rivers.

“We have some new chemistry that we’re going to have to start building,” Ekeler said. “We’re going to have a little bit of time to get it in before the season actually starts, it seems.”

Taylor has been in Georgia, but Ekeler said he’s expected to return to Southern California in the next two weeks for some socially distanced throwing sessions with his teammates.

Video of Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger working out with their respective Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh receivers surfaced this week as NFL teams attempt to navigate through mostly remote offseason programs.

Tyrod Taylor is expected to take over for the Chargers in Week 1.
(Mark Zaleski / Associated Press)

Another recent social-media video showed Williams making an array of one-handed catches of passes fired by a JUGS machine he purchased before the pandemic hit.

“The connection and the chemistry is the main thing,” Williams said when asked about the importance of working with Taylor. “Knowing the plays, knowing the routes doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, he’s got to know my speed. I gotta know how he throws the ball. It might take awhile. We just gotta get the timing of everything down.”

Ekeler said he anticipated it would require at least a month for players to be regular-season ready. Training camps are scheduled to open in late July, though nothing is guaranteed.

He also said adjusting to Taylor will take time and repetition. The same applies to Herbert, a former baseball pitcher who is known to still possess a fastball. Herbert already is in Orange County training with a local quarterback coach.

“Philip was more precision,” Ekeler said. “He’s not really going to zip it in there. Tyrod, man, he’s got some heat behind that ball. You need to get some reps with him just to understand how he’s throwing the ball, what to be ready for.”

The Chargers also have rebuilt the right side of the offensive line, adding guard Trai Turner and tackle Bryan Bulaga and will have a new starting left tackle with Russell Okung gone.

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That group so far has been limited to getting acquainted mostly through Zoom meetings.

“We need this time just to mesh with these guys and see, ‘OK, how does he block? What’s his strength?’ ” Ekeler said. “We need to mesh with our new coaches, too. We have some new coaches, so we’ll have some new schemes.”

Chargers re-sign Groy for offensive line

The Chargers re-signed veteran backup offensive lineman Ryan Groy. He appeared in nine games last season.