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Tyrod Taylor’s chances for success lean heavily on Chargers’ offensive line

Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor throws a pass in practice in front of rookie Justin Herbert
Chargers starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, left, throws a pass in practice in front of rookie signal-caller Justin Herbert. Taylor is the first quarterback other than Philip Rivers to start Week 1 for the Chargers since 2005.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

No team had a worse turnover differential last season than the Chargers, their minus-17 total including 20 interceptions by Philip Rivers.

Largely as a result, Rivers is now an Indianapolis Colt, and the Chargers’ new quarterback is Tyrod Taylor, who never has thrown more than six interceptions in a season.

“If the Chargers had those numbers last year, they might have made the playoffs,” ESPN analyst Rex Ryan said. “Last year, I don’t care who was at quarterback. Poor Philip never had a chance. Those guys couldn’t block me.”

Those guys made up an offensive line that was marginalized by injury and inexperience, a combination that often left Rivers looking both hurried and harried.

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Ryan, a former NFL coach, gave Taylor his first professional start when they were together in Buffalo in 2015. Taylor started for three years for the Bills and then was the starter in Cleveland to open the 2018 season before suffering a concussion and losing the job to Baker Mayfield.

With the Chargers having rebuilt their battered offensive front, Ryan said Taylor has a real opportunity to succeed despite his reputation of being the underdog.

“If you look at his record, it’s a hell of a lot better than Baker Mayfield’s,” Ryan said. “His record is better than a lot of guys. But what it is, is he doesn’t have the prototype size and he wasn’t a high draft pick. Trust me, Tyrod can play.”

To better give Taylor a chance to prove it, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco traded for five-time Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner and signed nine-year veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga.

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Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor warms up before a game.
Can Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor lead the team to the playoffs?
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The Chargers are hoping for a successful comeback from four-time Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, who was limited to five starts last year because of a neck injury that required surgery.

On the left side, guard Dan Feeney returns with a string of 41 consecutive starts and tackle Sam Tevi takes over after starting 28 games at right tackle the last two years.

With the offensive line appearing to be freshly fortified, the issue is building cohesion in the middle of a pandemic that still demands social distancing and encourages virtual meetings.

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“A big part of football is camaraderie, and we just don’t have that,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “That is so important with the offensive line because of the communication. But I think our guys will handle it very well. It’s not a concern.”

Said Bulaga: “The thing that’s going to help us is our experience. We’ve all played a lot of ball.”

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn has supported his players on and off the field and has the trust of management, but winning games remains a priority too.

In Bulaga and Turner, the Chargers infused 191 combined NFL starts into their offensive line. Both have started since their rookie years, with Turner making the Pro Bowl in his second season and every year since.

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“We’re just looking for those guys to be the pros that they are,” Lynn said. “That’s why we brought them here. There’s no doubt, I think, that right side improved over there.”

So, how will the offense look different after 14 years of Rivers flinging footballs and trash talk all over the field? For starters, the Chargers will operate closer to the ground.

In Taylor’s three seasons as Buffalo’s starter, the Bills — in chronological order — ranked first, first and sixth in the NFL in yards rushing and 28th, 30th and 31st in yards passing.

Lynn was Buffalo’s running backs coach that first year and, in the second year, added the title of offensive coordinator.

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Taylor helped contribute to those running efforts, totaling 1,575 yards on the ground. Along with 51 touchdown passes, he ran for 14 more. Rivers has three career rushing touchdowns, none since 2011.

“You have to guard all 11 guys now,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said.

“Tyrod’s a big playmaker with his legs and he can throw the ball deep. I think he adds a whole other element to our game.”

Operating with Taylor and behind that new offensive line, the Chargers will feature increased play action and a mobile pocket. Their running game is expected to be more diversified.

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Mike Pereira, rules analyst at Fox and former NFL director of officials, spoke with The Los Angeles Times about the 2020 NFL season.

As for throwing the ball, Taylor always has been recognized for his touch on deep balls and is strong enough to hit targets outside the numbers.

It’s inside those numbers where there have been issues.

“His biggest weakness is pulling the trigger on over-the-middle throws,” Ryan said. “He can do it, but he knows he wants to protect his team. He’s not as confident on those throws.”

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Taylor has a chance to rewrite that theme — and a few others — if he is protected in a way Rivers mostly wasn’t last season.

The Chargers have attempted to construct a stronger foundation upon which to base their offense. They’ll open the season with Taylor standing atop that reinforced stage.

“Tyrod still has a lot of juice,” tight end Virgil Green said. “He looks real good out there when he’s moving. It’s all about getting your opportunity. To me, this is his time. This is Tyrod’s show.”

It is his time. Now, will he be given the time?

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An in-depth look at the Rams, Chargers and the rest of the NFL ahead of the 2020 season.


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