In the weeks leading up to the Chargers season opener, Keenan Allen was fired up.
"I was feeling really good. Had a good camp, it was one of my best training camps," Allen said. "There was a lot of hope."
But that early excitement lasted just 22 snaps, as Allen tweaked his hamstring in the first half of a Week 1 win over the Raiders.
Allen, who had earned five straight Pro Bowl honors, had started strong with four receptions for 66 yards against Las Vegas.
But he hasn't seen the field since, and recently delved into his mindset in recent weeks.
"Frustrating, just not being able to play. Having a hamstring injury, it's one of those deals where you don't realize how much you need it until it's not working," Allen said. "Just being able to stay mentally tough with it, stay in the game, stay locked in, stay in shape … so when I do come back, I'm ready and dialed in."
It remains to be seen if Allen comes back for a Week 7 game against the Seahawks. He's been making progress and is trending in the right direction, but the Bolts — who have a bye in Week 8 — might choose to be extra cautious and give him as much time as possible to be fully healthy for the stretch run.
Whenever Allen does make his return, he'll be welcomed with open arms.
"It's going to help a lot," said fellow wide receiver Mike Williams. "He's working, putting in the work to come back and be with us, so when he's back he's going to be 100 percent and ready."
Take a look at some of the best shots of Keenan Allen's 2022 offseason
Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi said he's looking forward to including Allen in the gameplan, especially on third downs.
"I think when Keenan comes back, I think it's going to help everyone. He's such a huge factor, especially on third down," Lombardi said. "We've been doing a good job staying out of third-and-long. We just haven't done as good of a job as we are used to converting on a lot of those third-and-mediums, third-and-shorts.
"He's a big part of us being successful at that. I think the other guys have been doing well, but he's obviously the best at that kind of thing," Lombardi added. "When you get the best back, I think it will help everyone."
Allen is one of the best wide receivers in franchise history, with 734 receptions for 8,601 yards and 48 touchdowns in 117 career games.
Entering Week 7, the Bolts rank 24th overall in red-zone offense, as they have scored touchdowns on 12 of their 25 trips (48 percent).
Allen should help inflate those numbers, too. Of his 48 career touchdowns, 35 of which have come from 20 yards or fewer. And, all but one of Allen's touchdown catches from Justin Herbert have come inside the 20-yard line.
"I complement the guys so well," Allen said of his impact once he returns. "I'm a guy that does a lot of dirty work, a lot of third-down converting, keeping us on the field. I draw a lot of coverage so it opens things up.
"It's another one of those things where I eat up some of the coverage, so it's going to open everybody up and create even more opportunities," Allen added.
As Allen has rehabbed and worked his way back, he's taken on a supportive role as the Chargers have gotten off to a 4-2 start.
"We've got a lot of fight, man. These guys always fight to the end, always fight for each other," Allen said. "We don't play to lose, and you love to watch that. We leave it all out on the field.
"But I think when I get back, there will be more opportunities for everybody," Allen added. "We need to capitalize on that."
If the Bolts can do that, then they will likely earn just the third postseason appearance in Allen's 10 seasons with the team.
Allen has 14 catches for 275 yards and three scores in four career playoff games.
But the 30-year-old wants another taste of playoff football, especially after missing out on almost the entire first half of this season.
"It would be major," Allen said of a potential postseason berth. "Every time we went, we lost in the [Divisional] Round. So, hopefully we can build on that and take it further.
"This is one of the most talented teams I've been on since I've been here," Allen added. "That's both sides of the ball, special teams included. We just have to put it all together. If we lock in, anything can happen."
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