Can new Chargers OC Kellen Moore thrive after inglorious Dallas exit?

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- This spring, during the Los Angeles Chargers' offseason program and early installation period of new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s system, receiver Keenan Allen offered a prediction about what to expect from the offense this season.

“We’re probably going to be going deep,” the 11-year pro said, grinning.

As the Chargers wrap up training camp and turn to their opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 10 at SoFi Stadium, it’s safe to expect that if all goes to plan, Allen’s prediction will come to fruition.

Now eight months into the job and with his first season in L.A. quickly approaching, Moore has implemented a system that has players on both sides of the football excited about its potential.

“He’s young, knows how to get us the ball and how to move us all around, getting everyone involved,” receiver Mike Williams said about Moore. “That’s the main thing -- defense is sometimes keying in on certain players so you’ve got to adjust, and he does a good job of putting us in certain spots so the defense can’t key on us.”

Defensive players who practice daily against the scheme have taken notice.

“They do a lot of stuff that messes with certain rules and they move around a lot,” defensive lineman Morgan Fox explained. “They let [quarterback Justin] Herbert throw ... and do what they do and get the running backs open, get them moving. They have great run-game mechanics. It's been a challenge every day.”

After a disappointing 31-30 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a wild-card playoff that resulted in a stunning end to the 2022 season, the Chargers fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi to seek a coordinator who would upend a conservative scheme that averaged 22.47 points per game (ranked 10th in the NFL) and install one that instead creates more explosive opportunities and points.

The Chargers interviewed numerous candidates before Moore became available several days after the Dallas Cowboys' 19-12 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

After eight seasons with the Cowboys, including three as a player, one as a quarterbacks coach and four as the offensive coordinator -- where he was named to the position under former coach Jason Garrett, then retained the position under coach Mike McCarthy -- it became time to move on.

“As we went through the process, sometimes change can be really good for all of us,” said Moore, whose tenure as coordinator included two playoff appearances. “And I felt like I was in that space. It works for both sides.”

The longtime playcaller while head coach of the Green Bay Packers, McCarthy will now resume the role of playcaller in Dallas. Less than 24 hours after the news of his departure, Moore found a new home with the Chargers, where a year earlier he and coach Brandon Staley began fostering a relationship during a pair of joint training camp practices.

“He has a great feel of how to fit in to the team aspect of playing and knowing how to utilize the team in front of them and how that fits into the greater scope of things,” Staley said.

Players have quickly taken to the calm and collected Moore, whom several described as relatable given that he starred at quarterback at Boise State and turned 34 years old last month.

“He's been incredible,” Herbert said about Moore. “He's played the game quite a bit, as well. He's got a great feel for the game. Just the meeting rooms, on the field, you pick up a lot from him.”

Said left tackle Rashawn Slater: “Very intense and very precise in how he wants everything. Very detail-oriented. ... As professionals, we all appreciate that approach.”

Moore, who for four consecutive seasons helped the Cowboys to a top-four ranking in points per game, yards per game and third-down percentage, inherits a group that features players with starting experience at all 11 positions -- led by Herbert, who set a new benchmark through a player’s first three NFL seasons with 14,089 passing yards, Allen, Williams and running back Austin Ekeler.

“It gives you a toolbox,” Moore said of Herbert and the tools he possesses. “It allows us to make adjustments within the game based off the defensive look.”

However, despite his arm strength, since entering the NFL in 2020, Herbert has ranked 28th in percentage of passes of 15-plus yards -- an area of his game that is expected to improve sharply under Moore given his arsenal of playmakers.

The Bolts also return receiver Joshua Palmer, who led the position group with 72 catches last season while Allen and Williams nursed injuries, and added former TCU receiver Quentin Johnston -- who is expected to stretch the field -- with a first-round pick in last April’s draft.

Improving the run game also is an area of focus after the Chargers ranked 30th last season in yards per rush (3.8) and rushing yards per game (89.6).

“As far as what we have going,” said Ekeler, who led the league with 18 touchdowns last season, “I feel really good about it.”

The Chargers have sat starters for their preseason games, opting to play it safe in attempt to reach the regular season healthy, leaving only training camp practices, an intrasquad scrimmage and two joint workouts against the New Orleans Saints as opportunities to truly test the offense -- which has routinely demonstrated efficiency and explosiveness during routine practices.

During the intrasquad scrimmage early in camp, the offense struggled with protection, causing Herbert to settle for short checkdown passes and rarely attempting a deep ball.

Then, during a pair of joint practices against the Saints, the unit turned in a pair of uneven days that included some spectacular Day 1 highlights – including a deep one-handed grab by Allen, followed by a second day that had Herbert appearing anxious to wrap up a news conference and return to the film room to dissect what happened and how to improve.

“Kellen has been very flexible,” Herbert said of the new partnership. “We've talked about what we like and what we don't like and all of the things that we wish to incorporate from last year's offense and how we want to get the guys the ball. Everyone has been on the same page so far and I think that has been the most important part -- getting the running backs in tune with the protections, getting the receivers in tune with what we want timing-wise with the routes.”

Growing pains are anticipated as the Chargers deploy their new scheme for the first time in meaningful game action.

But the expectation is that with Moore, it won’t take long for the offense to be moving down field.

“He lets us be free,” Allen said. “And whatever we feel.”