The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Report date: July 29
Location: Costa Mesa, California
1. How does a brand new offensive line take shape?
The Chargers offensive line has not ranked in the top half of the league at any point over the past decade, per Pro Football Focus. So with a new city to call home (Los Angeles) and a new head coach in charge (Anthony Lynn), the team also began a new chapter up front — or so it hopes. At left tackle, help arrives in the form of highly coveted free agent Russell Okung. He came with a hefty price tag (4 years, $53 million), but he’ll be a big upgrade if he can stay healthy. At two of the interior positions, the Chargers will be young. They took Forrest Lamp in the second round of this year’s draft, and he should plug in at right guard immediately. At center, Spencer Pulley’s rise from undrafted free agent last year to starter was one of the few pleasant surprises for the team. And many regarded third-rounder Dan Feeney as the best guard in the draft. Whether he contributes immediately remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: The team has dedicated itself to building skill and depth across the line unlike any offseason in recent memory.
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2. Are the wide receivers healthy?
This is already a sore spot for Chargers fans, and it’s not looking much more promising this offseason. Keenan Allen is coming off back-to-back season-ending injuries. In 2015 it was a lacerated kidney that sidelined him for good halfway through the season. In 2016 it was a torn ACL less than one half into the first game of the season. He also missed the final two games in 2014 and has a long, long injury history. Getting back to 100 percent the season after tearing an ACL is one thing. Staying healthy for a full season is another. Allen will get a chance to show in camp that he’s ready to go this season. At the other outside spot, the Chargers expected to have first-round pick Mike Williams, but recent reports suggest he could be in line for season-ending back surgery. Williams has denied he needs said surgery, though it’s clear his back isn’t fully healthy. If he can’t go, look for Tyrell Williams, coming off a breakout 2016 campaign, to assume an important role out wide once again.
3. How much changes in Anthony Lynn’s run-first scheme?
For the last three years, the Chargers have been one of the league’s most pass-happy and pass-dependent teams. Even last year with the emergence of Melvin Gordon, the team got more than 73 percent of its yards through the air, seventh in the league. Enter Lynn, formerly the running backs coach of the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo had the fewest percentage of its yards come through the air last year. So what will the Chargers’ offense look like? The commitment to improving the line this offseason points toward more running. The drafting of a receiver in the first round may seem to go against that assumption, but Williams has all the physical tools to turn into a good blocking wideout. With Philip Rivers and a bevy of weapons out wide, a complete shift to a true run-first scheme doesn’t seem in the offing. Rather, an emphasis on a more balanced attack is reasonable to expect.
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