Chargers say inexperience doesn’t matter in playoff return
COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Van Noy already has been everywhere the Los Angeles Chargers are trying to go on their franchise’s first playoff trip in four years, and the veteran linebacker wants his new teammates to know their postseason inexperience means absolutely nothing on this journey.
“It’s just about who comes out there and plays better,” the two-time Super Bowl champion said Wednesday. “All the rest of it doesn’t matter. I’ve told these guys that it’s not about experience, and home-field advantage is a myth, too. Confidence matters, and that comes back to the preparation you’ve done.”
Van Noy earned his two rings with the New England Patriots and racked up 12 games of playoff experience — more than a good chunk of his Chargers teammates combined — during his first eight years in the NFL.
Los Angeles (10-7) is headed to Jacksonville on Saturday for the Bolts’ first playoff appearance since a two-game run after the 2018 season, which stands as the Chargers’ only playoff appearance since the 2013 season back in San Diego.
Justin Herbert’s showdown with Trevor Lawrence in both touted young quarterbacks’ playoff debuts will get most of the attention heading into the game in Jacksonville, but many players on both teams will be getting their first tastes of postseason pressure.
Just six Chargers remain from the 2018 playoff team, yet they comprise much of the current team’s core: receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, running back Austin Ekeler, pass-rusher Joey Bosa, safety Derwin James and cornerback Michael Davis.
“We’re such a different team since then, but we’re hungry every year,” Ekeler said. “That’s why we play the entire game, to get to the playoffs and continue to build on what we’re doing. Finally getting back, I feel like we have a lot of guys that have made a lot of leaps in their career. Justin is coming along, and we brought in veterans that can help us get there, and we finally put a product together.”
Other Chargers have playoff experience with other teams, but Van Noy doesn’t have to look far for an illustration of his belief in the unimportance of playoff experience.
“He’s told us, ‘Just look at Cincinnati last year,’” Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill said.
Indeed, the Bengals ended their franchise’s five-year postseason drought and rolled all the way to the Super Bowl last season thanks to a gifted young quarterback, an impressive collection of playmakers around him, and an opportunistic defense. The Chargers have all of those things, and Tranquill is among the young leaders eager to show they can handle their first taste of playoff pressure.
Tranquill, now a four-year NFL veteran, will be playing in his first postseason game since his 12-0 Fighting Irish were thrashed 30-3 by Lawrence’s Clemson Tigers in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl in December 2018.
“You know you’re always going to hear about playoff experience, but good things will happen for this team if we play our game,” Tranquill said. “Just got to play our brand of football.”
Defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill is telling his players all about the importance of seizing playoff opportunities. He made it to just one postseason game in his 10 years as an NFL player, and his sole playoff experience in 11 years as an assistant coach came during his three-year stint as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive backs coach.
“We know it’s a different temperature during the playoffs,” Hill said. “I know our guys are up for the challenge. I told them that it’s going to be a different feel.”
Left tackle Rashawn Slater is grateful to be back in practice this week. The Pro Bowl selection as a rookie hasn’t played since rupturing his biceps in Los Angeles’ loss to Jacksonville in late September.
“I always had the mindset that I would work hard and come back when I can come back this season, or I would get a good jump on the offseason,” Slater said. “Haven’t had a chance to go full-speed yet, but I’m working in the weight room, and I’m getting close.”
Coach Brandon Staley has already said Slater won’t play Saturday against the Jaguars, and Slater is uncertain whether he has a shot to play the following week if the Chargers win. Slater, the 13th overall pick in the 2021 draft, has been capably replaced by rookie Jamaree Salyer.
“I’m just kind of slowly working my way back into it,” Slater said.
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