Last season, Tom Telesco took the reins of an Indianapolis Colts franchise that had finished last in the league in 2011. Telesco was named Vice President of Football Operations in 2012. Telesco used his newfound power to overhaul the Colts roster. The Colts had gone 2-14 in 2011. Telesco dismantled the team, jettisoning long standing players such as Gary Brackett, Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney. That year, Peyton Manning was also allowed to leave after missing the season with a neck injury followed by multiple surgeries.
By the time the 2012 season rolled around, there were 36 new faces on the roster. Telesco learned from one of the master executives in NFL history in longtime Colts General Manager Bill Polian. Telesco was able to be in on the scouting and player analysis aspect in the Colts war room, having input on what players to bring in. Coincidentally, his first season was also Manning’s first season in Indianapolis.
As a result of Telesco’s overhaul, the 2012 edition of the Colts led by top draft pick quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts went 11-5 and into the playoffs. The Colts won their division again in 2013 and are prime for a long run as mainstays on the playoff landscape. Telesco’s eye for bringing in fresh talent took the Colts from worst to first in the AFC South. The Chargers noticed and in the 2013 offseason signed Telesco to become the new General Manager of the San Diego Chargers.
Right away, Telesco used the same blueprint he used in Indianapolis. Longtime Chargers were seen out the door. Among them, Louis Vasquez, Shaun Phillips, Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason, Antonio Garay, Takeo Spikes and Antwan Barnes were among many to find themselves exiled from Chargers Park. In their place, Telesco filled their slots with young, mostly unproven role players who were capable of playing multiple positions. Players like Thomas Keiser, Sean Lissemore, Chad Rinehart, Rich Orhnberger, Derek Cox and Dunlap are all Telesco signings who have had great impact in their first season on the team.
The draft got the Chargers off and running at the 2013 NFL Draft with Telesco at the controls. The first round pick, DJ Fluker, has been a stabilizing force at right tackle. When left tackle King Dunlap missed games with a concussion, Fluker moved to the left side of the line and played great there as well. In the second round, Telesco moved up to select Mantei Teo out of Notre Dame and got California wide receiver Keenan Allen in the third round.
Telesco was hailed for the picks. All were seen as first round talents. Teo unexpectedly dropped into the second round on the heels of the fake girlfriend scandal. Allen’s stock dropped because he participated in the NFL draft combine injured. Teo’s play has gotten better as the season wears on after missing almost all preseason and a quarter of the regular season with a foot injury. Allen is the odds on favorite for Offensive Rookie Of The Year after being pressed into service following an injury to Malcolm Floyd. Sixth round pick Tourek Williams has has substantial playing time in the wake of numerous injuries on the defensive line and has played above expectations.
Telesco also spearheaded the search for a new head coach, nabbing the hottest name on the market in Denver’s Mike McCoy. McCoy’s reputation with quarterbacks is well known, as all he has coached have had career seasons under his guidance.
The Chargers have missed the playoffs three years straight. Last season they had their first losing season since 2003, finishing 7-9. On the way out the door former coach Norv Turner was quoted as saying the Chargers are a few years from being a playoff team. Telesco’s vision and eye for talent has again gotten the Chargers back into the playoffs after only one season. The Chargers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in a thriller at home 27-24 to claim the last playoff spot in the AFC.
Telesco’s magic has worked again. One season on the job, he has taken a team with a losing record and given them the personnel that got them into the playoffs the very next season. Similar to the Colts situation, the Chargers are being restocked with younger, faster players and a solid young core to build around with Fluker, Allen and Teo as the cornerstones of the new Telesco/McCoy era.
The Chargers will have cap flexibility this offseason, unlike the dire financial straits they found themselves in last offseason. Telesco reworked contracts and used the limited funds available to sign the likes of Cox, Freeney, Johnny Patrick and Danny Woodhead among others. This offseason, the Chargers have cap flexibility. The Chargers faithful finally have reason to believe with Telesco making deals and picking winners on draft day that this team is finally ready to take the next step to being a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
The Telesco magic is working.
The Greg One
It took almost a full season but the San Diego Chargers are finally starting to become the team we envisioned at the beginning of the season. The possibility of a team that would once again become playoff relevant looked good but not great as the Chargers took a 4-3 record into the bye week. The bye week came as the Chargers had won two straight games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville. After the bye, the Chargers dropped three straight games to fall to 4-6. With that losing streak, all hope for a return to prominence looked lost.
