These Chargers better be super if they hope to achieve 2021 goals
The Chargers have made only one Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
They’ve missed the playoffs six times over the last seven years.
They most recently won the AFC West in 2009.
None of this disqualifies them from making it to Super Bowl LVI in February at SoFi Stadium, the home they share with the Rams.
It’s just the beginning of Week 1, and everybody’s still undefeated. So why not ponder the possibility of an all-L.A. Super Bowl in L.A., the most Hollywood of endings?
The Chargers did win their final four games last season, during which their next potential franchise quarterback identified himself with the subtlety of a nighttime rocket launch.
Retired star Philip Rivers has not ruled out a return to the NFL, but his family is living large as he coaches high school football in Alabama.
Justin Herbert burst into the NFL with a 4,300-yard, 31-touchdown performance that earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. The records he set outnumbered the ones he didn’t.
Now, he has a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new offense, one designed to exploit mismatches and take advantage of Herbert’s prized right arm.
“This guy can really rip it,” coach Brandon Staley said. “He can access any part of the field, but he can also layer his ball. He has that ability to shoot the shot that needs to be shot.”
Staley was hired in January to replace Anthony Lynn. He brought in Joe Lombardi to be his offensive coordinator and Renaldo Hill to oversee the defense.
But Staley will call the signals when the opposition has the ball, something he did a year ago in coordinating a Rams defense that finished the season ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
Similar to having Herbert, wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Austin Ekeler on offense, the Chargers possess defensive playmakers too, most notably edge rusher Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James Jr.
“We want to be the No. 1 defense in the league,” James said. “If that’s not our goal, then I don’t know what is.”
James is back after missing 2020 because of a knee injury. The impact of his return was obvious from the start of training camp, the energy rising right along with the expectations.
For a team with only 12 wins the last two seasons combined, the Chargers have emerged this summer as perhaps the NFL’s most celebrated dark horse contender.
“What we’re doing on defense and offense is going to be real scary for a lot of guys in the league,” defensive lineman Justin Jones promised. “They haven’t seen anything like this.”
Who must step up for the Chargers to achieve their goals:
Left tackle Rashawn Slater: The Chargers received their first break of the 2021 season in April when Slater was still around to be drafted at No. 13 overall.
He immediately filled a gaping hole and showed promise in his only preseason appearance. His progress will be one of the story lines that receives attention each week.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga: Injuries limited Bulaga to fewer than half of the Chargers’ offensive snaps in 2020 and again hindered him in training camp.
If Bulaga is unable to stay on the field, the right tackle who must step up becomes reserve Storm Norton, the next man in line.
Center Corey Linsley: Three names into the list, and each is an offensive lineman. Yes, this is the unit upon which the Chargers’ season will pivot.
Staley recently called Linsley “a commander” and has raved about his ability to identify defenses. Linsley’s expertise should aid Herbert on game days and also advance the quarterback’s all-important development.
Edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu: Veteran Kyler Fackrell might be the starter opposite Bosa to open the season, but Nwosu figures to be given ample opportunity as well.
Entering his fourth year, the former USC Trojan is coming off a 4.5-sack season in which he played only 34% of the Chargers’ defensive snaps. Both of those numbers should rise in 2021.
‘I’ve never been fired in my life’: Jared Goff and Anthony Lynn experienced simultaneous failure in L.A. They’re looking for a reboot with the Lions.
Linebacker Kyzir White: Staley has identified inside linebacker — particularly with White, Kenneth Murray Jr. and Drue Tranquill — as one of his team’s strengths.
White is a converted college safety who the Chargers believe finally has established himself as a bona fide NFL linebacker. Said Hill: “I call him ‘the bully’ because regardless of who he’s going up against, he’s really imposing on them.”
Safety James: After an All-Pro rookie season, James was limited to five games over the last two years because of injury. He has returned intact and last week was named a team captain.
“You can make the case that he’s the leader on our entire football team and the face of your football team,” Staley said, “certainly one of them.”
Kicker Tristan Vizcaino: After being injured in 2019 and unsteady in 2020, Michael Badgley lost his job to a man with one game of NFL experience.
Vizcaino looks to establish himself in a spot that has been an issue for years. With his first try, he’ll become the 10th man to attempt a kick for the Chargers since they relocated to Los Angeles in 2017.
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