Perhaps no position group is embracing a fresh start in the 2016 season more than the Chargers’ offensive line.
By now, most know the struggles the unit endured last season.
The team used 11 different players and 24 separate line combinations while the presumptive starting five played only a handful of snaps together. As a result, the turnstile offensive line lacked cohesion and the ground game never found its footing.
“Last year sucked,” said left tackle King Dunlap. “It was awful with all the injuries. Personally, I felt like I let a lot of people down missing all the games I did. I let the whole team down. The goal for me this year is to be healthy and stay healthy. The five of us who were starters only had a couple quarters together. We never got a change to get going, but we think we are going to get that chance this year.”
The NFL requires a short memory as players constantly look ahead. However, as the Chargers enter the second week of the offseason conditioning program, it’s clear the o-line is fueled by last year’s struggles.
“I think about it every day,” right tackle Joe Barksdale said. “4-12 sucks. My blood pressure is high because I get (ticked off) every time I think about it. And I’ll think about it every day until the 2016 season is over because it will motivate me to be better. And it’s not just injuries (for the group). Yeah we had some, but that is an excuse. I don’t listen to what the media says about us because when we start doing good, they start saying something different. It’s too fluid. Regardless of who is out there, we have to perform. At the end of the day, yeah it’s frustrating, but we have to get the job done.”
Every single offensive lineman has been present since the start of Phase I. While last year’s frustrations are still being worked through, their number one commitment has been coming together as a single entity.
“Last year is in the past, but it definitely was frustrating because of all the injuries,” said left guard Orlando Franklin. “We never were able to play together. I think it’s very important for the offensive line to build camaraderie and play together. We have to start working on that right here, right now. There is no larger group out there on the field at one time. We all know if one person doesn't do his job, it’s easy for the whole offense to mess up. So it is important for us all to get on the same page, go out and work. No excuses. Don’t worry about anyone else. Just go out there, work, be accountable for the man next to you and all four other men on the offensive line.”
“We know we have a lot of work to do,” center Chris Watt added. “Last year was definitely a disappointment as a group as we were not how we wanted to be. Injuries were obviously a big part of it, but we aren’t making any excuses. We have to get back to who we are and what we do best. We will find out our style. With the new coaching staff, this is a fresh start for everyone.
Last season, six different players lined up at left guard for the Bolts, five manned left tackle and right guard, four played right tackle and three snapped the ball to Philip Rivers at center. Dunlap was only able to finish two games he started, and is still frustrated by what went down in 2015. It’s also why he is optimistic about the unit heading into this season.
“We think if we are all healthy that we can be one of the best offensive lines in the league,” he said. “Last year’s over with, and we’re looking forward to this year. That’s been the message coming from the coaching staff. Last year is over. Learn from your mistakes, move forward and get better. That’s what we’re focused on.”
According to D.J. Fluker, that starts with the unit’s attitude.
“We think we need to come out with a better mentality and a little more toughness,” the right guard said. “We have to be more physical and continue to fight together. We have to go hold our ground and communicate better. We’ve only been back for a couple weeks, but we are ready to go out and attack it together. I’m excited I get to go to battle with these guys. We’ll define our team.”
Establishing a rushing attack is also top of mind after the Bolts ranked last in yards per carry (3.5) and 31st in total rushing yards (1,358).
“That’s unacceptable,” Fluker said. “We just need to get comfortable as an offensive line and have the whole offense get on the same page when it comes (to blocking). We all have to do our job, and hopefully every individual raises the game. But I’m excited. I feel a difference this season when you walk in the building. Last year (was hard), but I think we’ll be better in the long run because we battled through it together.”
While 10 offensive linemen return to the fold from last year, there are two new established coaches guiding them. Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson will lead the unit in 2016 alongside Assistant Offensive Line Coach Dave DeGuglielmo. Davidson has 21 years of coaching experience, including the last five seasons guiding a Minnesota Vikings offensive line that helped pave the way for Adrian Peterson. Meanwhile, DeGuglielmo is entering his 12th NFL seasons after spending the past two years as the New England Patriots’ offensive line coach.
Even though it’s only been a couple weeks, the new coaches have made an impression.
“I like them,” Franklin said. “They are going to give us the opportunity to play physical. I like that a lot of stuff is in black and white. We are going to have rules for our offensive line where you can always count on those rules. That way just in case a defense comes out with a funky look, you will have clear cut black and white rules which will allow you to play faster and think less. It will allow us to get out of any hard position or look that the defensive gives.”
“I think they are unbelievable coaches,” said Watt. “(Coach Davidson) is very cerebral with the offense and is very detail oriented. It’s still very early, but we’re all excited about having them.”