32 to 1: No. 16 Chargers need to turn up the heat right from Week 1

The Chargers were one of the NFL’s biggest surprises in 2013, bouncing back from a 5-7 start to win their final four regular-season games, qualify for the playoffs and shock the Bengals in the wild-card round.

They were relatively quiet during GM Tom Telesco’s second offseason, focusing more on re-signing key contributors than making a big splash on the free-agent market. The Chargers re-signed linebacker Donald Butler and guard Chad Rinehart, and center Nick Hardwick announced he’d return for an 11th season in San Diego. The Chargers’ offensive line — bolstered by the additions of Hardwick, King Dunlap and rookie DJ Fluker in 2013 — will return all five starters in 2014. That’s music to quarterback Philip Rivers’ ears as stability on the offensive line hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of his 10 years in San Diego. 

Though it didn’t make headlines, Telesco was also able to craftily restructure deals with high-priced veterans Dwight Freeney, Jarret Johnson and Eddie Royal.

Wide receiver Vincent Brown, entering his fourth NFL season, created significant buzz with his play and form throughout the team’s recent OTA sessions. If he can be what the Chargers fans have long hoped for, the receiving tandem of Brown and second-year wideout Keenan Allen could end up being one of the sneakiest, if not most dangerous, young receiving duos in the league. Tight end Antonio Gates is back and reportedly healthy, and wide receiver Malcolm Floyd is still on the depth chart, as well. 

The drafting of Jason Verrett in the first round and the signing of free agent Brandon Flowers provides depth at cornerback, one of the team’s weaker spots a season ago. Neither player will necessarily start in Week 1 — Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright could be the top two corners in San Diego — but both will undoubtedly make an impact in John Pagano’s defense. Donald Brown joins the Chargers as an additional running back option alongside Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead. Consistency and depth were the keys to the 2014 offseason, and there’s no reason to believe the Chargers can’t play all of this season like they did toward the end of 2013.  

In a division with Super Bowl contenders Kansas City and Denver and much-improved Oakland, San Diego will need to be more than just a second-half team. The Chargers will need to bring it from Week 1.