As the old adage goes, are you ready for some football?
Following three straight years of watching the playoffs from their living rooms, the San Diego Chargers opened training camp Thursday, hoping that the 2013 season under new head coach Mike McCoy and GM Tom Telesco brings better results.
In a division where the Denver Broncos are all but the clear favorite to win this season, the Chargers are hoping to turn a few heads in the AFC West. After capturing four straight AFC West crowns (2006-09), the Bolts have been saddled with mediocre results since then.
Taking Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker with the 11th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Chargers have been changing parts on a number of fronts since the 2012 season ended, letting a number of veterans move on to others teams, while also bringing in highly touted Notre Dame product Manti Te’o, along with veteran left tackle Max Starks (Steelers) and outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (Colts).
So, what are some of the questions Bolt fans are likely to have as the season officially kicks off with training camp at Chargers Park? Among the top ones:
* Can the offense truly put it together this year?
A number of factors led to the Chargers securing the next to last (Arizona) spot in the NFL a season ago in net total yardage. QB Philip Rivers was sacked an alarming 49 times (cue the bad offensive line music), running back Ryan Mathews has still yet to put together a Pro Bowl type season, and with Vincent Jackson piling up respectable numbers in Tampa Bay, the wide receiver threat for the Bolts was next to non-existent. The bottom line this fall is Rivers (10th season) needs to cut down on his interceptions (35 last two seasons), Mathews needs to stay healthy and be more productive (Ronnie Brown, Le’Ron McClain and newcomer Danny Woodhead will need to contribute), and one or more of the receivers needs to step forward and put up Pro Bowl type stats. If veteran tight end Antonio Gates can stay healthy and productive, all the better. Of course none of this works without the offensive line stepping it up, something it has not done in recent campaigns;
* Can the secondary shut down opposing quarterbacks?
It was no big secret around the league that throwing on the Chargers could get you some points and likely win you some games the last few seasons. With veterans Quentin Jammer (Broncos) and Antoine Cason (Cardinals) playing elsewhere in 2013, the focus will turn to third-year man Shareece Wright (first as a starter) at corner, pairing up with free agent Derek Cox (Jaguars). Of course Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle returns, but one man can’t do it alone;
* Is Mike McCoy ready to be a head coach?
After guiding Denver QB Peyton Manning to a stellar season a year ago, the former Broncos offensive coordinator (was with Carolina from 2000-08) gets his first shot at leading a team in 2013. All indications are that McCoy is ready for the gig, but of course time will tell if the hire was the right one for Dean Spanos. While the Bolts will not be favored to win the division in the eyes of most people, they should certainly be better than both the Chiefs and the Raiders. Should San Diego struggle to surpass those two teams, the decision to bring in McCoy may certainly get reviewed;
* Can we win with this schedule?
Lastly, is the 2013 schedule one the Chargers can be competitive with, even maybe win the AFC West on? After opening the season at home on Monday, Sept. 9 with the Texans, the Chargers hit the road for winnable yet tough tests in Philadelphia and Tennessee, before wrapping up the first month with a home date versus Dallas. The toughest run in the schedule looks to be the Nov. 3 – Dec. 8 run, where the Bolts meet the likes of the Redskins, Broncos (twice), Dolphins, Chiefs, Bengals and Giants. While Miami and Kansas City are not expected to be powerhouses this season, winning on the road at both places could prove difficult. Meantime, the Redskins, Broncos and Bengals were all playoff teams a year ago, while the Giants and Eli Manning always prove a test.
So, what are your predictions for this season’s team?
Can the Chargers get back to playoff form or will it be a fourth straight season of watching the playoffs from home?