COSTA MESA, Calif. — General manager Tom Telesco believes the Los Angeles Chargers are starting to make themselves at home.
Telesco is thoroughly pleased by his team’s resilience during a tumultuous relocation season that began with a rocky 0-4 start, but ended with the Bolts (9-7) as one of the NFL’s best teams.
The executive wants the Chargers to take the momentum from their 9-3 finish into an offseason in which they can make further strides toward becoming an AFC power.
If they do it, Telesco also believes the Chargers will start to see a true home-field advantage at their temporary stadium in Carson, where they won their final five games.
“I think the longer we’re here, the better we play, the better the atmosphere will be,” Telesco said Thursday. “I think it’s a pretty neat place to watch a football game. But we’re the new kids on the block, and we’ve got to show what we are, show that we’re an exciting team to watch, get in the playoffs and get people excited, and there will be more and more Charger fans there.”
The Chargers definitely were exciting, but they weren’t quite a playoff team. They finished one game behind AFC West champion Kansas City, which beat Los Angeles twice. The Bolts then missed out on the AFC’s two wild-card spots in a four-way tiebreaker due to their mediocre conference record.
The Chargers’ 84-mile move up the California coast was just part of a busy year that began with the near-simultaneous announcement of the move and the hiring of coach Anthony Lynn, who received praise from Telesco for instilling “a high level of grit and determination that we just lacked last year.”
Telesco echoed Lynn’s determination to keep his coaching staff intact aside from assistant offensive line coach James Cregg, who is headed to LSU. In particular, Telesco wants to keep coveted defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who immediately put together a solid unit for a team that finished third in the NFL in points allowed.
Continuity is a major goal for the Chargers after the upheaval of the past year.
“We’ve come a long way in the last 12 months,” Telesco said at the Chargers’ training complex in Orange County. “Think about where we were last year this time and where we are now. It’s been a lot of change and a lot of challenges, but we’re on the right pace. We’re going in the right direction.”
More things to know about the Chargers’ offseason:
FIND A FOOT: Telesco echoed Lynn’s desire to secure a solid kicker next season after the Chargers used five players at the position and made a league-low 68 percent of their field goal tries this year. The Chargers’ first two losses were decided by late missed field goal attempts, and it cost them dearly. “Obviously our kicking game was not NFL-quality this year,” Telesco said. “One of my biggest regrets this year (is) I did not do a good enough job addressing that position. I put our head coach, Anthony, in a tough position as far as managing the football game. I’m very confident we’ll be able to get that fixed.” Telesco didn’t say whether he plans to pursue a tested veteran kicker.
OPEN GATES: Telesco praised 37-year-old tight end Antonio Gates as “one of the greatest Chargers of all-time,” but didn’t unequivocally commit to bringing him back. Gates is a free agent after setting the NFL record for TD catches by a tight end early this season. After serving largely as a backup to Hunter Henry, Gates played extensively the last two games and determined that he wants to keep playing in 2018. “I don’t have any answers right now moving forward, but we’ll get there,” Telesco said of Gates’ future.
GOT GOALS: Telesco pointed out that the Chargers were successful in two main points of emphasis this season: Cutting down turnovers and protecting Rivers. Los Angeles finished third in the league with a plus-12 turnover ratio after finishing 27th last season with a minus-7, and the Chargers allowed an NFL-low 18 sacks after yielding 36 last season.
RIVERS’ HEIR: The Chargers don’t have a firm timeline for finding a successor to the 36-year-old Rivers, the only quarterback to start a game for the club since the 2006 season opener. After Rivers’ excellent 4,515-yard season, Telesco confirmed that the Chargers “hope he’ll be around for a good amount of years,” and they aren’t headed into the offseason determined to draft a quarterback. “He played really well for us this year, and I expect him to come back and do the same thing next year,” Telesco added.
STACKED BACK: The Chargers expect former Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett to return at full strength after missing all but five games in the past two seasons with knee injuries. Telesco wants Verrett, fellow cornerback Trevor Williams, current Pro Bowler Casey Hayward and versatile defensive back Desmond King all back on a defense that was the NFL’s third-best against the pass this season, yielding just 197.2 yards per game.