by Greg DePalma, Ourlads.com contributor
2016 (5-11)…Finished in last place the past two seasons.
Owner Alex Spanos…Became majority owner of the San Diego Chargers in 1984; served in the military during WWII.
Chairman Dean Spanos…Became team president in 1994 and was instrumental in the franchise decision to leave San Diego; surrendered the position to his son (John) in 2015.
President John Spanos…Became team president in 2015 taking over the same role his father (Dean) had; became a full-time scout in 2003 and then VP of Football Operations in 2013.
GM Tom Telesco…5th-year; played college ball with Brian Polian, son of Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian; his first job in the NFL was a scout for Polian’s Carolina team in 1995; spent 15 seasons with Polian in Indianapolis as a scout and eventually became the Colts Director of Player Personnel and VP of Football Ops during Peyton Manning’s entire Colts career which included a SB win.
HC Anthony Lynn…1st-year; spent two seasons with Buffalo including the last one as OC; spent six seasons in the NFL as a RB with Denver and won two SBs there as a depth back-up to Terrell Davis; Texas Tech Grad.
OC Ken Whisenhunt…2nd-year; was fired during his second season as HC in Tennessee with a 3-20 record; spent one season in San Diego (2013) as OC under former Chargers HC Mike McCoy before getting hired with the Titans; was HC at Arizona for six seasons winning two division titles and losing the SB in 2008 to Pittsburgh; before being hired with the Cardinals he spent six seasons with the Steelers including the last three as OC while winning a SB during his final season there in 2006; Georgia Tech Grad.
DC Gus Bradley…1st-year; former HC with Jacksonville for four season (14-48 record); also spent four seasons in Seattle as DC when the Seahawks led the league in points allowed per game during his final season in 2012; North Dakota State Grad.
WR Mike Williams
OG Forrest Lamp
OG Dan Feeney
OT Russell Okung
CB Desmond King
S Rayshawn Jenkins
S Tre Boston
RB Danny Woodhead
OG D.J. Fluker
OT King Dunlap
LB Manti Te’o
CB Brandon Flowers
QB…Even though he’s not considered an elite quarterback, Philip Rivers is as close to that term as you can get. Now time is slowly running out for Rivers to cement his legacy as he enters his 12th season as the starter for this franchise. Considering how his running game and protection has let him down numerous times over his career, Rivers hasn’t missed a single game since taking over for Drew Brees in 2006 which is a testament to his toughness. Kellen Clemens has been holding a clip-board as Rivers’ main backup the past three seasons while newly acquired Cardale Jones caught a major career break when he was sent out west to follow his former coordinator from Buffalo. No one can deny Jones’ tool set and now he gets a fresh start with a better staff as well as an opportunity to learn the position from a potential Hall of Fame QB.
RB…Melvin Gordon took a huge step forward in year-two after Danny Woodhead was lost for the season in Week 2. This opened the door for Gordon to get the type of workload he never would have received otherwise and he took full advantage as one of the league’s top rushers last season until a hip injury in Week 14 against Carolina ended his season early. With all his new responsibilities Gordon ended up doubling his receiving yardage and tallied 10 TDs after getting shutout his rookie season. Now comes even better news that his new coach (Lynn) will be implementing the same zone-blocking scheme Gordon excelled at in college when he broke the FBS record for career rushing average (7.79 YPC) and the single-game rushing record with 408 yards in just three quarters for Wisconsin. The intriguing backup here is former NY Giant, Andre Williams. Williams led New York in rushing (721 yards) during his rookie season over just seven starts in 16 games. He’ll have to compete for the primary backup role though against the diminutive but effective Brenden Oliver, who must return to form following a season-ending Achilles injury last preseason. The reports so far are good that Oliver will be a full go this season, but players who deal with serious knee injuries tend to need a second-year before they can return to their old selves. Second-year fullback Derek Watt needs to improve his run blocking. Maybe the familiar scheme change will do the former Badger well too.
TE…Just how much longer can future Hall of Fame tight-end Antonio Gates hold off the talented Hunter Henry? Gates can still provide Rivers with a reliable first-down threat who is able to use his veteran savvy to find the open spots in coverage. But thanks to his age difference, Henry is more capable of stretching opposing defenses and keeping coordinators up at night. Henry averaged nearly 11% more than Gates in catch percentage last season (67.9% vs. 57%), averaged three more yards per-catch (13.3 YPC vs. 10.3 YPC) and scored one more TD (8 vs. 7). No one can deny the greatness of Gates, but with so many questions at wide-receiver, the time is now for Henry to take over the No. 1 role and it’s really up to Rivers to make that happen, but will he?
WR…Yes, I said questions. When Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams are leading your team in receiver reps you have questions. The main question is whether leading man Keenan Allen can finally stay healthy after playing in just nine games the past two seasons combined. The Chargers thought they had solved that key question by selecting Mike Williams with the seventh pick in April, but a back injury to the former Clemson star in rookie minicamp has thrown a potential wrench into those plans as well. So what about Kelvin Benjamin? He was signed last off-season to boost their team speed and deliver Rivers with a deep threat for the offense, but several injury issues slowed any of that potential and now he’ll start over again this season. The early signs in camp are encouraging that the Chargers will get what they paid for with Benjamin in year-two. As for Tyrell Williams, all he did was take the opportunity and run with it by leading the team in receptions with 69 and in yards with 1,059. Not bad for a second-year player who went undrafted in 2015 from tiny Western Oregon College. Williams has big-time track speed and along with the lightning fast Benjamin they can both make things fun again for Rivers. Artavis Scott could be the undrafted sleeper of camp after leaving Clemson as their all-time leading receiver. If anything, Scott could be the boost the Chargers anemic return game can really use.
