They have been building towards this, is this the breakthru year?
The QB is locked down with a state of the art contract-can he win?
The radical coaching staff shakeup, how stunning was that?
Have they fixed the defense?
Here are storylines and big questions as the Chargers take the field.
MUST WIN SEASON…GM-Tom Telesco and President of Football Operations John Spanos have a sub.500 record in leading the franchise they took over in 2013. They’ve gone (81-86) in that span, have won just 2-playoff games in the decade they have called all the shots. Their first two head coach hires failed, Mike McCoy-Anthony Lynn. This hire, Brandon Staley seems close to flipping the script and winning big. But the shadow of last year’s horrid playoff loss, the blown (27-0) lead that wound up as a loss to Jacksonville is still there. You have to learn how to win in the post season. They seem ready.
A MOST IMPORTANT HIRE…You can build a roster thru the draft, thru free agency, even thru trades. But the biggest off season acquisition might be highly regarded Kellen Moore, imported from the Dallas Cowboys as the new offensive coordinator. He replaces Joe Lombardi, whose offense stumbled and struggled in the last year. Moore brings a portfolio of spreading the ball in Dallas, throwing deep, spraying passes to tight ends and running backs, and moving his quarterback around. He inherits what might be the best offense since the Philip Rivers-LT-Gates days, and maybe as explosive as the Dan Fouts-Air Coryell era.
JUSTIN HERBERT…has arrived as a star, a trustworthy leader, an intellect and a rock tough guy in the huddle and on the field. Now he has a record (52.5M) contract to go hand in hand with his sparking statistics.Still to come, a playoff win. His scoreboard does not lie (14,089Y-94TD-35Int-96QBR). Don’t want to hear any comments about his (25-25) career record. That is on the organization, not the QB.
IN THE TRENCHES…It has taken time and rehab from injuries, but this looks to be possibly the best offensive line in the AFC-West, if they can stay healthy. They believe in the combo of Slater-Johnson-Linsley, Salyer and Pipkens. They have proven they can play, but have not yet played together for extended periods because of injuries. Now they are ready to break thru the wall. If this offense is elite, those guys upfront will be part of the reason, if they can keep them on the field.
EKELER AND MONEY…He has been a gem of a find at running back, and has been a cornerstone as to why they are so good on offense. He will be paid this year if he hits his standards running and catching, then he will be a free agent. Finding a reliable backup remains the important question, whether that is Ike Spiller or Josh Kelly.
WR WAR..This may be the final time we see this group together because salary cap challenges await. But this season, from Keenan Allen to Mike Williams, Gerald Everett to Josh Palmer, the return of Jalen Guyton and the emergence of Quenton Johnston, the Bolts have as a good a WR group as you know who (Chiefs). And it appears they really have depth now, plus Kellen Moore’s playbook
JC-OK…Only time will tell if CB-JC Jackson can fully return from the freak patella tendon tear in his knee last fall. Only time will tell if his second year is better than a lousy first year, where he seemed lost in coverage, confused by the playbook, and playing a step slow. On the field he did not look like the ballhawking cover corner we saw prior with the Patriots. It better workout-they paid him a ton of money.
KID DBS…You have Derwin James, and Asante Samuel and Michael Davis. After that the door is open to see who claims CB and S-roles. They are high on JT Woods and Ja Sir Taylor, but until you do it, you are a prospect who is still suspect.
LB LEAVING…Not sure I understand the trade off of bringing in ex Viking-Erik Kendrick, and letting Drue Tranquill walk. Last year’s Viking defense was horrid. Still have not seen the consistency you would have hoped for from Kenneth Murray either at LB. A year prior they let Uchenna Nwosu walk in free agency too. They are still trying to replace the departed.
BIG MONEY-NOT SO BIG DEFENSE…They are paying Joey Bosa-Khalil Mack a ton of money to go get quarterbacks. Both have played well in spurts but both had stretches in which they were MIA. More than anything, they need health to make the front seven work, and that means no injuries inside to Sebastien Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox, and the return to health of Austin Johnson-Tito Ogbonnia. If they stay on the field, then they fix all the run defense problems. If they don’t, they are in trouble again.
KICKERS…Interesting matchup in field goal kicking, with Dustin Hopkins and Cam Dicker. They have been good at finding kickers when injuries have dinged them.
REAL DEAL..We find out quick if TCU rookie Derious Davis is ready to return kicks and punts. He was dangerous and explosive in college. We will see how his fast but slight frame holds up to the hits in the NFL.
SALARY CAP HELL…They moved money around, but in the NFL, the salary cap bill comes due. How will they creatively finance Justin Herbert’s likely 52M per year deal? Facing 4-veterans with cap figures north of 30M each next season, who stays, who goes? Will this be the final season we see the Allen-Williams combo at wide out, or the last go round for the Bosa-Mack pass rush tandem? Better win this year. Next year’s team will look different when the camp opens. The Chargers could be over 60M above the salary cap for the 2024 season.