The San Diego Chargers return from the bye looking for their third straight win this Sunday when they travel to Washington to take on the Redskins.
With the team back on the practice fields, General Manager Tom Telesco invited us into his office for a special sit down to give his thoughts on Coach McCoy, the onslaught of injuries the team has suffered,
Chargers.com: The team is on a two game winning streak and is coming off their bye. What is your overall assessment of the team after seven games?
Telesco: Well we are 4-3, so we’re not satisfied with that. But we’re encouraged with the results we’ve seen and the improvement we’ve seen each week. Now we just have to keep pace with the rest of our division because as we’ve seen, our division is the toughest in football right now. But there have been encouraging results the last seven weeks.
Chargers.com: There has been a lot of praise for Mike McCoy and the coaching staff. When looking for a new head coach, you had a lengthy and extensive search. Dating back to Mike’s interview for the job, what have you seen in action?
Telesco: Mike can teach, he can lead and he can communicate with the players. Those three traits are the building blocks of your coaching staff. The whole staff can really teach, and Mike is really excellent at that. We’ve seen that since a lot of young players have had to step in and play quicker than we had anticipated and maybe some players we signed off the street had to come in and play a little quicker than anticipated. We even had to move some players around like you’ve seen on the offensive line. So I think the whole staff has been tremendous as far as getting players ready to play.
Chargers.com: Obviously Mike is a first time head coach. When you hired him there were inherently some things you couldn’t predict about how he’d be. What is one thing you might have been unsure about but are now pleased with?
Telesco: I really am pleased with everything. He has a great handle of the team and has the respect of the players. I love how he handles the whole process from Monday to Sunday. It’s been a real smooth process so far.
Chargers.com: You mentioned earlier the job players have done stepping up when called upon due to injuries. How difficult is it for you personally when you have to decide whether to place a player on IR or not, thereby ending his season?
Telesco: It’s always a difficult decision to make. You go into the season knowing the 53 that are there to start are not going to be the 53 you end up with. You’ve seen it with us; you’ve seen it with every team in the league. You’re going to have injuries and you’re going to have season ending injuries. You try to build as deep a team as you can going into it to prepare for it. But it’s a hard decision to make on players. As you’ve seen this year we’ve already got seven guys on injured reserve. That’s just the nature of the game. The players know that and we know that.
Chargers.com: A lot of talk has been about Philip Rivers, and rightfully so. Can we get the general manager's take on the QB so far?
Telesco: He’s been tremendous. I always said when your quarterback is the hardest working player on your team, everything else falls into place. He’s certainly one of those. He’s a leader for us. His passion for football is off the charts. I can’t ask for anything more than what he’s done. Players follow him. He’s our guy and it’s fun having him as our quarterback.
Chargers.com: How about the running game? It's such a diverse group. Is this how you envisioned the group when you assembled it with
Telesco: The whole group has worked really well, and don’t forget about
Chargers.com: Let's switch sides for a second and talk about the defense. What are your overall thoughts about Defensive Coordinator John Pagano's unit?
Telesco: Defensively, I look at four things. If you want to look at statistics, there are four statistics that we look at as far as grading the defense. They are third down defense, red zone defense, points allowed and takeaways. Heading into the bye we were ninth or tenth in third down defense and we are seventh in the league in red zone defense. Red zone defense in particular has been a huge improvement from last year, so that’s been great to see. Points allowed, which is a very important statistic obviously, we are ninth in the league. Those are three important factors and those are good to see that we are in the top third of the league right now. The one point of emphasis that we need to improve on is the takeaways. I think we were 30th or 31st in the league heading into the bye, so that has been a point of emphasis in practice. That’s something we need to get better at in this last half of the season.
Chargers.com: Two of your draft choices won Rookie of the Week in back to back weeks. First,
Telesco: We don’t get caught up on the individual awards. But team wise, those guys have come in and contributed. That’s what we needed. We knew coming into this year we would have to have some young guys come in and contribute right away. It happened those two guys have done that. Manti Te’o has played a good amount of snaps now that he’s back from the injury.
Chargers.com: How about some rookies you didn't draft but have had a big impact, most notably
Telesco: It’s a credit to those guys. Obviously it is the harder road to come in undrafted, but once they get here, it doesn’t matter how they got here. Whether they were an undrafted free agent, a draft pick, an unrestricted free agent or a restricted free agent, it doesn’t matter to us how they get here. They’ve come in and they’ve prepared really well. All those guys you mentioned are smart players, and our coaches have done a great job developing those players.
Chargers.com: Finally, we have five home games remaining. We obviously know the positive impact a full Qualcomm Stadium has on the team. For fans thinking about coming to a game but are on the fence, is there anything you'd like to say about how important it is to this team when Qualcomm is rocking?
Telesco: Well let me first say that the games we’ve had so far have been wonderful. It’s been really loud and there is no doubt it’s helped us. The fans helped us going back to training camp with the amount of people who came out to watch. I think that was huge with our improvement. Raising that intensity level and that competitive level in practice was a big help. And the home games so far this year have been a loud and exciting place to play. The whole goal right now is that we need to keep pace with the division. We want to have a chance to be in that race come December. In order to get there we have a really tough five week stretch ahead of us, starting with Washington. They are only two games out of first place in their division so they will be a dangerous team this week. So it’s an important game this week, and going forward, the crowd and home field will be a huge advantage to us later in the year.