The Chargers went to Arrowhead to face the Chiefs. The Chiefs were 9-1 and coming off their first loss at Denver. The Chargers took it to the Chiefs and won a shootout 41-38. That win began a Chargers run that has seen them win four of their last five games. The Chargers now sit at 8-7 with a shot at getting into the playoffs if they can beat the Chiefs at home and the right teams lose on Sunday.
What has been the reason for this turnaround? The offensive line has solidified and while it isn’t a list of marquee names, the same guys are suiting up every week and staying on the field. Last season the offensive line was a turnstile with a new starting five almost every week. First round draft pick D.J. Fluker has done a great job at right tackle, helping open holes for the running backs. When starting left tackle King Dunlap missed games because of a concussion, Fluker moved to left tackle and played just as well. Jeromey Clary has found new life at right guard, Nick Hardwick hasn’t missed a game at center. Rich Ohrnberger, Johnnie Troutman and Chad Rinehart have all played well at left guard. The unit is playing better as the weeks go by and it shows. Rivers has been sacked 27 times through 15 weeks this season. Last season, Rivers was sacked a league high 49 times, a drastic improvement.
Ryan Mathews has found his stride and has put together his best season as a pro. Whether it was a change in philosophy or the new system implemented by head coach Mike McCoy, Mathews has run with a purpose and was one yard away (he had 99 against Oakland) from tying LeSean McCoy with six 100-yard rushing games this season. Mathews has more 100 yard games than higher profile backs like Jamaal Charles(4), Arian Foster(2), DeMarco Murray(3), Alfred Morris(3), Matt Forte(4) and has as many Adrian Peterson(5).
Mathews has run for over 100 yards in five of the last ten games and has a 99 yard game as well. For the first time in his career, he is set to play all 16 games and has already posted a career best 1,111 yards rushing. The Chargers are 4-1 when Mathews rushes for 100.
As a result of the first two factors, Philip Rivers is having an All-Pro season. Only Peyton Manning has more 400 yard games(4) than Rivers(3). Rivers is the fourth highest ranked quarterback in the league.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen was rushed into the starting lineup after a season ending injury to Malcolm Floyd. Allen quickly became the number one receiver and has burst onto the scene over the last 11 games. If Keenan Allen isn’t the Offensive Rookie Of The Year, the award should be discontinued due fraud. Allen is going to be a big name in the NFL as he gets years under his belt.
A who’s who of big names on defense hit the injured list before the season began including Melvin Ingram, Dwight Freeney, Larry English and draft pick Steve Williams. Out of that necessity, lesser names have had to fill greater roles, thrust into the spotlight as starters. As a result, unknowns such as Thomas Keiser, Andrew Gachkar, Bront Bird, Sean Lissemore and rookies Tourek Williams and Mantei Te’o have logged significant playing time and thrived. Now the defense has solidified and become a cohesive unit. The defense now has 33 sacks, 74 passed defensed, 11 interceptions and forced 11 fumbles (recovering 6).
The Chargers have finally all come together and look like one of those teams no one will want to play should they get into the playoffs. They played as close to a perfect game as possible in beating the Giants at home and Broncos in Denver with only five days between games. They played sloppily in the first half of the Raiders game but took over the game in the second half and cruised to victory.
The story of the season is the Chargers have beaten Denver, Kansas City, Dallas, Indianapolis and Philadelphia. Each are teams who are now or were at the top of their division. Their quality of wins are excellent. They have lost to Washington, Oakland, Tennessee and Houston. Those teams are now or were last in their division. Questionable play calling, poor execution and mental lapses have made the difference in the Chargers being in the playoffs now as opposed to fighting for a spot at the end of the season.
The good news is the Chargers are finally playing together. The offense is on track and all the moving pieces on both sides of the ball are set in place and formed a solid wall instead of a Jenga building. The new faces on defense are making fewer mistakes as they get valuable playing time in and that on-the-field experience has made all the difference here at the end of the season. Those unknowns will make the Chargers a dominating defensive unit once the injured players like Freeney, Steve Williams and Ingram start next season healthy.
At 8-7 the Chargers are guaranteed at least a .500 season. Most (not me) expected the Chargers to finish with fewer than eight wins. The McCoy/Telesco era is already off to a promising start and as this program is reshaped, will only get better.