Lenny Ignelzi/AP
Lenny Ignelzi/AP

The Quiet Chargers

Remember San Diego? Plucky little bunch, won a playoff game and took the eventual AFC champs to the wire? Yeah, they're back and feeling all kinds of confident heading into 2014. Plus, notes on the playbook 'scandal' and more

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·

From appearances, the Chargers’ offseason seems rather tame. There were no expected starters signed in free agency. The draft was fairly status quo, with only a trade up in the second round (from No. 57 to 50) to draft Georgia Tech outside linebacker Jerry Attaochu. Ho-hum, plodding along.

But that’s exactly the way general manager Tom Telesco envisioned and executed it. That might not be the greatest of signs for San Diego’s AFC West rivals. The Chargers, who won their final four regular-season games after a 5-7 start and knocked off the Bengals on the road in the playoffs before losing by seven at Denver, appear to be very confident where they’re headed.

“Your definition of ‘not doing a whole lot’ might be different than ours,” said Telesco, who is in his second year of heading the Chargers. “I don’t look at it like if you sign a big-name player that everyone knows from another team (then that) means you’re doing a lot. If you re-sign some of your own guys or some other role players that you did sign in free agency, it doesn’t means you didn’t do any work. I don’t look at it like that.”

Most think it’s a foregone conclusion that the AFC West is the territory of Peyton Manning and the Broncos. They forget the Chargers beat them at Denver in Week 15, 27-20, and then were one third-down stop from having a chance at tying the game in the divisional round.

Last season was the first for coach Mike McCoy, the former Broncos’ offensive coordinator. After six years under Norv Turner, San Diego altered its usual course of starting well, fading and then coming up short in the end. The Chargers were up and down until they caught fire at the end. They think that was no fluke.

“Our guys worked extremely hard last year and luckily we started to see the results of that at the end of the year,” Telesco said. “During the course of the year, some weeks we played really good football, other weeks we looked like a team that was still in transition and getting to know each other. As we got later in the year, things started to jell, people started to understand their roles and then all of a sudden we got on a roll. Part of getting better is developing what you have. That’s what the offseason is for. Hopefully that all adds up into taking the next step this year.”

Danny Woodhead caught a career-high 76 passes in 2013, his first season with the Chargers. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)
Danny Woodhead caught a career-high 76 passes in 2013, his first season with the Chargers. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

Telesco had the golden touch, for the most part, in last year’s free agency with key starters King Dunlap (left tackle) and Chad Rinehart (guard), a key contributor in Danny Woodhead (running back), and a valuable reserve in Rich Ohrnberger (offensive line). Cornerback Derek Cox was a mistake, and the Chargers are looking for big things with outside linebacker Dwight Freeney returning from a torn quad (two games played).

“Well, it will certainly help,” said Telesco, who wanted to add some more team speed and playmaking ability to John Pagano’s defense. “Before [Freeney] got hurt last year he was looking extremely good. Right now, his rehab is coming along very well, so he’s right on target, he should be ready to go for camp.”

Offensively, the Chargers return a lot of firepower. Antonio Gates, Woodhead and sensational rookie Keenan Allen all caught more than 70 passes, with receivers Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown at 40-plus apiece. They’ll get Malcom Floyd back at receiver, and the team’s almost giddy about the prospects for third-year tight end Ladarius Green. A backfield of Ryan Mathews, Woodhead and free agent Donald Brown (Colts) is well stocked. The offensive line, which battled numerous injuries, allowed the third fewest sacks. So, yeah, quarterback Philip Rivers should be a happy camper.

It’s a little concerning that offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt departed to take over the Titans, but the Chargers thought that was a possibility. Frank Reich was promoted from quarterbacks coach to run the Chargers’ offense. This isn’t a case of Whisenhunt taking his system and leaving—he was running the Chargers’ system, which is based in McCoy’s teachings and nuanced by the coordinators. Few know Reich better than Telesco, who was around him when Reich was playing with the Bills and Panthers, and then as an assistant coach with the Colts.

“I’ve known Frank a long time and when he first started coaching with the Colts, you could tell at some point he was going to be a coordinator. You could see he had that in him,” Telesco said. “We’re going to run the same Charger system that we ran last year but Frank will be in control of it. I know Frank well enough that he’s not looking to put his imprint on anything, he’s running the Chargers’ offense. Will we see some wrinkles? Sure, but that’s between Mike and Frank and as a result of the offseason, what we think we have to work with, and self scouting.”

