COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP)A lot is new about the Los Angeles Chargers, from their stadium to the uniforms to the man who will be leading the offense.
While the first two have generated their own levels of excitement, the performance of the quarterback tasked with replacing Philip Rivers will go a long way in determining if the Chargers can get to the postseason for the second time in three seasons. That job will first go to Tyrod Taylor, but the Bolts drafted Justin Herbert with the sixth overall pick as their quarterback of the future.
Los Angeles was 5-11 last year after going 12-4 and reaching the divisional round in 2018. Nine of those losses were by seven points or fewer, which was why the franchise moved on from Rivers after 14 years as the starter.
Rivers led the AFC with 4,615 passing yards and had 23 touchdowns. But he also threw 20 interceptions, led an offense that committed six red-zone turnovers and twice gave away the ball on downs.
Taylor is known for taking care of the football and being on offenses more geared toward the run game. When Chargers coach Anthony Lynn was Buffalo’s interim offensive coordinator in 2016 and had Taylor, the Bills led the league in rushing.
Not only is Taylor more mobile than Rivers, but his style is a little more low key. He’s also looking to make more of an impact than he did in Cleveland, where he played only 2 1/2 games in 2018 before Baker Mayfield took over.
Taylor, going into his 10th season, is 23-21-1 as a starter and has thrown for 54 touchdowns against 20 interceptions.
”I think ultimately you have to be natural at what you do. You don’t you don’t want it to be awkward or forced,” Taylor said. ”I am vocal when I need to be. I’m also a lead-by-example type of guy as well.”
LINING THEM UP
Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram form one of the league’s more imposing pass rushing duos. They got some help with the addition of defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who can bring pressure up the middle as well as help fortify the run defense. Even though Los Angeles was sixth in yards allowed last season, it was ranked 18th against the run.
Boas is the league’s highest-paid defensive player after signing a five-year, $135-million extension. He has double-digit sacks in three of his first four seasons and made the Pro Bowl last season after he tied for second in the AFC with 11 1/2 sacks. Ingram is in the last year of his contract and had seven sacks each of the last two seasons.
IT TAKES TWO (OR THREE)
Austin Ekeler is listed as the top running back, but he will get plenty of help this season because the plan for him is not to be an every-down back.
Ekeler had 1,500 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Most of those were receiving as he was 7 yards shy of reaching 1,000. The plan remains to get Ekeler as many touches in the open field and on downfield runs, with Justin Jackson and rookie Joshua Kelley being more between-the-tackles backs. Jackson has been limited by injuries the past two seasons but averaged 5.1 yards per carry during those years.
LIVING UP TO THE HYPE:
With the addition of Chris Harris Jr. to pair with cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Derwin James, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley thinks he has his best secondary group since he was at Seattle with the ”Legion of Boom.” But saying it and proving it are different things.
Harris, who comes to LA after nine seasons with division rival Denver, returns to his natural spot of slot cornerback.
”I haven’t had a good counterpart with me since (Aqib) Talib. So I’m definitely excited to see what we can do,” Harris said.
James was an All-Pro selection as a rookie in 2018 and can line up in a variety of spots. His absence was definitely felt last season when he missed the first 11 games due to a foot injury.
The group also includes cornerbacks Michael Davis and Desmond King as well as safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Nasir Adderley.
CAN OFFENSIVE LINE IMPROVE?
The right side of the offensive line has been overhauled, but left tackle remains the biggest concern. The Chargers traded for guard Trai Turner and signed tackle Bryan Bulaga, but are pinning their hopes on Sam Tevi at left tackle. Tevi has started at right tackle the past two seasons, rating poorly in pass protection.
Lynn is hoping that the addition of line coach James Campen, along with having a mobile quarterback, will put less pressure on Tevi. Also aiding in the line’s improvement is the return of center Mike Pouncey, who suffered a season-ending neck injury in a Week 5 loss to Denver.
KEEP AN EYE ON
The kicking game, which has plagued the Chargers during Lynn’s tenure. Michael Badgley is 28 of 32 on field goals over the past two seasons, but he missed eight games in 2019 due to a groin injury. Everyone is hoping Badgley can go all 16 regular-season games this season because Los Angeles has had nine kickers attempt field goals over the past three seasons.
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