Training camp is officially underway, with the Chargers practicing at Chargers Park and preparing for their first preseason game. The team enters camp looking to improve on their 9-7 record and first playoff appearance since 2009.
Will the Chargers pick up where they left off last year, after winning four-straight to end the season and sneak into the playoffs? Or will the tougher schedule and higher expectations lead to different results? Only time will tell, but for now, training camp should give us a better idea of what to expect.
And here's the rest of the rundown...
3rd Down: How good will the offense be?
The 2013 Chargers had a quick turnaround from a dismal 2012 campaign, after an offensive overhaul constructed by Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt led to a magnificent season for the offense, which helped Philip Rivers win Comeback Player of the Year, and #1 on our Most Valuable Chargers rankings.
With one of the more efficient offenses in the league, the Chargers ranked 5th in offensive points per drive, 1st in time of possession, and 2nd in offensive DVOA. However, this unit was 23rd in TD's scored in the red zone, as the offense averaged 2.6 TD's per game.
However, Whisenhunt is now the head coach in Tennessee for the Titans.
No Whisenhunt? No Problem.
Rivers looks to continue his career as one of the better quarterbacks in the league, as he enters his 2nd year under McCoy's system, with Frank Reich as his new coordinator. Reich brings not only the opportunity for this offense to maintain continuity, but also further develop the foundation that was established last year with the new regime.
In 2013, the revamped offensive line surrendered 30 sacks, after Rivers got sacked 49 times the year before. First-rounder D.J. Fluker comes to camp with a little more experience after his rookie season went well for him, while Nick Hardwick remains the anchor of this line, along with two of the other five starters from last year's line in camp, after Jeromey Clary was placed on the PUP list.
The continuity that the line provides will be a big factor in this offenses' success, and whether it can be better than last year.
The run game should still be heavily featured, with Ryan Mathews still be the main ball-carrier, and Donald Brown possibly being used in short-yard situations, along with spelling Mathews. Danny Woodhead recently receiving a two-year contract extension, as he became a reliable contributor to the backfield last year.
Mathews and Woodhead combined for 2,478 total yards and 15 total TD's last year, while Brown had 751 total yards and scored eight times. With this three-headed monster, along with a passing offense that features Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, and a Rivers-led offense, this unit has the potential to be quite exceptional.
However, the one dimension that this offense lacked was speed, which was one of the areas the Chargers wanted to improve this off-season.
So, with that in mind...
4th Down: Did Tom Telesco make this team faster?
Tom Telesco took notice, as he said he wanted to add speed to this team.
The additions of Jason Verrett and Jeremiah Attaochu should help the defense, after they clocked in 40-yard dash times of 4.38 and 4.58 seconds, respectively. Here's a pic of Attaochu running at his pro day.
At 6'3, and 252 pounds, Attaochu has great intangibles, so long as they can translate to the NFL level. The experience he will gain from Dwight Freeney, while learning to improve as a pass-rusher, will afford him the opportunity to become someone really special for the Chargers.
Last year, the Chargers didn't have a lot of big plays on offense. Rivers averaged 7.5 net yards per passing play, with his longest pass coming on a 60-yard touchdown to Green, so adding someone with speed to a unit that had no one in the top 50 of longest receptions in the NFL last year could take this offense to the next level.
Seventh round pick Tevin Reese could be that someone, as his blazing speed could make him a candidate to contribute on this offense.
At 5'10, 170 pounds, Reese possesses the speed that made him one of the most electrifying wide-outs in college football the last three years. His 21 career touchdowns of 40-plus yards set not only a school record, but an NCAA record as well.
His big play potential should turn some heads during training camp, but he will more than likely have a better chance of making the team as a kick returner.
A potential break-out season looms over third-year tight end Ladarius Green, after showing flashes last year while accumulating 206 yards and 2 TD's in a three-game stretch. With his combination of size and speed, not to mention doing this in the playoffs, he can add a lot of speed to this offense, and become a legitimate threat in the passing game.
Training camp should tell us whether Telesco was able to accomplish what he wanted to do this off-season; making the Bolts into a faster team.
Because, if the Chargers look to take the next step as contenders this year, the added speed on both sides of the ball should certainly help.