Here are five keys to the game heading into Sunday’s preseason opener between the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks:
1. Build Chemistry Up Front – The Bolts made a major investment this offseason reinforcing the team’s offensive line. In fact, Joe Barksdale is the only remaining starter returning at the same position. The team notably won the Russell Okung sweepstakes, landing the highly coveted left tackle early in free agency. Meanwhile, third-round pick Dan Feeney will get his first taste of NFL action. Building chemistry upfront is of utmost importance, and after putting a premium on improving the o-line, the vaunted Seahawks’ defense provides an ideal litmus test to see where the unit is at.
2. Win in the Trenches – The offensive line wasn’t the only unit in the trenches the Chargers put a premium on heading into 2017 as they locked up a number of key defensive linemen. Most notably was inking Melvin Ingram to a long-term deal. The speedy edge rusher is making the transition to the LEO position, bookending last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, Joey Bosa. The Bolts expect themselves to wreak havoc on QBs this year while also operating a suffocating run defense. Once again, Seattle provides an excellent barometer as they boast one of the top scoring offenses in recent seasons.
3. Play Fast – That’s the number one thing Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley wants to see out of his players, and for good reason. It’s imperative the Bolts have their new 4-3 scheme down pat to where they can read and react rather than think about their next move. There’s a big difference to running the system during practice compared to under the bright lights against an opposing team.
4. Pound the Rock – Some of the best competition going on at training camp is at running back behind Melvin Gordon and depth along the interior line. However, those positions can often prove difficult to evaluate during practices that contain little to no true contact. Players will be going full tilt for the first time, so it will be the best look yet at Branden Oliver, Andre Williams, Kenjon Barner and company attempting to shed tacklers. The same goes for the big men up front, who’ll finally get to prove how nasty they can be paving lines for the running backs.
5. Stay Healthy! – Most importantly, the Bolts want to come out of the preseason opener as healthy as possible. Last year saw several players lost for the year during exhibition play, including Branden Oliver, Jeff Cumberland and Donavon Clark. Head Coach Anthony Lynn alluded that those dealing with minor bumps and bruises will be held out for precautionary measures. On the flip side, their absence will allow some unheralded players the chance to prove their worth as they aim to make the final 53-man roster.