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Los Angeles Chargers Season Preview: 10 Things You Need to Know

The MMQB’s Andy Benoit ranks every NFL team based on roster talent and gives 10 thoughts on each club throughout training camp. The No. 23 Los Angeles Chargers have the league’s third best edge rusher in Joey Bosa, who trails only the Broncos’ Von Miller and the Raiders’ Khalil Mack (J.J. Watt is more of a pure defensive lineman)

1. Philip Rivers threw too many interceptions last season, especially for being one of the most respected veteran quarterbacks in football. An unusually large number of those interceptions, however, stemmed from wide receiver mistakes. This year, the Chargers won’t have to tolerate that. Even if first-round pick Mike Williams remains shelved, they’re still deep enough at wideout. Keenan Allen is back. Speedy Travis Benjamin returns as a movable No. 3 and big-play weapon; fourth-year pro Dontrelle Inman is one of the league’s best route runners and could blossom into a quality starter; and Tyrell Williams, with significant refinement, has the size and speed combination to be a No. 1.

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2. Two things led to a strong sophomore season by 2015 first-round running back Melvin Gordon. One was the addition of his former college teammate Derek Watt at fullback. Gordon had run predominantly out of two-back sets with Watt at Wisconsin. Getting him more carries here early last season helped him find a comfort zone. The other: as the year progressed, Gordon’s comfort zone expanded to include running out of one-back sets (including shotgun). That’s vital; the NFL is a three-receiver league, and Philip Rivers’s strengths play better to operating from a singleback formation. Gordon was a much tougher runner last year.

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3. If the Chargers aren’t playing three receivers, they’ll play two tight ends—and look good doing it. They have a budding athlete in second-year pro Hunter Henry and the savviest of veterans in 15th-year man Antonio Gates, who is still one of the best at getting open over the middle.

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4. The defining tactic of this offense is still crossing routes. Despite having a new head coach (Anthony Lynn), the Chargers will once again be coordinated by Ken Whisenhunt. No team is better in this department, especially at the underneath levels.

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5.What kind of run-blocking scheme will Whisenhunt run? Last year, it was mostly a north/south game with short-area pull-blockers and double-teams inside. That’s what you do when your O-line isn’t athletic. But with potentially two new young starters inside (2017 third-rounder Dan Feeney and 2016 third-rounder Max Tuerk), and Russell Okung replacing King Dunlap at left tackle, the Chargers should be more mobile up front. Could that lead to more outside zone concepts on the ground? That might suit Gordon’s instinctive tendency to bounce runs outside.

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6. One other thing about Gordon: his contributions in the receiving game are critical. He doesn’t have to be a polished route runner or dynamic scat back, he just needs to be proficient on checkdowns. No QB other than Tom Brady is as good at utilizing his checkdown option as Rivers. For a long time, Danny Woodhead made a living on these duties. He’s now a Raven, and no comparable player was brought in to replace him. It will fall on Gordon. He’s shown potential here. In Week 13, he destroyed Tampa Bay in the checkdown game.

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7. Presumably, you don’t hire Gus Bradley as your defensive coordinator unless you want to run a Seahawks style Cover 3 zone scheme. That must be what Anthony Lynn has in mind. But you have to wonder about the efficacy of a vanilla, execution-based scheme like this. The Chargers have what every defense covets: a pair of top-flight man-to-man corners (Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward). When you can play man coverage, your blitz packages expand.

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8. On second thought, maybe we’ll see Bradley blitz more than expected. That’s what he did with Jacksonville’s defense down the stretch last season, after rookie corner Jalen Ramsey got sounder.

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9. Joey Bosa is already the third best edge player in football, behind only Von Miller and Khalil Mack. (J.J. Watt is more of a pure defensive lineman than edge guy). Bosa’s lateral quickness is incredible. So is his hand strength. And body control. And his ability to transition from speed to power. It’ll be interesting to see where he lines up. Conventional wisdom says defensive end, opposite fellow athletic dynamo Melvin Ingram. But speculation from those in the know is that Bosa might see snaps as a passing down 3-technique.

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10. It was surprising to see the Chargers sign ex-Panther coverage safety Tre Boston and spend a fourth-round pick on safety Rayshawn Jenkins. One player who really stood out as a fill-in starter when strong safety Jahleel Addae was out last year was Adrian Phillips. In fact, you could argue that Phillips, who can play in the box or back deep, deserves a chance to unseat starting free safety Dwight Lowery. But Los Angeles’s offseason moves suggest he might be on the roster bubble.

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