There’s a different aroma in the air around the neatly cut grass and white-painted lines of the practice field off of Murphy Canyon road.
The newly acquired rookies of the San Diego Chargers’ 2016 NFL draft class run around flashing their brilliance alongside some 50 other undrafted free agents the team has brought in to try to fulfill their life-long dream of playing professional football.
In the earliest of reports, the first- and second-round picks appear to be men among boys; as they should be practicing among guys who will most likely never wear an NFL jersey on game days in September.
On paper, the Chargers have improved leaps and bounds from a team that was decimated by injuries and lacked enough quality depth to be competitive in an ever-evolving AFC West. The starting offensive line played two games together throughout the course of the 2015 season. The defensive line wasn’t much better even when they were on the field, giving up nearly five yards per carry on the ground.
Fast forward to this year and there’s a completely new picture to look at.
The defensive line has been transformed by the pick up of true nose tackle Brandon Mebane, and the drafting of defensive lineman Joey Bosa. Mebane and Bosa are going to come in and immediately improve the run defense of this team. Mebane is going to clog up the middle of the defense, freeing up the linebacking corps, allowing them to fly in and stop ball carriers before they get through the line. Bosa is as technically sound as it gets for a rookie. He has violent hands, and good strength that allows him to bully offensive linemen and attack the football.
The improvements of the defensive line are going to make everyone else’s job on the defense much easier. Let’s not forget the addition of Casey Hayward who will team up with Jason Verrett as the teams No. 1 and 2 corners.
Telesco has also replaced Donald Butler with two young, hungry linebackers in Joshua Perry and Jatavis Brown. These two young men are going to come in and make the special teams better the second they step on the field. Don’t be surprised if you see Perry and Brown also push Manti Te’o for some playing time on defense.
Speaking of the linebackers, fifth-year pro Melvin Ingram easily had the best season of his career in 2015 by totaling 10.5 sacks. As you well know, that was all without the aid of a Mebane or Bosa on the team’s defensive unit. Opposite of Ingram, Jerry Attaochu also made the best of his opportunities last season, setting a career-high with six sacks of his own.
The offensive line has also been fortified with center/guard Matt Slauson formerly of the Chicago Bears, and third-round pick Max Tuerk of USC. The pick up of Matt Slauson has a huge impact on the identity of this line. Slauson is durable, intelligent and plays with a nasty mean streak. This also allows Max Tuerk to take his time to recover from a knee injury, move Chris Watt back to his natural position of guard, while hopefully eliminating the dead weight that is Trevor Robinson.
Not only has Tom Telesco improved the offensive and defensive lines, but he’s also brought in a couple of new weapons for Philip Rivers to throw to in the speedster Travis Benjamin and the sure-handed rookie tight end Hunter Henry.
Philip Rivers has gone on record saying that Travis Benjamin is the fastest guy he’s ever thrown the ball to. Benjamin is going to come in and take the top off of the defense and allow guys like Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates to tear up the middle of the field.
This is the best offseason of Tom Telesco’s tenure as the Chargers’ general manager because he addressed almost every need that was bleeding the team last year.
The national media is sleeping on the Chargers and that’s fine, but don’t be surprised if this team changes that perception as soon as they strap on the helmets and pads come September.