The Broncos may be the current kings of the west, and the Chiefs were right there for much of the season, but keep an ear out for the quiet Chargers.

“I think we can compete with anybody, so that’s our mindset, take that for whatever it’s worth,” Telesco said. “Last year was a good start, we built a foundation but we have to take the next step.”

NICKEL PACKAGE

The Accidental Browns Coach

Mike Pettine wasn’t the first choice (or second or third or...) to lead the locker room. But the 47-year-old former high school coach is in Cleveland and ready to unleash a shape-shifting defense set to wreak havoc in the AFC North. FULL STORY

1. A few words on the playbook “controversy” that came from my profile of Browns coach Mike Pettine. (If you want to learn the inner workings of building a team and a defense, and how a man rose from being a high school head coach 13 years ago to Browns head coach—you know, 95 percent of the story—please go read it. I assure you, you will learn something about the game.) If Pettine said Pittsburgh instead of New England, people would laugh about a rivalry love tap and move along. But because it’s the Patriots, some people (mostly in the New York-Boston corridor, and those with anti-Patriots bias) read way too much into an anecdote that I thought was entertaining and harmless because it’s a bunch of rivals busting each other’s chops. I’m sorry, I refuse to treat one team with kid gloves because of how a few may react related to something that may or may not have happened seven years ago (no one knows the truth except for commissioner Roger Goodell). When exactly is it okay for anybody to rib the Patriots about anything … do we have to wait until Bill Belichick retires? Can I get a statute of limitations ruling? I mean, it’s ridiculous.

2. I should have explained to the general public that having playbooks means absolutely nothing—especially a defensive playbook (there are only so many ways to run an open fire zone blitz, and they’re all on tape anyway). I am also in possession of a few Jets playbooks, along with many other NFL teams, including the Patriots. Funny thing is not one person on Twitter asked me to explain the significance of that small part of the story, until a story was posted some four hours after my story was out. If you cover the NFL and think that having another team’s playbook (outside of an individual weekly game plan, which no one said anything about) has any relevance, either you’re new on the beat, don’t know the sport you cover very well, or just grab any appearance of controversy for clicks without regard of the actual facts. Coaches share playbooks and their philosophies all the time. Players go from team to team every offseason with real information—why teams use certain techniques against certain opponents, the weaknesses they were targeting a previous matchup, etc.—in their head. Rob Ryan, Rex’s twin brother, coached under Belichick with the Patriots. Mike McCoy went from offensive coordinator of the Broncos to head coach of the Chargers. Chuck Pagano went from coordinating the Ravens’ defense to facing them as Colts coach in one season. Think they had a few playbooks? Just about everybody runs the same plays. A game is determined by tendencies, matchups, timing, game-specific tactics, and about 50 other things. Sure, coaches don’t love their information being out there without their approval, but any insinuation that anybody acted improperly is so ridiculous and irresponsible that it didn’t even enter my mind that it could happen.

3. What an unbelievable stretch of bad luck that second-year running back Johnathan Franklin became at least the ninth Packers player since 2000 to suffer a significant neck injury (Franklin announced he’s leaving football): Gary Berry, Terrence Murphy, Tony Palmer, Jeremy Thompson, Nick Collins, Sean Richardson, Jermichael Finley, Johnny Jolly and Franklin (credit to Jason Wilde and Rob Demovsky for those names). Only Richardson has returned to play.

4. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson told Tom Pelissero of USA Today that the team “would take a heavy hit—for real,” from the fan base if the teams moves on from him at some point. That may be true, at least in the short term, but it won’t matter if the Vikings are winning, something the Vikings haven’t done a ton of since 2009. And once the Vikings get the personal seat license money for the opening of their new stadium in 2016, the economic ripples felt by Peterson’s possible exit likely wouldn’t be much of a problem.

