Over the coming weeks, we'll be checking in with the Chargers' position coaches and coordinators to get the inside scoop. We continue with RB Coach Alfredo Roberts.
Chargers.com: This is your second year as running backs coach. How's this offseason gone for you and the group, and how much does it help having a year under your belt?
Roberts: For me personally, it's still obviously a time to learn and grow. So while they were away, I still (treated it the same). I studied other players and other teams scheme-wise of how they were doing things. How players were attacking different defenses. For us, we set some goals coming into the offseason on what we want to be better at. From identifying defensive fronts to understanding different run concepts and being better in the protection standpoint.
Chargers.com: This is a very young group. How unique is that, and what's it like working with so many young guys?
Roberts: It's good because the energy is great. I'm so far separated from my age to their age, so (my playing days) are not as relevant as they used to be! But it's good because they are competitive and understand (the situation). They're not like typical rookies. I always say be where your feet are, and when they're at work, they work. They study. If we ask them to do anything at work, they never give bad body language. When we asked them to show up for an extra meeting, they come in and want to learn because they know the only opportunity for them to be available is to learn it and be trustworthy. If we can't trust you, we can't play you. But this is a really good group, and they are all kind of lumped together. I tell Coach Lynn all the time, at training camp and in the preseason, this group is going to be fun to watch. We'll have some tough decisions to make, but hopefully it will play itself out.
Chargers.com: In Melvin Gordon you have a young guy that has gotten so much better each passing year. His all-purpose yards were among the top in the league. What makes him so special?
Roberts: Last year, I told you that Melvin has what it takes to be an elite player. He tapped into that last season. He was one of the leading scorers in all of football, and that says a lot. Now, can he get better? Yes. I think he'll be better this year because his knowledge of himself, his body and his knowledge of the game (will let) things slow down for him. It'll be more fun to watch him be productive this year.
Chargers.com: The biggest question mark for him coming out of college was his pass catching ability. Safe to say he's put that to rest. How proud are you of the way he's emerged as a dual-threat?
Roberts: We talked about how he shouldn't worry if we design passes for him. His job is the learn the protections and then make himself available. If he does that, the ball is going to find him. And he did a great job of that. So he worked on seeing the ball, catching the ball and having a plan to transition into a runner once you have it. He turned those catches into (running plays). He makes it hard for the defense because when they try to take Keenan (Allen) and the rest of those guys away, he's in those no-cover zones. So he's done a great job of it. We can throw the ball out to him for two yards and he can take it another 50. I just see the way he acts and works at it, and still wants to be even better in the passing game.
Chargers.com: Austin Ekeler is someone who emerged as a complementary back, basically forcing you guys to put him on the field. Can he carry a bigger load this year?
Roberts: Well, he's going to have to. And I think he's shown the ability as a runner that he can do that. He's so strong. He's going to get every opportunity to be that guy. Whenever we've given the kid an opportunity, he's made the best of it. He's a fun kid; highly energetic and highly motivated. And the quarterback likes him. When the quarterback likes you, you've always got a chance! Austin is a tail-wagger, and I love tail-wagers. Now, what is a tail-wagger? Well, whenever I open the door, my dog is standing there and his tail is wagging. That shows he wants to play. And that's Austin. He has the same energy. And I want tail-waggers. I don't want guys you have to prod. I want guys who want to play and get excited when it's time to compete.
Chargers.com: What did you like about Justin Jackson as a prospect, and what kind of impact can he have as a rookie?
Roberts: I did what I call TV scouting for him, and I watched him play against Penn State. On that day, he was better than (Saquon) Barkley. I'm not taking anything away from Barkley, but Justin had a better rushing day in that game. So, he's been highly productive in a conference that's known to be a pounding, physical conference. I know he's going to bring that. He's a smart guy. He's sharp and he works at it. He doesn't have to mess it up to get it right. So, I want to see how it transitions. In the Big Ten, sometimes you get the advantage of having a better line than (the defense) so you'll get bigger running lanes. The lanes (in the NFL) are not going to be the same. That's the NFL.
Chargers.com: Russell Hansbrough came in at the end of last year. What have you seen from him in his first offseason with the Chargers?
Roberts: Russell's done a nice job. He's smooth. He's competing, but he knows he has to be better in pass protection. He can do it as a runner, but now it's seeing if he can carry the load. He's caught the ball well. He's been at it. This is a big preseason for him, so we'll see what he looks like.
Chargers.com: How about Detrez Newsome? Why was he the undrafted free agent this team targeted?
Roberts: Detrez is an interesting guy. He's probably the next biggest guy in the room bulk-wise after Melvin. He had a lot of production yards, which is what you want to see if you go to a smaller school. If you go to a smaller school, you want to make sure that guy is dominant in that league. He's shown some flashes and bursts, and he's growing and trying to figure it all out. I'm interested to see what he looks like in pads.
Chargers.com: Turning our attention to the fullbacks, what did you think of Derek Watt's season and what are your expectations as he heads into his third year in the NFL?
Roberts: Derek Watt is one of the better fullbacks in this league. Coach Whisenhunt has designed some things for him, and he's had some fun out there this offseason. He's a great teammate and a great guy. It's been interesting watching him grow into it. He's proven that he's trustworthy. When he's gotten an opportunity (running the ball), he's produced. Look at last year, he had some good catch-and-runs. He had one carry from scrimmage that he broke for 20 yards. I've joked all offseason to Whiz saying this is the secret weapon! Every time you've given him something, he's excelled at it! But Derek works really hard. He's very disciplined about doing things the right way. I think as a blocker he's gotten better, and he has a really good understanding of what we're doing offensively. He takes pride in trying to understand defenses and defensive fronts so it will make it easier for him. I tell him as a blocker, we want him to enter the line of scrimmage as a runner. Meaning, if you are going into a gap and it's closed off, just take the next gap because the ball's not going there. Now he's starting to make those decisions quicker and quicker.
Chargers.com: Finally, the other fullback, Anthony Manzo-Lewis, is a different type of player than Watt. Can you describe him a little bit?
Roberts: He's a bulkier guy. He has shown the ability when we throw it to him, he can catch it. There are a lot of football plays between now and the end of training camp, so he'll get his opportunity. It will be good to see what he can do.
Take a look at the entire Bolts roster leading into 2018 Preseason.
The Chargers' 2018 training camp schedule is official, so mark your calendars to watch the Bolts prepare for the upcoming season! The team will hold 14 practices open to the public between July 28 and August 23. For more information, please visit www.chargers.com/camp.