With training camp over and the Chargers midway through their preseason slate, we checked in with Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to find out his thoughts on the Bolts' offense to date, and what he hopes to see in the future.
Chargers.com:First off, Philip Rivers was saying how the preseason is way too overanalyzed no matter if it is positive or negative because it is inherently a small sample. Is it hard for you as a coach to stay even keeled and not overanalyze what you are seeing from your players?
Whisenhunt:Well, you know it is a process. For the fans and a lot of the public, everything is an overreaction to what you see because it is an emotional game. I understand that and they want everyone to be successful. If you have a bad play it's "Oh my gosh, it is the end of the world!" Or if you have a great game, we are here at the top (of the league). We are more grounded in knowing that it is a process that we are trying to build and work every day. I'm excited about our players and our team and we are continuing to build. It is such a long season. There's so many ups and downs; there are days when you come off the practice field, or a preseason game and feel great, and there are other days you come off and don't feel good. But you can't let that affect you the next day because even if you lose a game, like we did in Washington, a terrible game in 2013 at the end of the game, you come back the next week and you come back to work. And maybe you win a game like we did in Kanas City on a two minute drive at the end of the game just a few games later and that makes a difference.
Chargers.com:The team has been going pretty much nonstop for the past month. I'm sure there are many things you learned about the offense's identity, but what has really stood out to you in particular?
Whisenhunt:The players have worked hard trying to get better running the football, and we've had some success with that. Obviously we didn't run it as well as we would have liked to against Arizona, but they are an eight in the box team. That is why we were so successful on some of our play-action calls. I think what we've found out about our team is what some of the players' roles are going to be. I'm very pleased with how hard the guys are working to get better. That is what has really stood out to me.
Chargers.com:Have there been any surprises you may not have expected, especially after being gone the past two seasons before returning?
Whisenhunt:Well, I had a feel about this team from being here before and obviously knew some of the guys on the team. Again, I've really been impressed with the way they've worked. I can't say that I'm surprised with that because they worked this way the last time. I see a motivated team though. They are excited about where we are going offensively, and they are working hard to become a good offensive unit. That is an important piece of it. I think that is similar to what happened in 2013. It took a little longer to get going in '13, and we hit some rough spots in the season. Hopefully (we can get through that) faster, and I like to think we are moving along pretty good right now.
Chargers.com:There are two preseason games remaining over the next week or so. What do you want to see from our offense in those final tuneups?
Whisenhunt:I think this week is a real test for us. It's a test from the stand point that we are going into a new stadium that is going to be full, there is going to be a lot of noise and we are going against a good football team. We don't necessarily have our full squad. We are going to be playing with different pieces and we are not going to be trying to match up certain things. But how we play, how we handle the situation, not so much did we run the ball for x number of yards or pass the ball for x number of yards, but it is going to be about how we handled this third-and-long situation when they came after us with pressure. Were we able to communicate and pick it up? When it is first and second down when it is really noisy and we have to change a play or have to adjust a blocking scheme, can we get those things done? Because that first week in Kansas City it is going to be as loud as it can be. It is one of the tough places to play. It is more about this being a great opportunity for us offensively to prepare like it is a regular season game. We can use a lot of the things we get out of this game to help us be prepared for Week 1 against Kansas City.
Chargers.com:There are so many things you have to keep an eye on all year long as an offensive coordinator, but especially at this part of the year. You need to determine roles of established players while also evaluating "bubble players" who will fill out the roster. How do you personally divvy up those responsibilities?
Whisenhunt:That comes out over time. As far as figuring out what we are going to do with some of the guys we know will make the team, a lot of that is in competitive practices with Coach (John) Pagano and his defense. You are trying to create matchups and see how those guys can operate. You don't always want to do a lot of those things in preseason because you don't want to show some of your weapons and how you are going to deploy them. As far as finding out about the young guys, is a day in, day out thing. Some guys are impressive in practice and that gets your attention. But what you really want to see is how they handle the game situations. Sometimes they can't do it (in the game). So really it is a combination of both for the younger guys or for the players trying to find a spot on this roster.
Chargers.com:As a play caller and competitor, how frustrating is it to hold back in the games from showing our full arsenal? Also, doesn't that make it harder to evaluate talent?
Whisenhunt:It's not like we are holding everything back. We are doing some things in the preseason still because we are going to have to do them (when it counts). There are a lot of teams that know what we are going to do regardless if they see it in the preseason or not. I think in order to battle the frustration that you say, I don't feel frustrated because going against our defense is a release. The practices have been great. They have been very competitive. We are going against a defense that is playing well and doing a lot of different things. I think that helps prepare you for what you are going to see in-season and it helps you evaluate your players, too.
Chargers.com:Finally, how many jobs are still on the line to be won?
Whisenhunt:There are a lot of jobs that are on the line, especially with our team. After last year, we understand that we have to get better in a lot of areas; from the o-line to the receivers, even tight ends and running backs, there are guys working to find a spot on this team. Now, we are not always talking about an active roster spot, but there are guys working for a practice squad spot. That is an important spot. A lot of these guys you have seen come up through the ranks began there. Look at James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He couldn't make the team, made the practice squad and next thing you know he is the Defensive Player of the Year. So is there a guy like that on the field for us? That is what we are looking to see.