Below are three takeaways from Monday's press conferences with head coach Brandon Staley and defensive lineman Justin Jones:
Three games left
Heading into Week 16, it appears it will take all 18 weeks of the 2021 season to determine the seven AFC teams that will make it into the postseason this year. Currently five teams have an 8-6 record including the Chargers who sit in the second Wild Card spot.
With three games left in the regular season for the Chargers and two of the three games against AFC West opponents, head coach Brandon Staley talked about his message to the team after they returned from their 'mini-bye' on Monday.
"What we have to continue to do on this practice field, we have to continue to improve because I think that our team still has another gear it can get to," Staley said. "That's your goal, as a coach, is for your team to truly play its best at the end. There are a lot of obstacles in everybody's way right now. There are plenty of obstacles, depending on how you look at it. With obstacles, there is a lot of opportunity."
Defensive lineman Justin Jones is focused on the task ahead rather than looking at the AFC playoff picture as a whole. Jones explained why the Bolts will be playing with a chip on their shoulder as they travel to Houston this weekend to take on the Texans in Week 16.
"They are going to have to go through us," Jones said. "We are going to Houston and they are going to have to beat us. They are going to have to play their best ball to beat us, and we're coming with our best ball, as well. We have a chip on our shoulder, obviously, from last week, with a tough loss and stuff like that, but we have to move on. We are focused on the next week."
Throughout the season, Staley has reiterated that the Bolts are a battle tested team. While their latest test against the Chiefs didn't turn out the way they wanted, there are still plenty of positives to take away.
Jones talked about what the team is focusing on for the rest of the season and how the Chargers will fight all four quarters no matter the opponent.
"[We're] going in and focusing on us," Jones said. "Focusing on us, the identity of our team. Correcting some of the things we need corrected and just keep moving on, keep getting better. One thing I can say about our team is that we do progress every week, we look better every week. Defense looks amazing every week, we are getting to that complete team and we are getting to that point to where whoever we play. They know that it's going to be a long day."
Jones also talked about what he feels the team's identity is through 14 games and how that has helped them battle through adversity throughout the season.
"We have some warriors on our team," he mentioned. "All 11 guys on the field, everybody not on the field who are cheering us on, our coaching staff, our players who dress, our players who don't dress, we have some true warriors on our team. That's our identity. We fight through adversity. When things don't look good, we know that we have each other's back. That's a really good quality to have."
Rashawn Slater returns to practice, Bosa out against Houston
Staley also announced OLB Joey Bosa and CB Kemon Hall will be out for Sunday's game in Houston after both were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday. Five other players, including center Corey Linsley and cornerback Tevaughn Campbell, were added to that list for the Chargers as well.
While Bosa being out for Sunday is a big impact, fellow outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu has put together a career year under Staley's scheme. Jones talked about how Nwosu has been playing not just the last few games but the entire year as he's set to take on an even bigger role in the absence of fellow pass rusher Bosa.
"Uchenna has been playing well, I feel like, all season," Jones said. "He's been rushing well. I feel like he's a really good player and a smart player, and that helps him make a lot of plays. He puts himself in great positions to make a lot of plays because he knows the game so well, which is a testament to how he works. He works really hard, studies a lot of films, stays on the field after practice to get extra work in."
Staley explained that he had a vision for Nwosu playing in his system going back to his time as the Chicago Bears outside linebackers coach in 2017. Staley was able to study Nwosu in his first year as an NFL coach and knew he would 'thrive' if he was on his roster.
"Being with him every day in person, you know the character of the person," Staley said. "Uchenna has real toughness, real instincts, real play-making ability. He has that versatility that you need to play, that we like to play within our defense. I think his best football is still out there for him…I think he's having a great year for us. Excited for him down the stretch."
Rookie OLB Chris Rumph II was also added to the COVID list on Monday, so Staley explained the Bolts' edge rush plan will be a 'team operation' and they are going to have 'hybrid-type groupings' available on Sunday.
On the flip side, Staley informed members of the media that rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater was back at practice on Monday after being placed on the COVID list ahead of the Chargers game vs. the Chiefs.
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