OL…This group has really killed Rivers and the offense for several seasons now. But after signing Matt Slauson last year and Russell Okung this year to go along with promising young players like Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Spencer Pulley and Max Tuerk, it appears Telesco and company have finally upgraded the team’s major weakness. There’s still work to be done here though after Lamp injured his knee early in camp and will miss the season while right tackle Joe Barksdale needs to rebound after a poor season. Maybe Barksdale will improve now that draft-bust DJ Fluker is gone. Look for Slauson, last year’s center, to return to his natural guard spot and open up the pivot to either Pulley or Tuerk. Tuerk didn’t play last year after rehabbing from a knee injury in college and appears to be behind Pulley who’s getting rave reviews as a second-year undrafted player from Vanderbilt.
DE/OLB…The Chargers struck gold with Joey Bosa. The former Ohio State star had a phenomenal rookie campaign with 19 TFL and 10 ½ sacks while only playing in 12 games after a contract holdout and an injured hamstring caused him to miss the first four of his career. There’s great excitement around the team as Bosa will pair with Melvin Ingram to form one of the top pass rush duos in football after the team re-signed Ingram in June to a new four-year deal. Ingram will provide new coordinator Gus Bradley with a variety of options as Bradley expects to implement more of a 4-3 front to the defense. Ingram was a versatile player in college and should be more than capable of playing anywhere Bradley desires. Ingram enjoyed a breakout season with 23 hits, 13 TFL, eight sacks and four forced fumbles. Linebacker Jatavis Brown was one of the Chargers huge surprises for the Chargers interior defense last season. Brown led the team in tackles with 79 and will shift outside under Bradley’s new scheme to take advantage of his speed and athleticism. Bradley and Kyle Emanuel should get along just fine as both are North Dakota State graduates. It might be just what Emanuel needs to kick-start his career. Speaking of needing a kick-start, former second-round pick Jeremiah Attaochu hopes the new scheme will be just what the Georgia Tech all-time sacks leader needs after a lackluster injury-plagued start to his career that included a Week 12 broken foot sustained last season against Houston. This is a make or break year for Attaochu with his rookie deal ending after the season.
DT…10-year vet Brandon Mebane was a nice signing last season and added leadership and excellent run support up the middle until a bicep injury cut his season short in mid-November. Mebane enjoyed a successful nine-year career in Seattle which included a well-deserved Super Bowl ring as a key member of their vaunted championship defense. Bradley must be real pleased to have Mebane on his side again. Fellow tackle Corey Liuget needs to have his best season yet or look for the Chargers to cut and save. Liuget has never lived up to his first-round draft status. Damion Square took advantage of Mebane’s injury for more playing time and he delivered enough to warrant a new two-year deal. Darius Philon and Tenny Palepoi offer more interior depth.
ILB…Denzel Perryman is slowly becoming one of the team leaders on defense and is taking well to his new middle linebacker role. Perryman will be backed-up by former Oakland practice squad player Korey Toomer who was another godsend for the Chargers run defense last season. Toomer came into the league with Seattle during Bradley’s final season there and might have finally found a home with him again in LA. Joshua Perry will also battle for playing time behind Perryman and thanks to his versatility could end up playing multiple positions to get on the field any way he can.
DB…Casey Hayward was a brilliant signing last season by Telesco. Hayward led the team with seven picks and is a true No. 1 cornerback. Former first-round pick Jason Verrett hasn’t been so fortunate. Verrett’s missed 26 of 48 games since coming into the league three seasons ago thanks to a variety of injuries including an ACL injury last October that forced him to miss 12 games. That’s why Telesco and the Chargers have to feel fortunate that rookie and 2015 Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King slipped to the fifth-round. If Verrett remains healthy this season and King can man the nickel role, this position group could be much improved. Former third-round pick Craig Mager has been a disappointment so his chances are running out while undrafted free agent rookie Trevor Williams is also looking to stick around after getting some meaningful reps last season on defense and special teams. The Chargers have a decent pair at safety in Jahleel Addae and Dwight Lowery. Addae is your typical physical run defender while Lowery is solid in coverage. Neither player is a difference-maker though which is why Rayshawn Jenkins was added in the fourth-round in April and free agent Tre Boston was signed in May. Addae still appears a safe bet to start this season as he signed a four-year extension in March even though he missed eight games early last season with a broken collarbone. The 31-year-old Lowery has the experience and familiarity while playing under Bradley in Jacksonville, but the Chargers would be much better off if Jenkins could win the job. Adrian Phillips and Dexter McCoil offer additional safety depth.
This unit was a disaster last season and nobody’s job is safe. The most interesting story to watch is at place-kicker where Korean born Younghoe Koo could beat out incumbent Josh Lambo for the job. Koo was a third-team FBS All-American performer last season for Georgia Southern while making 19 of his 20 attempts. Lambo has missed 12 field goals in his two season with the Chargers.
I’m fairly confident that if the Chargers can keep their star players healthy they’re going to have a great shot at returning to the post-season for the first time since 2013. John Spanos and Tom Telesco are working well together and made the right decision to move on from Mike McCoy and hire Anthony Lynn. They also made an excellent hire by bringing in failed Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley. Bradley gets to go back to doing what he does best and with stud players like Bosa and Ingram to work with up-front as well as a deep pool of linebackers and fresh blood in the backfield the Chargers defense has a chance to be better than they’ve been in many years. This is all great news for Philip Rivers as he’s more determined than ever to lead a winning team and return to playoff football. If they happen to get there, don’t count Rivers out to play elite level football when it matters most. And also don’t discount the potential home field advantage they could get by playing in the 27,000 seat Stub Hub Center. The cozy atmosphere affixed with a European-style roof that can reverberate the noise level could end up being a successful underrated aspect of their season.