The Chargers won nine games the past two seasons combined. Now, they start over with a new home and a new coach.
Anthony Lynn’s hiring as head coach was overshadowed this offseason by the team’s move to Los Angeles after 56 years in San Diego. They will spend the next two seasons playing in a 30,000-seat soccer stadium in Carson before moving into the new digs they’ll share with the Rams in Inglewood.
The Chargers will compete with the Rams and every other team in Los Angeles for attention and likely won’t get much of it until they win. The Chargers, though, do have a chance to exceed expectations with a talented roster that includes several rising stars, but they enter training camp with a number of questions, including how they handle the move to L.A.
Biggest positive change: Anthony Lynn’s run-first mentality. Yes, the Chargers were behind a lot last year, which partly explains why they threw 59.6 percent of the time. But no matter the record this year, expect Lynn to call running plays more than 40.4 percent of the time. Lynn played running back in the NFL. He coached running backs nearly his entire coaching career. Lynn, who had the best rushing attack in the NFL last season in Buffalo, preaches “ground and pound.” Melvin Gordon, if he stays healthy, figures to be a big part of the offense.
Biggest negative change: Moving into a 30,000-seat soccer stadium isn’t likely to provide the Chargers with much of a home-field advantage. It’s the smallest stadium to host a full NFL season since the Packers played their home games at 25,000-seat City Stadium in 1956. The Chargers, whose slogan is “Fight for L.A.,” will find everything new and different this season. Distractions likely abound, and how the Chargers handle those distractions likely dictates how the season goes.
Coaching thermometer: It doesn’t figure to get hot in L.A. for Anthony Lynn until at least 2019 when the Chargers move into their new stadium. Lynn will get time to figure it out. He had never even served as a coordinator until Week 3 last season in Buffalo and finished out the season as the interim head coach after Rex Ryan was fired before Week 17. Players, though, love playing for Lynn, and, as a former player, he will have their respect from the start.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Philip Rivers. Rivers arguably is the best trash talker in the NFL. He loves to get under opponents’ skins. He even plays better when opponents go back at him. Rivers, though, does his trash talking in the nicest of ways without uttering an expletive.
How they can prove us wrong: The Chargers have more talent than their five victories last season suggest. Joey Bosa and Melvin Gordon are rising stars, and the addition of first-round pick Mike Williams could give Philip Rivers a feature receiver. If Keenan Allen can stay healthy – a big if based on his injuries of the past two seasons – and Antonio Gates has anything left, Rivers will have more options than he has had in a few years with tight end Hunter Henry having had a solid rookie season and receiver Tyrell Williams coming off a 1,000-yard receiving season. Rivers, 35, passed for more than 4,000 yards for the fourth consecutive season, but he will have to cut down on his 21 interceptions. The defense, which is switching to the 4-3, should improve with Gus Bradley running that side of the ball. Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who had 18.5 sacks over the past two seasons, will get after the quarterback, and cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, if he’s healthy, are playmakers on the backend. Anything better than 5-11 is a move in the right direction, though the Chargers don’t have many years left to take advantage of Rivers’ talent.