5. This seems like a good time to take a vacation. See you in a month.

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56 comments
SpeedSkater
SpeedSkater

I just came from the Pro Football Focus "depth chart" articles. San Diego is remarkably thin on Defense. Eric Weddle grades out as elite. From there, they have four average starters, and four below average starters, and two gray, "not enough info." and a rookie. Zero players on their defense were quality starters or very good. And only two on offense fell into the "very good" status, Allen and Rivers. You do have to give McCoy a lot of credit -- but Telesco, there is a reason good teams are active in FA: they are upgrading areas of the roster that are in need of competitive players in order to win more games. Denver, for example has 11 players in the very good category vs SDs 3. And six on defense vs SD 0. 

Beachboy
Beachboy

Nice story, Peter. FYI, Dwight Freeney played four games last year before getting injured, not two. 

jayeeteee
jayeeteee

I'll be honest, I'm a little scared of how good SD will be this year.  Manning is another year older and a complete choke artist.


Go Broncos!

Mark112
Mark112


Even Philip's fiery attitude can't overcome the curse of Marty Schottenheimer.

 



GooGulsux
GooGulsux

The A in Greg A Bedard stands for A-hole

PRoughsedge
PRoughsedge

The key to the Chargers' offense? Danny Woodhead. Can't for the life of me understand why the Pats let him walk away for relatively short money.

JonoSchneider
JonoSchneider

Chargers are the most historically underperforming team ever. Always talented, always able to win a few blow out games all year, always losing horrendously to worse teams, and always having a chance to upset Peyton (although that 24-0 haltime lead blowing a few years ago was unreal...). I believe nothing of them until they actually make it to the SB.

LarryDarrell
LarryDarrell

As a devout Broncos fan, nothing would surprise me from one year to the next.  I've seen years where teams (including our own) look like world killers on paper and then are decimated by injuries.  That said, we're the defending AFC West Champions.  If you want that title, you're going to have to take it from us.  In this division, that pretty much means running the table.  We'll see how it plays out.  Writers gotta write about something to fill the void during the summer. 

seamillguesthouse
seamillguesthouse

I think the Chargers have a very very good chance at dethroning the Broncos.

Remember the Vikings buying everything out there for Brett Favre's last year ?  The Broncos have done the same thing .Too many Chiefs and no indians

BillBerg
BillBerg

I really can't see San Diego amounting to anything as long as they have Philip Rivers as their quarterback.

Fozzie_Bear
Fozzie_Bear

It's nice to see San Diego get a little recognition after an awesome season no one saw coming. I'm not a fan of theirs, but I've been really impressed with them after they got a new coach and GM. They look like they'll be a playoff contender for a long time.

mark neher
mark neher

Forgive if I'm not impressed with how they "caught fire at the end."  KC rested their starting QB and other starters in week 17, and still had an attempt at a winning field goal at the end.  With Succop having missed only one from that distance or closer all year, there was, oh, about a 95% chance that the Chargers' season was over right there at 8-8.  Luck served them better than pluck; total fluke at that point that they backed in to the playoffs.

Jockomo Meaux
Jockomo Meaux

Another year and another preseason prediction of success for the Chargers. Same old same old every year. Mediocre regular season, back into the playoffs, look good in the playoffs for a game or 2 and create optimism for next year. Repeat. 


WCoastPro
WCoastPro

SD would have been a great story had they made the Super Bowl last season. 

Beating the Chiefs in week 17 knocking Pittsburgh out, then beating the Bengals on the road and staying close at Denver in the next round.  

LHanner
LHanner

I thought this team over performed last year. I think the coaching was the difference between them being 7-9 and 9-7, the offensive play calling in particular. Whisenhunt  leaving is a way bigger deal than you're making it out to be, without him I fear San Diego just misses the playoffs in a super competitive AFC West. 

Madmadigan
Madmadigan

@Mark112 Marty? True, better yet Norvus. The new regime has brought the magic and the curse has been lifted. Charger fans know because that curse was so tangible you could see and taste it. Iv'e experienced it for years... it's gone, no sign of it.

johnnybigrig
johnnybigrig

Moreover, any meathead with a keyboard can make an utter fool of him/herself with just a few keystrokes:

Jell - to become clear, substantial, or definite; crystallize: The plan began to jell once we all met to discuss it.

Oh, the irony!

rckymtn4
rckymtn4

@PRoughsedge Because that is what the Patriots do with wide receivers and running backs. They think they can pick them up off the trash heap.

