COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) The Chargers’ advertising campaign in their relocation season is built around what they call the ”Fight for LA.”
Realizing that the Los Angeles Rams have a head start in the nation’s second-largest market, the Chargers humbly characterize their move north from San Diego as a battle for the heart and attention of a city that did just fine without the NFL for 21 years.
That hypothetical tussle with the Rams will be much easier to win if the Bolts can make a quick surge into playoff contention this fall.
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Quarterback Philip Rivers thinks he has the team to do it.
”We’ve got a lot of work to do, but at the same time, we’re confident about a lot of things,” said Rivers, who hasn’t missed a game in 11 consecutive seasons as the Chargers’ starter.
”There’s a lot of talent on this roster, and it’s up to us to get the most out of it. Relocation, you can’t use that as an excuse. It’s up to us as players and coaches.”
Although the roster remained remarkably stable after two straight dismal seasons, much else is new for the Chargers as they start their serious work in Orange County.
First-time head coach Anthony Lynn was hired on the same day as the Chargers’ relocation announcement, and the longtime assistant has an experienced staff around him led by offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, two former NFL head coaches.
Lynn has a steely leadership style shaped by mentors Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells and Rex Ryan, among others. He is confident in the Chargers’ ability to handle the uncertainties of relocation by relying on their veteran leaders.
”We’re never going to use the move as an excuse,” Lynn said. ”This is about these guys during the games. All the rest of the time doesn’t matter.”
The Chargers have won only nine games in the past two years, but injuries played a major role in their flops under former coach Mike McCoy.
Injuries have already hit Lynn’s Chargers in training camp with the absences of their top two draft picks – receiver Mike Williams and offensive lineman Forrest Lamp – and starting middle linebacker Denzel Perryman.
But Rivers sees the ingredients for a winner in this relocated franchise, starting with a long list of offensive playmakers and a revamped line to protect him.
Here are more things to watch when the relocation season begins in a Monday night trip to Denver:
NEW DIGS: After finally fleeing dilapidated Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the Chargers are getting used to their unusual new home: StubHub Center, the 27,000-seat soccer stadium south of downtown Los Angeles, where they’ll play for the next three years. Their preseason games showed off an earnest effort by the Chargers to create an intimate entertainment experience for the fans lucky enough to get tickets. If the Chargers are good, they could build a remarkable home-field advantage – and if they’re not, an opponent’s fans could take over the stands without much trouble.
BLIND SIDE: The Chargers’ offensive line struggled last season, and Rivers threw a career-high 21 interceptions. So Los Angeles signed left tackle Russell Okung to protect the star while reconfiguring much of the line around him. The result should be markedly improved, and it could even boost the running game for Melvin Gordon after his strong sophomore season.
WAITING GAME: The Chargers chose Williams with the seventh overall pick, but the Clemson product hurt his back in rookie camp and hasn’t practiced since. He is making enough progress to allow him to stay on LA’s active roster, but he won’t practice for at least the opening week of the regular season. The Chargers are hoping he’ll get healthy enough to make an impact early.
DEFENSE DECISIONS: Bradley earned a head coaching job by coordinating Seattle’s dominant defense, and he built another powerhouse in Jacksonville before getting fired largely due to the offense’s ineptitude.
Bradley can create his unit in LA around Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, two of the best pass-rushers in the league. He also has Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward, two of the best man-to-man cover cornerbacks. When Perryman returns midway through the season, the Chargers’ spine should be strong.
ON THE ROAD: Rivers and his wife decided to stay in their family home in San Diego with their eight children, which means the quarterback is a commuter this season.
He’ll make the 90-mile drive on the I-5 three times per week in a luxurious $200,000 RV custom-fitted with equipment for film study. Not many of his teammates will need to hitch a ride – almost everybody else is starting a new adventure up north.
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