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How Russell Okung Changed the Chargers' Culture

Russell Okung was named to his second career Pro Bowl earlier this week for his outstanding play on the field.

It was certainly warranted as the left tackle was a rock protecting Philip Rivers’ blindside while paving the way for a career-year for Melvin Gordon.

However, it’s his contributions off the field that were equally, if not more¸ impactful.

After all, the veteran helped usher in a much needed culture change along the offensive line.

Head Coach Anthony Lynn insisted a culture change was necessary from the minute he was hired, and there is no denying Okung played a pivotal role in doing just that.

Just ask Philip Rivers.

“Russell was a great addition,” he said.  “He had an awesome year.  You knew he was a Pro Bowl caliber, big time left tackle.  He certainly lived up to that expectation….His mentality is great.  He’s got great leadership, too.  He brings a very calm way of leading.  A very calm veteran presence to that offensive line group and to the whole offense.  He was a good leader for us as well.  He’s been in a place that won a championship.  He’s won a lot of football games, and he brought that here to us.  It’s good to know we’re going to have him for a long time.”

The chance to instill a new culture was a factor in Okung’s decision to join the Chargers as he was a highly coveted free agent last offseason.

“This year was definitely a transition year for sure,” he said. “I’m really happy because I had the chance to just walk into a place that’s really trying to shift their culture and the mentality of the organization.  I’m glad I can be a part of that.”

So, does Okung agree that he was a big part of that culture change?

“I hope so,” he said humbly.  “I try to be a be a guy who comes in here and is all about professionalism, my work and work ethic.  Hopefully that’s been reflected in my work every single day.”

Of course, just because the Bolts changed a big part of their culture doesn’t mean the work is done.

If anything, it’s only just begun.

One area the entire team wanted to improve entering the 2017 season was their mental and physical toughness and grit.  To that end, Okung believes the guys up  front showed what type of heart they possess.

“The toughness, it’s getting there.  We definitely showed grit and resilience with the way we fought back from 0-4.  Now, we have some places to grow in terms of maturity, and toughness that comes with consistence in play.  I think that’s something we’ll figure out really quick.”

Okung is no stranger to championship level teams, making the Super Bowl twice during his tenure with the Seattle Seahawks, including a 43-8 victory in Super Bowl XLVIII.  The veteran knows Rome wasn’t built in a day, but he firmly believes the Bolts planted the seeds necessary for a high level of sustained success in 2017.

“That’s starting to come together,” he said. “The guys are really positive. Win or lose, no matter what was going on, guys were always positive and willing to overcome.  That’s a key attribute you want to see in any championship team.  Guys who understand how to overcome adversity and any issues that may arise.”

That wasn’t the only attribute that emerged that has Okung bullish on the Bolts’ future.

“There’s this selflessness where the guys are really celebrating when their teammates do well.  That’s something that we really grew into over the later half of the year.  It’s important.  So that among other things has definitely shifted the culture here.  It’s a core of values we had (on my most successful teams).  There’s a level of competition where everything starts, as well as guys understanding how to get the best out of themselves every single day.   Those factors, they are definitely part of what defines a championship caliber team.”

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