General Manager Tom Telesco and Head Coach Anthony Lynn were front and center this morning as they held court at Podium One at the Scouting Combine.
The pair offered a ton of important insight into the team, including some high-level plans for the future.
Here is what they had to say:
What Will Happen with Antonio Gates?
Whether legendary tight end Antonio Gates will return or not in 2018 was one of the most pressing questions for the Bolts' brass. Telesco explained that the team will meet with the free agent in the coming days, explaining what will go into the decision:
"We'll talk to his agents here. I don't have an update beyond that. You have unrestricted free agents, and then you have unrestricted free agents that are Hall of Fame players, iconic players for our organization who still attack the game like a college free agent, with that same passion. And his locker room presence is unbelievable. But there's a lot of moving parts in free agency, so we still have some work to do there."
Meanwhile, when asked if Gates still has a role, Lynn explained how the team would love to have number 85 back if it makes sense for all parties:
"Absolutely. We had a good exit meeting. It's something we haven't talked about with Antonio in detail yet, but he's one of the greatest Chargers of all time. For a guy to take a back seat to Hunter Henry last year, take a secondary role, and still be the leader that he was for our players, it was just very impressive."
Is it Time for the QB of the Future?
Philip Rivers isn't going anywhere. In fact, he is coming off one of his best years in which the Chargers boasted the NFL's top ranked passing offense. Still, with Rivers getting up there in age, it's only natural many are wondering if the team is right to draft that QB of the future. Here's what Telesco had to say on that topic:
"There's been an emphasis every year, certainly since I got to the Chargers. You never know when that opportunity is going to be there for that next quarterback, and we're in a great position because Philip is playing so well right now, and we feel really good about him. But we're also realistic to know that we have some work to do to plan for the future. The work we do and the resources we put in scouting that quarterback position is really no different than in past years…. With the quarterback position, you're always looking. I don't care if you have a young quarterback or an old quarterback. But certainly in our case, our starting quarterback is 30-plus. We've always been looking to see who that next quarterback is, fully knowing when that guys comes in, whether it's the draft, trade or free agency, if the player has to sit for one year, two years, three years or longer, then he'll sit because we're very happy with the way Philip's playing. That's just part of it, but we're always prepared to do what we have to do. It just hasn't lined up for us."
It's clear that the GM and head coach are on the same page as Lynn offered similar sentiments. However, the head coach was adamant that if the right guy was there, he wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger whether it was in the first-round or the last:
"I plan on being here for the long haul. If I can get my future quarterback right now, why wouldn't I? I'm just looking at the big picture here. We're trying to get better at every spot. And, you never know what position is going to step up and help you win."
Where Does Jason Verrett Fit in?
Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams and Desmond King emerged as one of the top cornerback trios a year ago. Now the Bolts get one of the game's elite corners back for 2018 in Jason Verrett. A Pro Bowler in 2015, number 22 missed all but five games over the past two seasons. Nonetheless, it's clear the Chargers have big plans for Verrett, as well as where he fits into the defensive back rotation. After all, you can never have enough cornerbacks. Here's what Lynn had to say:
"I feel about corners like running backs. You can never have enough of those, too. Having Jason back, that's going to be huge. If he's back healthy and in the lineup, we can do a lot of different things. We can move Trevor inside in the slot. We can have Desmond in the box. There are just so many things we can do with (four) corners."
In the same vein, Telesco offered similar thoughts about the star cornerback's return:
"You have to be able to cover in this league. The more corners the better. You can never have enough of them. Jason's been coming along really well. I thought our secondary did a really nice job last year. Our defense as a whole, we kept people out of the end zone. But the secondary did a nice job, didn't give up very many big plays. But you have to be able to cover, and to add him back is going to be a huge help."
What's the Plan to Fix the Kicking Game?
Without a doubt, the Chargers enter the offseason knowing they must find a solution for the team's kicking game woes after five different players attempted a field goal or extra point. The team currently has two under contract in Nick Rose, who was the team's kicker the final two games of the season, and Roberto Aguayo, a second-round pick in 2016 who signed a Reserve/Future contract in January. Still, Telesco explained that the team will exhaust every option to fix the issue:
"The end result didn't work, so you've got to look at it and see how we evaluated it. Maybe we made a mistake, maybe we didn't. But let's look at it again because the end result wasn't good enough. In the moment we made those decisions, you think that you're making the right decision all the way through for all the right reasons. But it doesn't always work out the way you planned. Obviously, that one didn't work out the way we planned. But we have some pretty good options moving forward for this year. We have a number of different options. I think where we are right now, I don't think we can say, 'Hey, this is the way we're going to go.' We've got to look at everything. We'll get that fixed."
Lynn agreed with the GM while talking about the team's plans when it comes to kicker:
"We addressed it right after the season. We brought in Roberto (Aguayo). He's a young talent. He's bounced around a little bit. We're still looking to bring in some competition there for him. We'll see. We can find it in the draft and may address it in the draft. If not, maybe free agency. I'd really like to get a young guy who can grow with the organization and be a part of that locker room."
