Over the coming weeks, we'll be checking in with the Chargers' position coaches and coordinators to get the inside scoop. We begin with Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
Chargers.com:First things first, we have to begin with the newest addition to the offense – Mike Williams. What do you like about the first round pick, and what does he bring to the table?
Whisenhunt:That was exciting to find out we were able to add a player like that. Not only was his production in college good, but as (Head Coach Anthony Lynn) pointed, it came in big moments in big games. When you see a young player who already has a penchant for doing that, and isn't afraid of the lights and making those plays; it's exciting. He gives us versatility of having another big guy who can give problems to the defense.
Chargers.com:As a big target like you mentioned, he had a lot of success in the red zone. There are obviously a lot of different areas you focus on when evaluating talent, but how did his ability to step up in the red zone factor into your evaluation?
Whisenhunt:It's important. Once again, the NFL is different than college, so when looking at a player like Mike Williams, you don't know how he is going to adapt to the pro game. You don't know exactly how you can use him. Can you use him inside? Can you use him outside? Can you move him? All those things go into putting together your red zone plan. That is an area we want to be more efficient with than we were last year. We weren't awful, but not up to our standards for what we feel like we should be. Can Mike fit into that? We certainly think so just from the standpoint of how physical he is going for the ball. He attacks the catch. Plus, add in his size. Hunter (Henry) and Antonio (Gates) caught 15 touchdowns last year, which is a lot. Now add in Mike, and also Keenan (Allen) who has been productive in the past with Melvin Gordon on the ground. That is exciting to see how we can be in the red zone, and watch during OTAs who steps up when it gets competitive.
Chargers.com:What is your overall assessment of the offense as we're approximately midway through the offseason program?
Whisenhunt:It's still early, but it's a little bit easier for us than the defensive side of the ball because we haven't had that many changes. We've got some new wrinkles that we are adding, but you always do that on a yearly basis. We're excited about that. When you look at the number of weapons that we have offensively, the way we are looking at utilizing them within our scheme is exciting. It's been fun talking about those things. Now, we still have a (long way to go). But, there is a definite feel of excitement getting guys back healthy (with) the success we had last year.
Chargers.com:We're moving on to next season, but taking one last look back at 2016, what is one area you feel the team must improve?
Whisenhunt:The number one thing is protect the ball. That has been a point of emphasis also from Coach Lynn. That is the number one thing we have to do a better job of. We didn't get that done to the level we wanted to last year. I know we scored a lot of points, and we had production from young players like Melvin, Hunter and Tyrell Williams. We're excited about them and our offense, but we have to do a better job of protecting the football. That has been a focus even in the beginning stages of the offseason program.
Chargers.com:You mention all those weapons, and now you add in Mike Williams. Obviously there is only one ball to go around. As an offensive coordinator, is there a balancing act figuring out how to keep the players happy in regards to their touches?
Whisenhunt:Well, you saw last year how important depth was when you have injuries. You are always going to have some of those, though hopefully not as many. But you saw last year players stepped up to take a piece of the pie. Now, a fun part of the offseason is working out different combinations of players (on the field together). You get to see how everyone fits in. Now, (depth) is also a good thing from a competitive standpoint because players know they have to perform on the practice field against our defense. Even in the preseason. If they show they will make plays then they will get more opportunities. There are also going to be different weeks that emphasize different players based on (the opponent). The misconception in the NFL is I am going to get Keenan (Allen) this many balls a game and Antonio Gates that many. If you look at last year's (final) game, the defense was not going to let Antonio get a touchdown. On Hunter's touchdown, they had four guys on Antonio. So, I don't think you can ever really control where the ball is going to go. One of the things that's really good for our team is we have a quarterback like Philip Rivers, who is very detailed and very organized to get the ball to the right guy. We need to continue to be efficient with that. Guys are going to get their chances. Our players understand this isn't an individual (game); it's a team. As the offense has success, each player will either get a piece of it or be excited for the team's success.
Chargers.com:You mentioned consistency on offense. One area that has seen change is the offensive line. The first big move was bringing in Russell Okung to anchor the line at left tackle. How big of an acquisition was Russell?
Whisenhunt:It's hard to give an answer to that when we haven't seen him perform in pads for us. But, we are really excited about him. What I have seen from Russell so far is tremendous leadership. He also has tremendous excitement about what he can do for this team, and we're excited about the way he works. He has been a really good player in this league, and he is very motivated. He fits in well with our team. You can obviously see that we are taking strides to make improvements on our offensive line. (GM) Tom Telesco and his staff have helped us. You can also see that in the draft. It is an area you can see we are working hard to get better at, and Russell is a big part of that. But, we also need to have young guys step up.
Chargers.com:What is it you look for in an offensive lineman? Talking about upgrading the line, what are the qualities the Chargers look for in the trenches?
Whisenhunt:Competitive. Tough. We ask those guys to see a lot, and we ask them to work together as a unit a lot. Those are important characteristics of playing the line, but the ones we are looking for are competitive, tough players.
Chargers.com:Finally, Melvin Gordon established himself as a bell-cow back last year with a Pro Bowl season. Still, it's clear the team is going to give plenty of touches to the other backs. How do you see the competition playing out between Kenjon Barner, Branden Oliver, Andre Williams, Kenneth Farrow and so on?
Whisenhunt:It's not a group that we don't know about. We know a little bit about every one of those guys except Kenjon. But we've seen a little bit of him in mini camp and during Phase II. But we are excited about them. Think back to Branden Oliver. I know he wasn't healthy last year, but he was a pretty special performer in 2014. We have also seen flashes from Farrow and Andre. They have both made some plays. I heard Coach Lynn (explain how) we feel good about the guys we have back there, but somebody's got to step up. There is nothing wrong with that. Competition once again makes you better. I think some guys see they have a chance to take that, and hopefully somebody separates himself. We have a good group of guys, and we need a couple to (step up). Melvin can't do it all. He did a lot last year, but you have to have a (group effort).