COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Chargers won their last four games of the 2020 season but lost too many nail-biters before then to do any real damage, as they finished 7-9.
They also broke in a new quarterback in Justin Herbert after Tyrod Taylor accidentally had his lung punctured before their Week 2 game with the Kansas City Chiefs. Nobody knew what to expect. Except maybe Herbert, who worked as long and hard as he could, albeit virtually. His teammates didn't know what to expect except to hope and roll with it.
Herbert wasn't perfect, making mistakes on reads and footwork, and he tended to slide too much -- something he's reminded of daily -- but he says he will be much better this season. His teammates love him, with a dozen flying into Eugene, Oregon, to play in his charity golf tournament, and clearly the camaraderie is there.
Throw in some new, highly regarded offensive linemen and a new, young, vivacious coaching staff and what more do you need? That's the mindset as training camp gets underway July 28. So are the Chargers better, worse or the same heading into 2021?
Here's a look at the offense.
Losses: Tyrod Taylor (Houston Texans)
Returners: Justin Herbert, Easton Stick
Better, worse or the same: Better
Herbert proved a lot his rookie year, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, setting an NFL rookie record with 31 touchdown passes (while rushing for five more) and falling just 38 yards short of passing Andrew Luck's rookie record of 4,374 passing yards. He has been working extremely hard learning another new offensive system, which he says is similar except for the terminology.
Daniel played in a Joe Lombardi-led system in New Orleans from 2009 to 2012 and has been a valuable asset for Herbert. Stick also provides leadership, having been in the system, and could be relegated to the practice squad.
What remains to be seen is whether Herbert learned enough in the offseason to get the Chargers over the hump in close games and how much he has advanced.
Additions: Larry Rountree III (sixth-round draft choice)
Better, worse or the same: Better (with Ekeler fully healthy)
Ekeler is healthy after missing six games last season and is a threat on the ground and in the passing game. Kelley and Jackson also return, but it is unlikely the Chargers will keep four tailbacks. With Rountree projected as a short-yardage, punch-it-in guy, it's doubtful Kelley and Jackson will both return. My money's on Kelley and Rountree, but it should be a great battle for No. 2.
Better, worse or the same: Better, with Allen the star
Allen got his money last summer and proved himself as one of, if not the, best receivers in the league. He's also a pretty good golfer (except for putting) and likely fits nicely with Palmer, who has solid hands and speed. And then you add in Williams who, at 6-foot-5, is a nice target for anyone. Lombardi likes to use various players in different positions. Guyton and Johnson provided deep threats last year and should play that role again.
Better, worse or the same: Worse
Henry was a huge loss. There was some belief the Chargers should have franchised him again -- he's that good when healthy. But Bill Belichick recognized that early, too, and scooped him up. It will create a big hole for the Chargers. However, they got Cook, a productive veteran who also knows Lombardi's offense from his time with the Saints, and they have Parham and the rookie McKitty, whose blocking and size are major pluses.
Better, worse or the same: Better
The Chargers couldn't have done much better this offseason in improving their line, especially with how much it struggled last season. Linsley was expensive but was an All-Pro last season, and Slater was considered the best left tackle/guard available by many scouts. Bulaga will man right tackle, with Slater playing left tackle. Adding in Feiler and Aboushi at guard will make this line infinitely better.