At the midpoint of the 2016 campaign, we sat down with General Manager Tom Telesco to get his thoughts on the season to date and the remaining eight games.
Chargers.com:First off, with the first half of the season now in the books, what is your mindset heading into the final eight weeks of the season?
Telesco:We are 3-5 and playing in probably the toughest division in the NFL. We only have two division games left so I think that shows how important this game is against Tennessee this week. We can't afford to drop any more games so this game is really important. Even right now, where we sit, all our goals for the season are attainable.
Chargers.com:From Philip Rivers to the coaching staff, everyone in this building remains very confident. How has this team been able to stay so confident despite some very tough losses and the 3-5 record?
Telesco:That is the mentality you have to have. That is the mentality that Mike (McCoy) and the coaches have engrained in the players. The fact that we had so many gut-wrenching losses and we are able to respond each week and come back with the confidence that you need says a lot. I don't think you can survive in this league without that mentality. That is how we have been able to bounce back and still play well the next week even though we have had some losses that have been difficult to handle.
Chargers.com:How do you balance what our record says we are, how we have played and what the media and those outside this building has said about this team?
Telesco: We don't have to balance anything here. The last thing we do is listen to the outside world. We are just concerned about this week. The fact that we are 3-5 is inconsequential after this week, so that is how we look at it. We don't have to balance it with how we play vs. what our record is; that is more for discussions outside of here. The way we operate in here is we are worried about this week only. We are worried about Tennessee. Then we will worry about the next one and then we will count up the wins and losses at the end and see if we make the playoffs or not.
Chargers.com:There haven't only been tough losses, but tough injuries as well. How hard has that been on you as General Manager?
Telesco:Every year there are guys that get hurt and roster moves to make. Obviously this year there have been more than in the past and more than usual, but it is a challenge we just have to take on. The guys that have stepped in and played, we have been really pleased with. We have had some early injuries on offense with Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Jeff Cumberland. Still, we have the number three scoring offense in the league. Guys have stepped up, and the coaches have done a really good job of getting guys prepared to play and putting them in positions to succeed.
Chargers.com:Speaking of the offense, what is your overall assessment of how they have played to date?
Telesco:Well, we are thrid in the league in scoring as I mentioned, and that is the main goal. I think the receiver group has really stepped up and done a really good job. The offensive line has been battling for us. Philip has played great. We are moving the ball and scoring points. We just have to do a better job of protecting the football and not turning it over.
Chargers.com:On the other side, how would you characterize the defense overall?
Telesco:I thought they did a really good job against Denver last week. Our defensive front has really played well, and it is a very deep. We have the three starters with Brandon Mebane, Corey Liuget and Joey Bosa; those guys have all played extremely well. But the guys that come in rotation are as well. Guys like Caraun Reid, who was doing a great job for us before he got hurt. Tenny Palepoi is playing really well and so is Damion Square and Darius Philon. That defensive front is a deep group and that has helped us. They have a presence up front and making a difference. We're also causing turnovers on defense at a higher rate than the past, and that has been big in getting a short field for our offense.
Chargers.com:Our rookies have played extremely well. Did you foresee them having this big of an impact this early?
Telesco:They have taken on a lot due to some of the injuries at different positions, and they all have been contributing. We've been pleased. They all have a role and have had to take on a lot, some earlier than expected. Give credit to our coaches who have gotten young players ready to play, and play significant snaps.
Chargers.com:Is it rewarding for the front office and scouting department to see those contributions so early?
Telesco:Honestly, we are more focused on what the record is because that is what matters most.
Chargers.com:All offseason the focus was on improving in the run game on both sides of the ball. That's clearly been the case. How big of a difference has that made?
Telesco:It's been big, and it will be certainly tested this week. The defensive front has been doing such a good job, and the linebackers too, and they will be tested against Tennessee with how they run the ball with their two running backs. They do it very well. Offensively, we have stayed with the run and the offensive line has been battling, Melvin (Gordon) has been running extremely hard. He has shown he has an all-around game as far as running the football, pass protection and catching the ball. We have had to rely on that a lot. Those are two things we really wanted to improve from last year to this year. Through eight games, there is improvement that we have seen but there is still a lot more that needs to be done.
Chargers.com:Looking at our roster as a whole, only six players remain from before you arrived in 2013. Only Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Melvin Ingram, Corey Liuget, Darrell Stuckey and Mike Windt have been with this team longer than four years. Is that common, and do you feel like a new nucleus has been formed with younger players?
Telesco:There has been (a new nucleus), but that is normal. Whether our staff had been here for ten years or four years, that is just normal. It is always fun to watch players grow. This is just one example, but a player like Jason Verrett coming in as a rookie seeing him evolve as a player, as a leader, is always pleasant to watch. We see that with all these guys. They come in from college 20-23 years old and you see them grow as players and people. Sometimes when these guys are done playing and they are married, have kids and move on to their next life - you see them literally grow up right in front of you. The nature of this business is there is turnover on roster. You try to keep as many players as you can of your core together. Having a hard salary cap in our league makes it a little more difficult but you try to keep as many as you can of that core and watch them grow and develop together. We think that is how you win. I think that is a good system to try and win, and what we are trying to accomplish.
Chargers.com:Finally, five of our last eight games are at home. How big is it to establish a home field advantage as we look to stack wins together?
Telesco:It starts this weekend with Tennessee. It is alumni weekend, so there is going to be a lot of former players and a lot of Chargers Hall of Famers here. That will be great. But we have a huge home field advantage when our crowd gets loud. They really did for the last home game vs. Denver. Like I said, these next few games are so important starting with Tennessee because our division is tough. Everyone in front of us only has two losses and we only have two division games left so we have to make up some ground. It starts this week against Tennessee as we start clawing our way back into it.