Chargers won't Bench Veterans for Young Players Over Final 4 Games
Jason B. Hirschhorn
COSTA MESA, Calif. -- With the playoffs effectively out of reach and just four games remaining, the Los Angeles Chargers could elect to sit some of their veterans in favor of youngsters who might play bigger roles in the future. However, head coach Anthony Lynn doesn't plan to throw away the rest of the year just to get some inexperienced players some time on the field.
"We're here to win," Lynn says. "We're going to try to win every single one of these suckers. If a young guy can come up and help us, then, of course, we'll let them play. Right now, no. We're not sitting no veterans."
The Chargers enter the week at 4-8 and without a realistic shot at an AFC West crown or wild-card berth. Even so, they have a chance to avoid a losing record by winning out, something that likely matters to Lynn a great deal.
Since arriving in Los Angeles in 2017, Lynn's teams have not ended a season below the .500 mark. The Chargers lost their first four games under Lynn during his first year as head coach but rebounded to close at 9-7. In 2018, the club performed even better, finishing the regular season with a 12-4 record and a playoff berth.
For the Chargers to extend the streak, they will have to overcome a difficult schedule. Their upcoming slate includes a trip east to face the Jacksonville Jaguars, home tilts with the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, and a season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. Only one of those teams currently has a record worse than 6-6, and Los Angeles will likely need all of its available firepower to stand a chance at winning even that matchup.
But besides avoiding a losing record, the Chargers don't appear to have many young players not already contributing. Three of the team's seven 2019 draft picks -- defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and linebackers Drue Tranquill and Emeke Egbule -- played in last week's game against the Denver Broncos. Two others -- defensive back Nasir Adderley and defensive tackle Cortez Broughton -- landed on injured reserve earlier in the year and will not return before next season. Even undrafted rookies like Roderic Teamer and Jason Moore have received looks this season.
That leaves quarterback Easton Stick and offensive lineman Trey Pipkins as the only healthy draft picks without a snap last Sunday. Stick, a fifth-round pick out of FCS North Dakota State, current ranks third on the depth chart behind Philip Rivers and Tyrod Taylor and has yet to play a regular-season snap. Even if the coaching staff decided to make a change under center, Stick would not garner consideration to start at this time.
Pipkins' situation looks different, however. While the third-round pick out of Division II school Sioux Falls remains raw, he has appeared in 11 games this season, starting one (Week 11's loss to the Chiefs) and playing the vast majority of another (Week 10's defeat against the Oakland Raiders). The Chargers expect Pipkins to develop into a full-time starter at some point in the future, and it might make sense to give him opportunities now with the season effectively over and starting left tackle Russell Okung battling a groin injury.
However, the coaching staff has other young offensive linemen to consider. The Chargers think highly enough of Sam Tevi that they tabbed him as the preferred starter at right tackle in 2018, his second year in the league. A knee injury forced Tevi to miss two games earlier this season and briefly sidelined him during Sunday's loss to the Broncos, but he appears set to finish out the year as the starter.
Los Angeles also has Trent Scott, a second-year pro who began this season as the starting left tackle. Scott has 10 starts under his belt and played well in his last one, allowed zero sacks or pressures against the Chiefs two weeks ago. Lynn singled out the performance for praise unprompted last Friday: "I thought Trent Scott played pretty good."
With Tevi and Scott both ahead of Pipkins in the pecking order and vying for roles on the Chargers next season, it seems unlikely Pipkins will see much action the rest of 2019 absent injuries clearing a path. But while nothing can fully replicate the experience of playing in an NFL game, Pipkins can still develop alongside his teammates during practice.
As for the players who will see the field over the next four weeks, Lynn expects them to keep their foot on the gas pedal with or without a trip to the postseason on the line.
"We're going to finish, we're going to fight," Lynn says. "I told them football is like life. We've been knocked down, but we're going to get the hell up. It's very important how we finish this season. It says a lot about our character as a coaching staff and a team."
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH