SAN DIEGO — Less than three weeks prior to their Monday night season opener against Houston at Qualcomm Stadium on Sept. 9, the Chargers have many more questions than they do answers.
The most-asked question has to do with the injuries that have knocked players out for the season — WR Denario Alexander, possibly linebacker Melvin Ingram — and the various other maladies that could cause players like rookie linebacker Manti Te’o to miss the rest of the exhibition season and possibly the opener with a foot injury. The highly touted Te’o — projected to be a starter — has been available for just nine snaps so far in the pre-season.
With so many key players gone or unavailable, it brings up an entirely new set of questions for rookie coach Mike McCoy and his staff: How are they supposed to put a competitive team on the field when every practice or games seems to bring a new injury?
“If it isn’t handled the right way,” McCoy said, “it could sound like the same thing over and over. So, what we’re trying to do is put the negative behind us and continue to improve and get better with every practice, every game. Even with the injuries, we still have a talented football team.
“We’ve got to move on. We’re at the point in the (pre) season that we have to learn from every mistake we make. We can’t keep making the same mistakes over and over and not correct them. We can’t just correct them on game day. That doesn’t work. Injuries or not, we have to teach the players the system we want to run on offense and defense, and keep progressing.”
Progress isn’t what you would call the last three seasons for the Chargers as they have missed the playoffs for the last three years despite having one of the best quarterbacks in the game running the show.
Yes, Philip Rivers — who has two years and $31 million remaining on his contract after the 2013 season — has struggled the past few years and proved to be every bit as inconsistent as his teammates. But if you give Rivers a healthy, competent offensive line and some good receivers, there’s no reason he can’t return to his All Pro — a form that has made him the sixth-rated passer in the history of the NFL (94.5 ranking).
Another disappointing year team-wise or personally could cause the Chargers to begin the post-Rivers era in 2014.
McCoy has given Rivers the proper respect his accomplishments have brought him, allowing his QB to keep some of the same plays and same terminology that were used under previous coach Norv Turner.
But this week, Rivers sounded apprehensive when asked to evaluate the Chargers and their rebuilding effort.
“Well, we obviously have to get healthy,” he said. “Hopefully we’re getting our run of injuries out of the way early. But this game (at Arizona) is too small of a sample-size to figure what we’re going to be or how different. I think that builds over the course of a season. If you’re looking to see how much better we’re going to be, I don’t know if you’ll see it Saturday night.
“The biggest way I’d hope we’re different this year is that we commit less turnovers and we win more games.