LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 28, Jack Hammett Sports Complex, Costa Mesa, California
LAST YEAR: Bolts’ relocation season ended just short of playoff berth with impressive 9-3 finish under new coach Anthony Lynn following 0-4 start. LA’s new team had one of NFL’s most impressive offenses, with Philip Rivers and receiver Keenan Allen headlining gifted group of playmakers. Chargers finished fourth with 376.6 yards per game, and plus-12 turnover margin was third. Offensive line also allowed NFL-low 18 sacks. Defense rounded into form along with offense, with shutdown cornerback Casey Hayward and pass-rushing stars Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram leading group that finished third by allowing 197.2 yards per game against pass. Chargers won final five games at tiny StubHub Center, even establishing something close to home-field advantage. They barely missed first playoff berth since 2013.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: C Mike Pouncey, TE Virgil Green, S Derwin James, LB Uchenna Nwosu, QB Geno Smith, K Caleb Sturgis.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Tre Boston, TE Antonio Gates, DL Jeremiah Attaochu.
CAMP NEEDS: Staying healthy has been almost impossible for Chargers in recent years, and they’ve already lost budding star TE Hunter Henry to season-ending knee injury from non-contact drill in May. They’ll look for new starting tight end in camp, and it’s imperative to get to regular season with no additional serious injuries — and enough momentum to improve on last year’s 0-4 start. Defense that frequently struggled against run must sharpen approach, and tackle Brandon Mebane could help immensely with bounce-back season. Bolts must figure out whether No. 7 overall pick Mike Williams is ready to be regular receiver after injury-shortened rookie year. They must find solid kicker after failing to do so last year, with Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo headlining competition.
EXPECTATIONS: If Chargers pick up where they left off, they have components of Super Bowl contender. They return with above-average franchise quarterback, Pro Bowl receiver and elite talent at nearly every important position, including two of NFL’s best pass rushers and two of its top cornerbacks if Jason Verrett returns from injury at full strength. Another major injury could scramble forecast, but franchise that has won one playoff game and one AFC West title in past decade seems capable of much more this fall.
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