Madmadigan
Madmadigan

@PRoughsedge Don't know either, Woody is 100% a pure football player, glad we picked him up.

Madmadigan
Madmadigan

@JonoSchneider even as a charger fan I won't argue this with the exception of last year. We over performed for the 1st time since 94. We lost our no 1 and 2 WR's, Both our starting pass rushers and PR still had one of his best rears behind a make shift oline of completly new ex backups and rookies.


Over performance of the decade. Thats what good coaching can do. Wait'll you see what happens this year with a healthy team and far better depth. Should be interesting.

Madmadigan
Madmadigan

@seamillguesthouse The Chargers have been dominating the Donks for a decade. It's this new team in the division called the Peyton Mannings that's giving us fits :)  I Hear they may only be in the division for another year or so, then things will go back to normal. You'll see :)

JonoSchneider
JonoSchneider

No, they won't do it. Watch. They'll lose to the Bills and the Browns and the Vikings while destroying the Giants and the Vikings and the Cowboys. Phillip Rivers will post a great passer rating and it will mean nothing.

Dmax57
Dmax57

@BillBerg It amazes me at how misread Rivers is.  The dude is an ultimate competitor.  Yeah, he's a little demonstrative, but that's his firey attitude.  He's not a jerk, in fact, one of the cleanest guys off-field in the NFL.  Hate away, I guess, but you're only showing your ignorance about the guy.

mnico213
mnico213

@BillBerg Yeah, a QB that was 4th in QB rating, 4th in TD, 5th in yards, 1st in completion % last year is not someone who you want on your team.

rckymtn4
rckymtn4

@mark neher and not to mention the missed penalty on the Chargers for lining up incorrectly on the FG try.

Madmadigan
Madmadigan

@mark neher Yep, we were lucky. Way i see it is that was only one makeup game for the three the refs cost us earlier in the season. They still owe us two more games.

tuckerp17
tuckerp17

@mark neher Honestly a win is a win and they beat the Chiefs starters in KC scoring 41 pts against a good defense. Oh ya, we also beat the Broncos in Denver and lost by one score two other times and the Chiefs got demolished both games

mnico213
mnico213

@mark neher If you count the two playoff games, in their last 8 games, they lost by 1 score twice to playoff teams and won 6 games including 3 where they handed a playoff team their first loss of the season.


unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@WCoastPro That story would have ended the same way the Broncos story ended in the Superbowl.  Actually, the Chargers might have done better.  The Broncos had no leadership and no plan B when plan A failed. 

jcharge29
jcharge29

@LHanner It isn't like Rivers has to learn a new system all over again. Whisenhunt, McCoy and Reich all designed last year's offense just for Rivers to use. This may be Reich's first year as an OC but he has experience calling plays in the NFL before. As a former QB, he called his own plays in the pros and college and he's worked with a lot of smart offensive minds including Whisenhunt and Peyton Manning. I don't know if the Chargers will make the playoffs but I don't think our offensive production will slide because Whisenhunt isn't here anymore.

rckymtn4
rckymtn4

@Madmadigan @seamillguesthouse The "Donks" are 10-10 against the Chargers over the last 10 years (not counting the playoffs). How is that dominating? Even if you for some reason eliminate the "Peyton Mannings" from this record, it is 9-7. That is not dominating either.

SanDeggo
SanDeggo

@JonoSchneider Luckily the other teams in the AFC West have to play the same teams as the Chargers.  Sure, they will likely lose to the 49ers and Seahawks, but so will the Broncos and Chiefs.  Don't count out the Chargers just yet, they finally have leadership that the players want to play for.

BY
BY

@Mark112 @BillBerg Would you say that Rivers has had the same talent around him that Fouts had?

JimKramer
JimKramer

@Dmax57 @BillBerg Your second to last sentence explains why Rivers is "misread." He's not misread he just faces a extremely hostile media that can't stand conservative Catholics with seven kids.

rckymtn4
rckymtn4

@BY @Mark112 @BillBerg Actually yes. LaDainian Tomlinson, Malcolm Floyd, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates were as good or better skill players than what the Chargers had with Fouts. Fouts had absolutely no defense during his time. Rivers has had a pretty decent defense for much of his career to back him up.

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