Chargers OC Embraces 'Fun' Aspect of Revamping Offensive System
Jason B. Hirschhorn
LOS ANGELES -- With the quarterback room now set following the selection of Justin Herbert in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Chargers can fully anticipate the type of players around which they need to construct their offense this season.
That process began in earnest back in late December following the conclusion of a disappointing 2019 campaign. Head coach Anthony Lynn noted at the time that the offense would undergo a substantial revision during the offseason, the result of new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen having the time to comb through the playbook, identify what did and didn't work, and make alterations to the language. Steichen couldn't make those changes when he took over as play-caller in October.
"It's hard to take over a team in the middle of the season," Lynn said at his season-closing press conference. "You just assume that it's his offense, but it's not his offense. It's not his terminology. I thought he did a good job with what he had. We improved under a lot of different categories under him. I'm pleased with Shane."
Four months have passed since Lynn made those comments, and the Chargers already look considerably different. Longtime starting quarterback Philip Rivers departed through free agency while Tyrod Taylor became the front-runner to replace him. Herbert arrived as well, providing competition for whenever training camp begins.
Regardless of which quarterback starts Week 1, the offense will have to adjust to a significantly different skill set than the one Rivers brought to the table for more than a decade. That shift presents some challenges, but it also provides an opportunity for a young assistant coach to place his stamp on the offense.
"I don't if it's been a challenge as much as it's been fun," Steichen said during a conference call with media. "It's been fun. You know, doing certain things, putting in certain things, and all that."
Under former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, the Chargers offense operated primarily through shotgun and quick passes. Rivers routinely finished at or near the top of the league in pass attempts. That approach worked well for many years due to his ability to quickly survey the field and distribute the ball, but it limited the use of play-action and other forms of misdirection that have grown in popularity in recent seasons. Combined with Rivers' limited mobility, it forced the offense to look a particular way week to week.
The Chargers have put the onus on Steichen to change that. Lynn wants to use wide-zone runs, play-action, and work from under center more frequently in 2020, a combination of tactics that should boost the offense's passing efficiency while mitigating some of their protection concerns. Once fully implemented, the scheme will share more than a passing similarity to that of the San Francisco 49ers' Kyle Shanahan, the Los Angeles Rams' Sean McVay, and the other acolytes of Mike Shanahan, the coach under which Lynn got his NFL start.
But while the concepts make sense on paper, more goes into revamping an offense than simply committing to new principles.
"We're putting it all in, but we've got to rep it," Steichen said. "We've got to get these guys on the grass and rep the plays and go from there."
Steichen must also mold these offensive philosophies to the Chargers' personnel, particularly its quarterbacks. While Taylor has played in several offenses including multiple coached by Lynn, Herbert comes from Oregon's pistol-centric scheme that included virtually no snaps under center. To help the rookie acclimate to the NFL, Los Angeles' coaching staff wants to install some concepts and formations he used heavily in college.
Whether for Week 1 or at some point further down the line, Steichen must meld the concepts with which Herbert already understands with those that will make up the backbone of the Chargers' new offense. No easy task, but Steichen understands the importance of striking the proper balance.
"You want to build some things around what your quarterbacks do," Steichen said. "What your quarterbacks do, let's work to their strengths and build off that. And that's the same with all positions. You want to put your guys in position to be successful. Put your receivers in position for good matchups. Tight ends, running backs, whatever it is. Obviously, it starts with the quarterback."
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH