For head coach Brandon Staley and his Los Angeles Chargers, the 2021 season ended in disappointment. The team with the stud young quarterback and so much hype failed to make the playoffs, even after a heroic effort in the final game of the season against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Coach Staley looked at how the season played out, looked at his roster, and together with general manager Tom Telesco, put together a plan for how to assemble the team that could execute his vision and win.
The first, and biggest, deficiency that needed correcting was the defense. The run defense was terrible in 2021 and because of that, the pass defense couldn’t be where it needed to be either. So the Chargers went about fixing things by bringing in proven veterans, and more specifically, veterans that knew Staley’s scheme.
Free agency and trade acquisitions
The Chargers traded for Khalil Mack not only to help bolster the pass rush, but to bring in a force against the run as well. Mack is familiar with Staley’s scheme from his time on the Chicago Bears and has fully bought into Staley’s philosophy and vision.
Then they brought in Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox on the defensive line, more players who have played for Staley who have a proven track record of performing in that scheme in ways the Chargers failed to last year.
Staley also had Telesco bring in Troy Reader at linebacker and Bryce Callahan at cornerback to complete the act of “getting the band back together” with players that Staley knows and respects.
But they weren’t done there.
Telesco kept working the phones and brought in one of the best cornerbacks in the league in J.C. Jackson. Not since Antonio Cromartie have the Chargers had a CB on the roster with the ball-hawking skills that Jackson brings.
They brought in Kyle Van Noy to add a veteran leader to the locker room and linebacker group who has performed on some of the best defenses in the league and has Super Bowl experience.
To finish out the veteran additions on defense, the team also brought in defensive tackle Austin Johnson, another stout interior defensive lineman who performed better vs. the run than any Chargers defender last season.
The team also used free agency to fill a few more holes on the team outside of defense.
With openings at kick returner, long snapper, and tight end, the Chargers brought in WR/KR DeAndre Carter, LS Josh Harris, and TE Gerald Everett, all of whom figure to contribute in meaningful ways to the team this season.
The 2022 NFL Draft was a good one for the Los Angeles Chargers, in that it looks as if they were able to plug a few more of the holes that impacted the team last season.
Their first-round pick, guard Zion Johnson from Boston College, was ranked by some as the top interior offensive lineman in the draft, and will be starting at right guard for the Chargers this year. The early reports on him from training camp, and what he’s shown in the preseason games so far, suggest a pro-ready guard who already looks like an upgrade over what the Chargers had there last season.
With no second-round pick, thanks to the trade for Khalil Mack, the Chargers had to wait until the third round to make their next selection, and they grabbed the rangy safety from Baylor, JT Woods. He is a bit more of a project, but he has all the physical tools to be a ball-hawking free safety to secure the top of the Chargers defense.
In the fourth round, the Chargers selected the youngest player in the draft, running back Isaiah Spiller, a big, tough, but surprisingly shifty runner to come in and hopefully secure the RB 2 spot on the Chargers roster.
They also were able to add depth to various vital positions, including defensive tackle Otito Ogbonnia, guard Jamaree Salyer, defensive backs Deane Leonard and Ja’Sir Taylor, and a very athletic FB in Zander Horvath.
Another big step for the Chargers is being able to take their playbook to the next level with another year in the scheme.
On offense, Justin Herbert is now able to have a second year in the same system for the first time in his NFL career. This means rather than spending this offseason learning the playbook, Herbert and the offense are able to learn how to tweak and improve what they already know. Checkdowns and audibles will be easier to recognize. Snap counts and pre-snap activity can be played with more. Option plays will be faster reads. All of those things that really make an offense click and excel are able to be worked on this offseason, and it should show when they get on the field this season.
The defense will also have these benefits. The star players the Chargers already had will have another year in this complicated system and should be more easily making reads on plays and more instinctually aware of their responsibilities. But they also filled some deficiencies in player skills with some of the veterans they brought in, most of whom are already familiar with the scheme, which will allow Brandon Staley to take off more of the training wheels and more fully implement his “grey” defense.
With the holes on the roster the Chargers were able to fill and another year of experience for many of the players, as well as freshman head coach Staley, the expectations for the Chargers are very high. On paper, this team is one of the most talented rosters in the National Football League. But that is on paper. They still have to go out and perform on Sundays.
Even though we are only entering Staley’s second year as head coach, there are already people saying the team should move on.
Even though Herbert has set numerous quarterback records for the first two years of his young career, there are people saying he is a fraud because the Chargers haven’t made the playoffs.
The expectations on this team are sky high. Only time will tell if the changes this offseason are enough to get them over the hump and allow them to meet these expectations.