Welcome to Part 10 of our 2022 positional recaps, a series that will run through the next few weeks and highlight all 10 Chargers position groups. We'll focus on key stats, big moments and look ahead to the 2023 season.
The Chargers special teams unit was one that shined all season long.
Led by first-year Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken and Assistant Special Teams Coach Chris Gould, the unit was able to turn special teams into one of the strongest groups in the league.
Whether it was the performance from the specialists in the kicking game or in coverage, this group became a valuable weapon for them throughout the 2022 season.
The work done by the unit can be most apparent in the work done in the kicking department, as the team transitioned in three different kickers throughout the year due to injuries.
"You can't say enough about the job that Ryan and Chris are doing, coaching that unit," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said the day after their Week 17 matchup. "There's a lot of belief, in terms of the way things are being coached from a technique standpoint and from a scheme standpoint, getting people doing the right jobs.
"Obviously, being able to handle the kicker transition has been critical," Staley added. "I'm really proud."
Dustin Hopkins, Taylor Bertolet and Cameron Dicker all kicked for the Chargers this season and combined to make 31 of 33 field goals (93.9 percent), good for second in the NFL. It was a team effort, as long snapper Josh Harris, punter/holder JK Scott (who were both brought in last offseason as free agents) all made the onboarding as smooth as possible.
"All the kickers that played for us this year did an incredible job," Harris said. "All of them have what it takes. Obviously, Dustin has done it for a long time, Taylor showed he can do it and Cam showed that he has the ability to do it as well."
Hopkins (Week 6), Dicker (Week 9) and Scott (Week 12) were recognized for their play this season, each winning AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, while Dicker was also named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for December/January.
Amen Ogbongbemiga , Derrek Tuszka, Troy Reeder and Nick Niemann led the unit in snaps, each playing over 300 special teams snaps throughout the year, while a total of nine Chargers surpassed the 200 snaps mark.
DeAndre Carter averaged a career-high 11.7 yards per punt return, which ranked third in the league.
The unit had a major turnaround in Ficken and Gould's first season with the Bolts, as the unit will hope to build on the impressive 2022 campaign.
Check out the best photos from Cameron Dicker's flawless six weeks, where he totaled 47-points on a 96.2% kicking percentage, that earned him the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month honor for December/January. Dicker is the seventh Bolt, and first since Darren Sproles in 2008, to win AFC Special Teams Player of the Month.
The Bolts special teams unit ranked highly in many statistical categories this season, but none more impressive than allowing opponents to average just 3.1 yards per punt return. That number led the NFL in the 2022 season and was the lowest average allowed by a Chargers team in a season since 1971.
The Bolts first Monday Night Football game of the season was as close as you could get.
Tied at 16 in overtime, neither the Chargers or Broncos had gained any separation in the primetime contest. With under five minutes left in overtime, someone had to make a play to avoid the game ending in a tie.
And the play came from a couple of Chargers rookies that made their mark on special teams as gunners in 2022.
As Broncos punt returner Montrell Washington got underneath the punt, it was a heads up play by 2022 sixth-round rookie Ja'Sir Taylor that forced a muffed punt that was recovered by 2022 seventh-round rookie Deane Leonard.
The recovery allowed the Chargers to take over at the Broncos 28-yard-line and set up a 39-yard attempt for Hopkins, who was nursing a hamstring injury during the game, to secure the walk-off win.
"I think our gunners did an outstanding job populating it," Staley said after the Week 6 matchup. "Ja'Sir [Taylor] and Deane [Leonard] were able to get down there and make something happen.
"The fact that you go beat your man, and then you go do the right thing when you get close to the returner, those are young guys, so for them to make that type of impact for our football team says a lot about [Special Teams Coordinator] Ryan Ficken and [Assistant Special Teams Coach] Chris Gould," Staley added.
From Scott's punt with great hang-time and the heads up plays by the pair of rookies to the gutsy effort from Hopkins who was dealing with an injury, this special teams performance helped the Chargers win a thrilling primetime game and move to two games above .500.
Made 19 of 20 field goal attempts with a long of 48 yards and was a perfect 22 of 22 on extra point tries as a member of the Bolts; appeared in 10 games and played 92 special teams snaps (19.87 percent).
Made nine out of 10 field goals with a long of 43 yards and was a perfect 12 of 12 on extra point tries; appeared in five games and played 41 special teams snaps (8.86 percent).
Made three of three field goal attempts with a long of 28 yards and was a perfect six for six on extra point tries in his first NFL action; appeared in two games and played 20 special teams snaps (4.32 percent).
Averaged 43.6 yards per punt with a long of 60 yards in his first season with the Bolts and also had 28 of his 73 punts (career-high 38.4 percent) downed inside the 20-yard line; appeared in all 17 games and played 154 special teams snaps (33.26 percent).
Appeared in all 17 games as the long snapper and played a career-high 147 special teams snaps (31.75 percent).
Returned 29 punts for a career-high average of 11.7 yards per punt return and returned 26 kickoffs for an average of 19.1 yards; appeared in 17 games (seven starts) for the Bolts and played 154 special teams snaps (33.26 percent).
Take a look at the best photos from the Chargers 2022 campaign through the lens of team photographer, Mike Nowak, manager of photography, Ty Nowell, seasonal photographer, Mackenzie Hudson, and gameday photographer, Noel Vasquez.
2 Questions for 2023
1. What do the Bolts do at kicker?
As mentioned above, the Bolts successfully navigated three different kickers in 2022.
And while that feat was commendable, it's a safe bet that most teams would prefer to use one guy throughout the season.
One of the Chargers biggest offseason storylines is what the team will do at kicker, with Hopkins and Dicker the likely candidates to hold the job next season.
Perhaps the two compete for the job in training camp? Or maybe the Bolts decide to just roll with one?
Hopkins is the veteran who performed admirably, even while injured. Dicker is younger and was clutch as a rookie.
It's a good problem for the Bolts to have.
2. Do Scott and Carter return to the fold?
The addition of Scott and Carter in free agency likely flew under the radar at the time of their signings, but that narrative quickly changed once the season began.
Scott — who played in just one game in 2021 — relied on one of the league's best hangtimes to limit explosive opposing punt returns.
Carter, meanwhile, had the best season of his career both on special teams and in terms of receiving stats.
But with both slated to be free agents, it remains to be seen if the Bolts bring them back.
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