Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco took center stage at "Podium A" for a wide-ranging press conference with the national media.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Telesco's session:
- Many in the media have wondered if the Chargers would need to make a choice between Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green as both tight ends are pending free agents. The GM said that is not the case, and the team could opt to re-sign them both. In fact, he plans on meeting with their agents this week:
*"We don't see it like (we have to prioritize) one over the other. We can do both if we have to, which we'd like to do. But as far as where we're at cap wise, we can handle both…. (Green's) someone the last three years who has improved every year. He's been a big part of our offense. Obviously, when you work with Antonio Gates on the other side, you may not get as many balls as you would like. But Ladarius has shown some improvement both in the passing game and the blocking at the line of scrimmage. He's someone we'd like to keep. We'll see how it goes."
* * With Malcom Floyd hanging up his cleats, Telesco noted that wide receiver is an area the team will also address this offseason:
*"Obviously it's not as strong with Malcom not being there. Keenan (Allen) has had a very good couple years for us. I think he showed (that) this year before his injury. I think he was leading the league in receiving before he went down. His development has been very, very good but we'd also like to get some help there, too."
** * Keenan Allen was in fact on historic pace when he suffered a kidney injury Week 8 against the Baltimore Ravens. His 67 catches were the third most through eight games in NFL history, and he was on pace to catch 142 passes, which would have shattered LaDainian Tomlinson's team record of 100 in a season. Telesco said he recently saw Allen, and the wide receiver will be ready for the start of the offseason program:
"Yes, he's healthy now. He'll be in our offseason program with everybody else in April. I know he's been in our building working. I think a lot of it right now is just conditioning and getting his running back (in shape)."
- Another wide receiver the Bolts will count on is Stevie Johnson. Even though he battled injuries, Telesco was pleased with how the veteran performed in his first year in San Diego. The GM expects Johnson to play a big role in 2016:
"Stevie had a nice year for us. He can play inside or outside for us. He's got really good ball skills. He separates from defenders really, really well. That's always been his calling card. And with Philip Rivers if you can separate and you've got hands, you are going to catch a lot of balls and Stevie did that for us, especially in the red zone. So we're happy with what he contributed this year."
- Melvin Gordon will be the first to admit his rookie year was not up to his standards. The dynamic running back's season was cut short due to injury, as he finished with 641 yards on the ground and 33 catches for 192 yards through the air. Telesco compared Gordon to the rest of the team, explaining how he "pressed a bit" during his first season. Regardless, his growth throughout the year and pure talent have the Bolts excited about his future:
"As a football team, we didn't have the season we were hoping for all the way across the board. So Melvin progressed throughout the year. I think he played well early and then like a lot of our time, he got a little frustrated and didn't have the success he would have liked. Like most young players, I think he pressed a little bit like a lot of players will. But we saw progress in him. We saw progress in a couple categories that coming from college he hadn't done a lot. So pass protection, as far as catching the ball out of the backfield. He was on pace for over 40 catches until he got hurt. So we saw growth in him. We need more growth in our entire offense, especially in the running game which is something we are going to really emphasize this offseason. But he's got good things ahead of him."
- Branden Oliver is another young rusher that saw his season cut short due to a toe injury suffered midway through the year. The Chargers are high on the running back as he enters his third season:
"He was in that mix last year until he got hurt with the toe injury. Brandon brings a unique dynamic to us. He runs really hard. He's 5'8 and change but he weighed over 200 pounds. He's got some power in his game, he plays very well in the pass game as far as screens and dumpoffs and can make yards after the catch and he can pass protect too. He'll have a role with us. He had a role with us on special teams this past year so he's a guy we're excited to get healthy again."
- Much of the Chargers struggles on offense last season can be attributed to a disappointing performance by the offensive line. The unit suffered a staggering number of injuries in 2015 as the team rarely had its full assortment up front. In fact, Joe Barksdale was the only lineman to start all 16 games. While the offensive line must improve as a unit, Telesco explained the biggest priority is to play as a cohesive, healthy unit:
"It's something that we'll still keep working at because we didn't get where we needed to get last year. So offensive line wise, we had a group that we just never got together. We had no continuity from the group. We couldn't get a game together with the same five out there. It's a little hard to evaluate the players in the group because you never really had a full five out there. But I will say the guys who played, we played 10 or 11 players, our pass protection was pretty good, the run game wasn't nearly good enough. That's something we have got to work on in the offseason and we've made some changes on the offensive coaching staff. We think that will help. We'll get some players healthy and get some players to play to their level, too. So it's still a work in progress."
- **Florida State's Jalen Ramsey is a player some draft pundits project the Chargers may select with the third overall pick. The talented defensive back can play either cornerback or safety, and Telesco explained how that is one of his virtues"
"Without going into too much detail about specific players, he's a player that could probably go either way. He played corner this year, he played safety the year before. I think a lot of talented players you can use in different areas. But our evaluation of players is not completely done yet but obviously he's an excellent player."**
- Players from major conferences often get a lot of publicity, but Telesco has had success unearthing hidden gems over his career. As such, the GM was asked what goes into evaluating small school prospects*:
"Number one, they have to dominate the competition at that level. That's the first thing up. Last year, (at) North Dakota State where Kyle Emanuel came from, they play a Division I school every year while he was there and I think they won most of them. So he did have some tape against other Division I players. But number one, you have to dominate the competition whether you're Division I-AA, II or III. And if you can do that, hopefully you are in an All Star game where you can see him compete against other Division I players. Sometimes you just have to go off the tape you have seen and project them to this level, and sometimes you don't know until they get here. I was with the (Colts) and we drafted a receiver from Mount Union in Division III. We liked a lot of things about him, but we had never seen him play against anybody remotely like a Division I player except the one all-star game he was in. But with him, you didn't know he could do it until he got here. But he had size and speed and ball skills and hands and he was tough and strong and smart. And just like when Bill Polian took Andre Reed from Kutztown State, he took Pierre Garcon from Mount Union and he turned out to be an excellent player.*
- Everyone always wants to know how much cap space a team has, and Telesco says the Chargers have a comfortable amount heading into free agency. However, he explained how that number is never as big as it seems:
"Cap wise, we have enough to do what we need to do, let's put it that way. I think this time of year, everybody has their pool number as far as what they have available (and) the room they have available. That isn't always the number you can spend on free agents from other teams. I always look at (cap space) like your bank finances you have at the first of the month. You have a deposit in your checking account, but you have to take out your mortgage or your rent, your parking, your grocery and your utilities. And then you have your discretionary money at the end. So our cap is very similar to that. We have a number right now that we have room for but before we use that money on other free agents, we have to look at RFA tenders (and) exclusive rights tenders. We have to subtract out of that. There's obviously some players of our own that we'd like to re-sign that will come out of that number. We have to budget, too, for the draft picks this year and that counts in the cap. We have to budget for in season injury replacements which obviously last year we had to make sure we budget high because last year we had a good amount. And then we have some potential extensions for some younger core players. After you go through all that, you have your number at the end that you can spend on other teams UFAs. So the number isn't always going to be what you'd like, but we think we have enough to get done what we want to get done."