COSTA MESA, CA- After winning nine of their final 12 regular season games in 2017, the Los Angeles Chargers have high expectations for 2018. L.A. finished second in the AFC West with a 9-7 overall record after an 0-4 start. The Chargers missed the playoffs due to tiebreakers, but drastically improved upon their 2016 5-11 record.
Hundreds of Charger fans lined up Saturday morning outside the Jack Hammett Sports Complex to watch training camp kick off, and weren’t disappointed. Bolts legend LaDainian Tomlinson addressed the crowd as players took the field for the first time in 2018.
Quarterback Philip Rivers, entering his 15th season, will try to lead the NFL’s number one passing offense back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. “As we go into this year, everybody’s excited,” he said. “I believe we have a chance to have a special team.”
Other returners include Pro Bowl wideout Keenan Allen, who became the first player in NFL history with 10 plus receptions, 100 plus receiving yards and one plus receiving touchdown in three consecutive games last season. Travis Benjamin and 2017 first round pick Mike Williams, who played only 234 snaps in 2017 before a season-ending knee injury, highlight the rest of an explosive receiving core.
Williams missed camp last season, but returned to the field Saturday. “He did a couple great things in one-on-ones and ran a few good routes in teams,” Allen said of Williams. “He just has to pick up on the speed of the game, which will come with time.”
Starting tight end Hunter Henry went down with an ACL injury the first day of OTAs, and is out for the season. The Chargers are expected to utilize free agent signing Virgil Green, who started every regular season game last year for the Denver Broncos. General Manager Tom Telesco has also discussed a potential reunion with Antonio Gates, who remains unsigned after 15 seasons wearing number 85 for the Bolts.
“I’d be super excited if 85 trotted back out here at some point,” Rivers said. “If not, we believe in the young guys we have.”
Leading the ground attack for the Chargers is 2016 Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon. For the first time in his career, Gordon rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2017.
On the defensive side, 2015 Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett tore his achilles in a conditioning test and is out for the season. Verrett has missed time the past two seasons with knee injuries, making Friday’s events even tougher for the Bolts.
“We all know hard Jason’s worked to come back,” head coach Anthony Lynn said.
Allen added, “it was devastating, unexpected and emotional, especially for him.”
Desmond King and Trevor Williams are expected to fill Verrett’s role. Second-rounder Forrest Lamp missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL, but is expected to be back in 2018.
Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram form a frightening edge rush, while Casey Hayward remains one of football’s best corners. Telesco addressed holes in the Chargers’ defense through the draft, adding Florida State’s Derwin James in the first round, linebacker Uchenna Nwosu in the second round and tackle Justin Jones in the third.
James was held out of camp Saturday with a lower hamstring injury, but is expected to be ready for the season. Lynn enters his second season as head coach in 2018, with the Charges expected to be major competitors to win the AFC.
“Expectations are the same, they haven’t changed one bit,” Lynn said.