Settled in after relocation, Chargers eye playoff contention
COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — A year ago at this time, the Los Angeles Chargers’ lives were still unsettled amid the upheaval of their franchise relocation season. Some were still looking for houses, and others needed to get kids into school.
When Philip Rivers and his teammates reported to the same sunny spot Saturday for the first practice their second training camp in Orange County, pretty much everyone was feeling perfectly at home.
“Now it’s just football,” Rivers said. “There’s not as much wondering about schedules and what the practice field was going to be like. There’s not as much of that uncertainty. It’s all football now. There’s definitely a level of comfort that I think we have now and we can just put our focus on the field.”
A year after leaving San Diego, the Chargers are eager to take another shot at living up to their enormous potential. Although they already lost two key players to injuries before training camp even began, the Bolts are aware they’re still a popular pick to be a playoff team and likely even a Super Bowl contender.
Those are nothing less than the Chargers’ own internal expectations, and they’re much more interested in proving themselves right.
“We just want to be the team we know we can be,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “Yeah, expectations are high, but we make them higher than other people make them.”
The 36-year-old Rivers has started every game for the Chargers since 2006, and he realizes he has fewer and fewer shots at reaching his first Super Bowl. He won the AFC West and appeared in playoff games during each of his first four seasons as a starter, but the Bolts have made the playoffs just once since that run ended in 2009.
Rivers understands the excitement around the Chargers after their 9-3 finish to last season. He even welcomes it.
“It’s interesting, because it’s been a while,” Rivers said. “I’ve been on some teams here that had those expectations, and we went out and did it year after year there for a while. It’s been a long time, though. There aren’t many guys that have been through that on this team. ... We know there are a lot of expectations outside. We have those same expectations on the inside.”
The Chargers return with remarkable continuity from last season’s team, with veteran center Mike Pouncey joining a largely unchanged offense and rookie safety Derwin James moving into a solid defense. Their biggest personnel losses happened recently, and did nothing to shake the Chargers’ reputation for soul-crushing injury problems: tight end Hunter Henry was lost for the season in May, and former Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett tore his Achilles tendon Friday in a conditioning test.
The coaching staff also stayed essentially intact, with second-year head coach Anthony Lynn keeping coordinators Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley. Lynn said he feels more confident as a head coach after getting through his first year in good form — and even finishing up his college degree along the way.
“I definitely feel a little bit more comfortable knowing what to expect, not moving and not living out of boxes, knowing where we’re going to training camp, and (having a) similar coaching staff and players,” Lynn said.
Although the stands at Jack Hammett Sports Complex were filled with an estimated 7,000 fans for the first practice, the Chargers realize they’ve still got plenty of work to do if they hope to win over the Los Angeles marketplace in the coming years — particularly with the Los Angeles Rams looking like a potential Super Bowl team as well. Fielding a winning team this fall would be the most potent way to do it, the Bolts players and coaches agree.
But after four consecutive non-playoff seasons, and after the challenges of their relocation year, the Chargers are grateful to settle in for a few weeks of training camp with their thoughts on nothing bigger than the next practice or scrimmage.
Rivers even had a catchphrase for it: “Enjoy the boring.”