COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Chargers open 2021 NFL training camp on July 28 at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
What does quarterback Justin Herbert need to do to build on his rookie success?
I’ve been told Herbert has been working extremely hard in this, his first real offseason after the COVID-19 pandemic made last offseason completely virtual. He's exceptionally smart (was an academic Heisman winner) and dedicated to becoming great after setting an NFL rookie record with 31 touchdown passes last season.
He is learning another new system after the Chargers' coaching change, but a lot of it remains from last year and new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has been impressed. Herbert needs to have this system down, to the footwork and the calls and the release of the ball. He didn't have an in-person offseason last year, so he is hungry and ready to build on his 4,336 yards passing and 66.6 percent completion percentage from 2020. Herbert is determined to be better with calls and changes at the line and has his receivers champing at the bit to get out there with him.
What does the newly-built offensive line need to do to improve?
The team totally retooled the offensive line, which was necessary since the Chargers' line rated near the bottom of the league last season. The team went out and got Green Bay Packers All-Pro center, Corey Linsley, and his leadership has already started to pay off. Then they added former Pittsburgh Steelers left guard Matt Feiler and Detroit Lions lineman Oday Aboushi. The Chargers further addressed the line in the draft when they got Northwestern's Rashawn Slater in the first round with the No. 13 pick. Slater is regarded by some as the best offensive lineman in the draft, even over Oregon's Penei Sewell, who was picked by the Detroit Lions at No. 7. They also added Brenden Jaimes out of Nebraska in the fifth round.
Herbert was sacked 32 times last year (tying him at No. 9 with the Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow) and the Chargers know they can't let that happen again ... and have put the right people in front of him. Protecting Herbert is of utmost importance, but an improved line would also help a running game whose 3.8 yards per carry was the third-worst in the NFL. That's got to change, too.
What will the coaching staff bring and what's a realistic expectation?
Brandon Staley, formerly the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, has put together what he believes is an all-star staff, complete with Lombardi (grandson of you know who and who has worked extensively with Drew Brees). Staley also kept Griff Smith, who has coached the Chargers' defensive line the past five seasons. Smith worked wonders with Joey Bosa and has coached four players to a total of nine Pro Bowls.
The staff is young, hungry and already implementing new ideas and thought processes, which the players are raving about. It's an entirely new vibe and attitude and one that should make the defense lively and active and the offense upbeat and optimistic. We shall see, of course, but the future looks (at least on paper) bright. After losing nine one-score games in 2019 and squandering five double-digit leads in the first half of last season, change would be good.