By all accounts, it was an incredible season for the Chargers on special teams.
That statement might not have been true in previous years, but the Bolts made sure it was the case in 2022.
The Chargers brought in Ryan Ficken as the Special Teams Coordinator last spring, as he paired with assistant special teams coach Chris Gould to vastly improve the overall unit.
"I think Ryan and Chris Gould have really just transformed our special teams culture," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said during the season. "I think making everybody on our team, including coaches, just included in that, building that team culture in that everyone has a role that is important."
An influx of new faces helped, too, whether it was Josh Harris at long snapper, punter JK Scott or DeAndre Carter in the return game.
The Bolts finished 10th in Pro Football Focus' special teams rankings with a grade of 89.2.
The Chargers were even better in Rick Gosselin's 2022 NFL special teams rankings, finishing seventh on this annual, well-respected list.
"I think we laid a good foundation. I think we did some good things," Harris said. "There's always going to be room for improvement, but I think as a whole, the unit performed really well. It's something, again, we can continue to build on moving forward."
3 Strong Special Teams Stats in 2022:
1. Punt returns on both sides
The Chargers were potent in the punt return game and smothering when defending it.
The Bolts ranked third overall in punt return average at 11.7 yards per return, with Carter setting a career-high in that category.
On the flip side, the Chargers were the league's No. 1 team in punt coverage by allowing just 3.1 yards per return. Opponents managed just 58 total yards on 19 returns.
Scott played a key role in this as his hangtime seemed to get better and better as the season went along.
His lofty kicks allowed rookie gunners Ja'Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard to get downfield and make quick tackles … if there was a return at all. The Chargers also ranked first in opponents' fair catches on punts with 33.
Staley talks often about how field position can dictate a game in the long run. The Chargers punt return and coverage units swung that area heavily in the Bolts favor all season long.
2. Kicking percentage
If you would had known the Chargers used three different kickers in 2022, a prediction might be based around a rollercoaster season.
The opposite happened.
Yes, the Bolts relied on Dustin Hopkins, Taylor Bertolet and Cameron Dicker at different parts of the season. But the Chargers were among the league's best kicking operations all season long.
In fact, the Bolts ranked second overall with a combined field goal/extra point percentage of 94.3. The group combined to make 31 of 33 field goals and all 40 extra points.
Hopkins made nine of 10 field goals but missed two games in the first half of the season before going on Injured Reserve with a hamstring injury. Bertolet stepped in and kicked in two games — making all six of his combined kicks — before he, too, went on Injured Reserve with a quad issue.
But Dicker stepped in without a hitch, kicking in the final 10 regular-season games to produce one of the best rookie seasons in league history. The 24-year-old made 19 of 20 field goals and all 22 extra points.
And in a season where the Bolts won seven games by one score or less, the trio of Chargers kickers helped steady the ship along the way.
Special teams is often referred to as the "complementary" phase, as it can help set up the offense and defense in favorable spots.
But those positive vibes are often erased with penalties, something the Chargers had very little of this past season.
The Bolts were whistled for just 11 penalties on special teams this season, with three of them being of the pre-snap variety. The eight others came through as the second-fewest in the league.
Ficken's group played hard and provided plenty of splash plays in 2022, but they were also among the most disciplined teams in the league, too.
2 Stats That Need to Improve in 2023:
1. Kickoff returns
Overall, the Bolts ranked 30th in kickoff return average at just 19.1 yards per return.
Carter's longest return was 33 yards, which finished as the third-shortest in the league. On multiple instances, a big return seemed likely before a gap was closed quickly.
That stat hampered the Chargers overall drive start, as they ranked 28th overall in the league at the 24.4-yard-line. For comparison's sake, the league average was only roughly half-a yard better.
If Ficken can find a way to produce just a bit more juice in this area next year, the Chargers should once again have one of the most complete units in the league.
2. Touchbacks on punts
We're really nitpicking here.
But in a season where the Chargers punt coverage unit was phenomenal, the unit also finished with five touchbacks, which ranked in the middle of the pack.
Given how superb the coverage unit was, a few more chances to overwhelm the opponent would have been fun to watch.
Every NFL team had at least one touchback on a punt and the most by a team was 10, so the Bolts were right in the middle.
Again, we had to search deep for this one given how excellent the group did all season long.
Bolt Up for 2023!
Secure your 2023 Season Ticket Memberships today! Click here to learn more.