What Areas Must the Team Address?
Lynn didn't mince words when asked what the team needs to improve over the coming months. In fact, it's actually what you would expect:
"We have to stop the run. There's no doubt about it. Our Achilles Heel all year was stopping the run. Some of that is coming from the linebacker play. I think we need to get better at linebacker. When we have those edge rushers – and I love my edge rushers – but the Catch 22 with edge rushers is sometimes It opens up running lanes. But I thought Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, I thought they did a good job once we emphasized stopping the run, of playing more down the middle and playing more run technique versus pass. That's really unselfish of those guys."
Telesco offered a similar response, though added an extra emphasis on the linebacker position:
"We've got plenty of needs. There really isn't one need bigger than the other. If you have a need, you have to fix it. And our linebacking corps was inconsistent last year, so it's something I'm definitely looking at. I thought Denzel (Perryman) played very well when he was in there. He had some injuries that slowed him down. But Denzel's a playmaker and a good player for us. But we need to shore up that position a little bit."
What are the Expectations for Forrest Lamp?
The Bolts were dealt a blow last year when Lamp was lost for the year in training camp. The team had high hopes for the second-round pick, and according to Lynn, those expectations remain the same:
"Losing Forrest last year was big. I saw enough in a week to know what he could've done for the rest of the season. He's working his way back right now. He's not quite back yet. With him back in the lineup at that right guard position, I'm expecting him to pick up where he left off last year."
What's the Ideal Workload for Melvin Gordon?
One of the game's true bell-cow backs, you may assume the Chargers would look to limit Gordon's workload in 2017. However, Lynn said the exact opposite is the case. If anything, he wants number 28 to get even more touches:
"The way he finished the season, I'm very comfortable. I thought he was one of the best runners in the game the last four weeks. It just seems like the bigger the game, the better he plays. We're going to have to monitor that knee a little bit. He was gimpy at the beginning of the season, I think, because he maybe pushed too much in training camp. Being around him for year and knowing what he can handle, we'll just have to do a better job of that. I'm very comfortable with Melvin Gordon…. I think we were 20th in the league in rushing attempts. We're talking about giving the ball to Melvin more (next season)."
How Do the Bolts Plan to Incorporate Austin Ekeler?
Just because the team wants to ride Gordon doesn't necessarily mean a reduced role for last year's breakout running back. Ekeler has an important niche in the team's offense, but Lynn says he'll still have to compete for the complementary role:
"I think Austin did a heck of a job last year. But, I like to have a tandem backfield. I think when it was DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, I loved the way 10 years ago they started that attack out of the backfield. It was two different skillsets. It keeps the defense off balance. And anytime you can attack a defense that way, why wouldn't you? I played in the backfield with Terrell Davis and he carried the ball 400 times a year. You can't be at your best 400 times a year. You're going to have to take some time off. When you have two guys doing it, I think you have a better chance of having a better rushing attack…. I think Austin can compete for that spot, but we need to get someone else who can compete for that spot as well."
Telesco was also asked about the popular running back, and his thoughts mimic that of the head coach:
"I thought he did a really nice job for us last year. I think he had over 600 all-purpose yards, both running the ball and receiving out of the backfield. He did a great job for us on special teams as a gunner covering kicks. He really was one of our better special teamers last year. So he adds a lot of value to us, with a lot of roles. I think he will continue to grow as he gets older and learns more. But we're excited about what he can bring to the offense…The way Melvin runs with his violence and aggression, you do need another back in there to give him a rest a little bit, but a back to make some plays for us. And obviously he has a different style than Melvin too, so that helps out."
How Does the Team Value Cardale Jones?
The answer is quite a lot. The team got an up-close look at him all season long in practice. While he still has some areas to clean up, he also showed the type of skillset that could conceivably make him the quarterback for the future. Here is what Lynn had to say:
"He's a very young player. People forget this guy never lost a college football game. He's 6-foot-5, 260, can move around pretty well and has a strong arm. Every day in practice he makes throws that make you shake your head. He's a highly intelligent young man. There's no reason why he couldn't be our future quarterback."
Telesco also chimed in with a similar assessment:
"There were moments in practice he looked really, really good. And there were moments where he looked like he still needed some work, which is natural for a young quarterback. I think in the preseason games where he came into the process and tried to learn the offense, I don't think we saw the full Cardale Jones in the preseason. I like who I saw in practice, but he needs live game reps. And he'll see that in the preseason this year now that he has a full season under his belt. We're excited about the progress. He's big, strong, athletic and throws the ball well. He's smart. He can make plays with his feet, so there's a lot of talent there. There's a lot of things to work with, but you'd like to see some live reps. We can't send him to NFL Europe. There's no other place to send him for those live quarterback reps. You can only get so much in practice, but we're excited about his development to see how far he can take it."