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Chargers GM Tom Telesco admits team a mystery until season starts

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco speaks during a news conference.
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

The Chargers reported for coronavirus testing in late July, trained throughout August and now will reach the second week of September with a great deal of certainty.

And an even greater deal of uncertainty.

“As we all start playing real games … we’re going to really see what we have,” general manager Tom Telesco said Sunday. “We have some inkling. But, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really know a lot of the different position groups until we start playing real games.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NFL teams enter Week 1 with questions that would have been answered in the preseason. In many ways, no preseason games equals no clue.

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The Chargers joined the rest of the league Saturday in setting a 53-man roster and then Sunday put together a practice squad. Those moves brought a degree of much-needed clarity but guaranteed nothing as it relates to the actual 2020 season.

Telesco called the Chargers’ initial breakdown “roster 1.0, I guess, the first 53.” Later, he added, “The month of September is going to be pretty interesting.”

On the day NFL rosters shrank, the Chargers’ commitment to Keenan Allen expanded with a four-year contract extension worth up to $80 million.

The Chargers are scheduled to open Sunday at Cincinnati, which will start reigning No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. How the Bengals deploy the former Louisiana State quarterback remains a mystery.

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As for the Chargers, they also will enter with a new starting quarterback in Tyrod Taylor and a revamped offense after 14 uninterrupted seasons of Philip Rivers. When Taylor takes the first snap Sunday, it will officially end Rivers’ run of 235 consecutive games (including the playoffs) as the Chargers’ starter.

Taylor will be armed with one of the NFL’s most consistent — and now, presumably, most contented — wide receivers. Keenan Allen signed a four-year extension worth up to $80 million Saturday.

After the three-time Pro Bowl selection, there is little known about the Chargers’ receivers. Coming off his first 1,000-yard season, Mike Williams continues to deal with a shoulder injury that has clouded his status. Telesco said he didn’t know if Williams will be available against the Bengals but expected to have a better idea Wednesday. That’s when the Chargers are required to issue their first injury report of the season.

Of the remaining four receivers on their active roster, only Jason Moore has caught an NFL pass, his two career receptions coming last season. On Saturday, the Chargers released fourth-year wide out Darius Jennings.

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“Certainly, they don’t have a lot of regular-season snaps under their belt,” Telesco said. “But we’re confident in those guys, at least [from] what we’ve seen on the practice field. … We do think there’s some talent, maybe young talent, but we feel like there’s some talent there.”

He also mentioned that the Chargers’ have an established pass-catching tight end in Hunter Henry and figure to throw plenty to a running back group led by Austin Ekeler.

“So,” Telesco said, “I think we’re going to be OK.”

With starting safety Derwin James sidelined after knee surgery, second-year Charger Nassir Adderley is getting a chance to show his worth.

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Another potential area of concern is strong safety, where the Chargers are being forced to deal with the season-ending knee injury of Derwin James. As their roster currently sits, Nasir Adderley and Desmond King are the primary options to fill a massive void. Rookie Alohi Gilman also was backing up James for much of training camp.

“We’re thin in terms of losing an All-Pro safety, but we’re not thin in terms of numbers there,” Telesco said. “We like the players we have at that position. … We think we have enough there on defense that we should be fine.”

Adderley could start at free safety with Rayshawn Jenkins moving to strong safety, where he has played before.

Chargers Rayshawn Jenkins warms up before a game against the Denver Broncos in Carson last season.
The Chargers enjoy the fact that they can play Rayshawn Jenkins at either safety position.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
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King has trained at multiple secondary spots as he tries to rediscover the form that earned him All-Pro recognition two years ago. He had a down season in 2019.

“Great mind-set, energetic,” Telesco said of King. “He’s a natural football player. We can use him in a variety of ways. … Just love his outlook right now. He’s ready to go.”

All 15 players the Chargers added to their practice squad were with the team during training camp. They still have one spot available and could be waiting for a player to clear COVID-19 protocols before adding him.

In his first camp as the Chargers’ undisputed No. 1 running back, Austin Ekeler is happy to give Justin Jackson and Josh Kelley some repetitions.

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Those signed Sunday: linebackers Asmar Bilal and Cole Christiansen; cornerbacks Donte Vaughn, John Brannon and Quenton Meeks; guards Nate Gilliam and Ryan Groy; receivers Tyron Johnson and Jeff Cotton; defensive end Jessie Lemonier; defensive tackle TJ Smith; nose tackle Breiden Fehoko; fullback Gabe Nabers; running back Darius Bradwell; and offensive lineman Cole Toner.

The Chargers enter Week 1 with 10 offensive linemen, which could represent a measure of protection as it relates to veteran center Mike Pouncey. An undisclosed injury has prevented the four-time Pro Bowl player from practicing. He is trying to come back after missing the final 11 games last season because of a neck injury that required surgery.

The Chargers opted to initially keep four tight ends and no fullbacks, though they added Nabers to their practice squad Sunday. His game-day status could vary from week-to-week, depending on the opponent and the scheme.

Another injury to monitor is the toe problem that slowed running back Justin Jackson toward the end of camp. He was ramping up his activity in practice by the end of last week.

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The Chargers will travel to SoFi Stadium on Monday for a practice that is not open to the media.

Roster

Quarterbacks (3): Tyrod Taylor, Justin Herbert, Easton Stick

Running backs (3): Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Josh Kelley

Receivers (6): Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Joe Reed, K.J. Hill, Jason Moore

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Tight ends (4): Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Stephen Anderson, Donald Parham Jr.

Offensive linemen: (10): Bryan Bulaga, Trai Turner, Mike Pouncey, Dan Feeney, Sam Tevi, Storm Norton, Forrest Lamp, Tyree St. Louis, Scott Quessenberry, Trey Pipkins

Defensive line (9): Joey Bosa, Justin Jones, Linval Joseph, Melvin Ingram, Isaac Rochell, Jerry Tillery, Cortez Broughton, Uchenna Nwosu, Damion Square

Outside linebackers (4): Drue Tranquill, Kyzir White, Nick Vigil, Emeke Egbule

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Inside linebackers (2): Kenneth Murray Jr., Denzel Perryman

Cornerbacks (5): Casey Hayward, Michael Davis, Chris Harris Jr., Brandon Facyson, Tevaughn Campbell

Safeties (4): Rayshawn Jenkins, Nasir Adderley, Desmond King, Alohi Gilman

Kicker (1): Michael Badgley

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Punter (1): Ty Long

Long snapper (1): Cole Mazza


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