With OTAs and minicamp now finished, the team is now on a break for the next month and a half until they report back in late July for training camp. It is a valuable and well-earned break away from football for players and staff, but there are a few things the team can do to set themselves up for success once camp rolls around.
Rookies - Stay in the playbook and mentally prepare for a long season
There is a fairly large learning curve from the NCAA to the NFL. For a few players in particular in the Chargers 2023 draft class, the team will be expecting them to contribute in a major way from the jump come September.
Quentin Johnston figures to be a pretty large part of a brand new offense for the Chargers. While the veterans will also be learning the new terminology and concepts, Johnston will be doing that on top of trying to build timing and trust with his new quarterback, Justin Herbert. He needs to take this time away from the practice field to learn as much of the playbook as possible so that when the team comes back together for training camp, he can make the most of the practice reps and focus on building that chemistry with Herbert.
Darius Davis figures to be the starting returner for both kickoffs and punts. As such, he not only needs to learn the play calls for the return game and the differences in the rules for the kicking game between college and the NFL, he needs to be picking up the offensive playbook, as well. As with most NFL teams, including the Chargers, they can’t really afford to keep a dedicated returner on their roster who can’t also contribute somewhere else.
Just like Davis, rookie linebacker Daiyan Henley will be featured heavily on special teams to start, but he also needs to be ready to fill in on a fairly complicated defense. The depth chart at linebacker is very thin and Henley needs to be ready for defensive snaps starting in Week 1.
On top of learning the playbook, the rookies need to be preparing mentally for the start of their NFL careers. Unlike college, they won’t have the forced distraction of classes, so they need to make sure they have a plan in place to not only stay focused on football, but not burn out on it, as well. Many of them will also be moving far away from the support system they had around them over the last 4 years of college and will need to make sure they, and their families, have a plan in place to be able to support each other.
Veterans - Get healthy and get motivated
I’m knocking on wood as I type this, but THANKFULLY, the Chargers have avoided any serious injury thus far in the offseason.
The coaching staff has taken a very cautious approach in the early phases of the offseason and any player who hasn’t been 100%, including Herbert who continues to go complete his prescribed rehab, has been held out of all or portions of practice to make sure that any of the lingering issues or minor new issues aren’t aggravated in any way. Brandon Staley and his staff have made it clear that while these early practice sessions are important, priority number one is having 90 healthy players ready for the start of training camp.
Herbert is doing very well and is right on schedule with his recovery from injuries sustained last season. He needs to continue with his rehab so that when training camp starts he can trust both his body and the staff around him.
There are a few other starting veterans like Mike Williams, Josh Palmer, Austin Johnson, and J.C. Jackson that are rehabbing as well and need to be ready when it comes time for training camp.
All of the veterans, however, should spend some time, likely near the end of this break, to pop in the tape of the playoff game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, skip ahead to the second half, and watch every snap. They need to put that feeling and all those memories in their minds and use it as fuel to come into camp ready to be better than they’ve ever been.
Coaches/Front Office - Take an honest look at the depth chart, continue to refine the playbook, and wrap up outstanding contract items
The coaching staff and front office need to start with taking an honest look at the depth chart. Coaches have to have faith, and outwardly show that faith, in players on their team. However, this roster has a few position groups that would appear to be a bit thin to even the casual fan. The cornerback group, the safety group, and the offensive tackle group are all very important positions to this team and all of them, at least on paper, feel VERY top heavy. The team has a bit of cap space to work with (around $12.5M according to overthecap.com) which means now is the time to make an addition if they feel one is needed. Before injuries start to creep up and those available names start quickly becoming unavailable.
Staley, Derrick Ansley, and Kellen Moore need to put the finishing touches on their playbooks. Both Moore and Staley strike me as the type that are constantly evolving and improving their playbooks and now is the time to make final changes. They’ve seen a bit of what the new additions to the team can do, at least in shorts and helmets, and they’ve had time to go back over tape from last year and likely take an early peek at tape from their opponents for this year. Bouncing ideas off of each other and refining things now so that they can come up with their plan for how and when to install these packages in camp can be finalized is extremely important.
Finally, to minimize distractions going into camp, this front office needs to get second round pick Tuli Tuipulotu, the only unsigned 2023 draft pick in their class, signed. They also need to get Justin Herbert’s deal finalized. Tuipulotu’s deal is obviously a much smaller undertaking with so many of the terms mandated by the collective bargaining agreement. However, Herbert’s deal has been in the works for quite some time. Based on the questions he, Staley, and Tom Telesco get every time they come to the podium, it’s becoming a bigger talking point and distraction the longer it drags on. I don’t think Herbert is the type to hold-in or hold-out but the front office really needs to get this wrapped up sooner rather than later, both for this season and beyond.
The entire organization - Enjoy some time off
With all of that said, possibly the most important thing that the entire organization needs to do is actually enjoy some of their time off. The NFL season is long, stressful both mentally and physically, and far from easy. The players and all of the staff should really focus on turning off their football lives for a few weeks to decompress and re-charge for the year ahead.