Amid all the change surrounding the Los Angeles Chargers, the return of Ken Whisenhunt provides stability for one of the NFL's top offenses in 2016. Still, Whiz believes it can be even more explosive as the Bolts begin plans for the 2017 season.
The offensive coordinator spoke for the first time about teaming up with Head Coach Anthony Lynn, his return to the Bolts and plans for the coming months:
Chargers.com:First off, what went into your decision to return to the Chargers in 2017?
Whisenhunt:Well, there were a lot of positive things from last season and it was nice seeing some of the younger players step up and grow. Obviously, you have a quarterback like Philip Rivers that makes a big difference. I had known (Head Coach) Anthony (Lynn) and was comfortable with him. We talked about things before in the past, and it felt right. I had other opportunities but this felt right. I am grateful to the Spanos family for having me here, and I certainly feel like I have good relationship with (General Manager) Tom Telesco. So then add in knowing Anthony and what kind of coach he is, what kind of person he is and the opportunity to work with some of the guys I that really respect seemed like a good move.
Chargers.com:What has the last month been like working alongside Lynn?
Whisenhunt:Fortunately, some of the guys that were on the staff last year got to stay, and there is a lot to be said about continuity. I certainly give Anthony a lot of credit for doing that because we did have some good things happen last year with some of our young guys. Melvin Gordon stepped up, we had a good effort by Hunter Henry and obviously Tyrell (Williams) went over 1,000 yards, which is a pretty big accomplishment. As far as getting to know Anthony, he has been on a whirlwind tour so I haven't really had a chance to see him.
Chargers.com:In what ways will the continuity among the offensive staff help going forward?
Whisenhunt:I think it is good because normally when there is a change at head coach, everything starts over and there is a lot of work. But for us, a lot of the system is going to stay in place. We will get some input from some good coaches like Anthony who has been an offensive coach, which can help us get better. And there are areas where we do need to get better obviously, like with turnovers. We've got to clean that up. That is the number one thing we have to do, and we also have to be more efficient in the red zone. But there were a lot of positive things we want to build off of and tweak. For most of the season we were in the top five in scoring in the league, and to think if we can continue to build off of that and get even better, maybe we can end up like the Falcons.
Chargers.com:Melvin Gordon emerged as a top running back last year scoring 12 touchdowns and making the Pro Bowl. Most look at his rushing yards, but he really improved in all phases. What stood out to you about Melvin?
Whisenhunt:The big question about Melvin coming out of college was is he one dimensional? You knew he was a very talented football player but what kind of receiver could he be? Could he hold up in pass protection in the NFL? What Melvin did last year not only solidified the fact that he is a tremendous runner, but he went a long way to show that he can be a three down back. He is very effective in some of the screens and check downs. He did a much better job in pass protection, too. He will get more opportunities for big plays, but we obviously don't want Melvin taking as many snaps as he did last year. He shouldered the burden of some of our guys being injured at that position like Danny (Woodhead), Branden (Oliver), Dexter McCluster; the list goes on and on. What he's done is established that he can do it and be effective. Melvin technically didn't have 1,000 yards, but he (essentially is) a 1,000 yard rusher and if he doesn't get injured, he probably ends with 1,300 yards. The next step for him is, does he want to take it to the next level? Does he want to be one of the guys who can be one of the top backs in the league? He showed in stretches that he can, but now he has to continue to build on it.
Chargers.com:Joey Bosa has gotten a lot of buzz for his rookie year, and rightfully so, but Hunter Henry had a really big impact in his first year as well. He led all NFL tight ends with eight touchdown catches, and I know the team is really high on him. What is it about Hunter that makes him a special player?
Whisenhunt:It is hard for a young guy to come into the NFL and play that position, especially in an offense like this where there are so many things to do. To be proficient in run blocking, as a passer, as a movement guy in the backfield, out in space and so on. There were a lot of indications from him at Arkansas that he could do it, but give him credit for actually doing it as a rookie. A big part of it goes to Antonio Gates and how he worked with Hunter. There was good chemistry between those two. Hunter developed into an outstanding young tight end prospect and he has the chance to be one of the top players at his position because he can do so many things. He can block, he can catch, he is very productive in the red zone and he has the right mentality for work. He wants to get better. He was outstanding. Tom and those guys did a tremendous job with the first two picks in Joey and Hunter because they knocked it out of the park.
Chargers.com:You mentioned turnovers being the number one issue the offense needs to improve. Philip Rivers had another strong season, making the Pro Bowl and recording one of his highest touchdown totals. Yet he led the league in interceptions. Looking back at the tape, what were the reasons for those interceptions?
Whisenhunt:Let's face it; there were a number of injuries to skill position guys. Guys that were important to him like Danny, Branden and Keenan Allen. When you lose that, there is a little bit of a timing thing you have to get used to. During the latter part of the year, we were so banged up that we were pressing, trying to make plays and sometimes those types of interceptions happen. But you look at where we were midseason, there was talk of Philip being an MVP candidate because of the way he played. So I think part of it was a function of losing players and being injured and pressing, trying to carry the football team because he is such a special player. But, we obviously have to be better at that. He had a couple games where he had a lot of picks, and some of them were ugly. Those are the things we have to clean up. There were a couple of throws where he just threw them up (then) down the field trying to make a play, and those are the things we have to eliminate. As a quarterback, you are always going to have interceptions because there are tight windows and you have to fit the ball in there. But Philip, he is one of the best in the league, if not ever, at seeing it and making throws. So the ones that we gave up, the ones that we just didn't make the good throws on, those are the ones we need to get better at.
Chargers.com:With Tyrell Williams breaking out last season, and now getting Keenan Allen back, even though it is only February, how often do you find yourself scheming up ways to play them off each other?
Whisenhunt:You always get excited about having those guys. We know that we have some playmakers that we can utilize. We'll have some fun in the offseason workouts and seeing what everybody can do and going from there. If you look back to the first game starting against Kansas City, when we had everybody, we were pretty efficient moving the ball. A lot of guys made plays. If we can get back to that, we feel we can be pretty good. With Tyrell, I give him a lot of credit because he played through some injuries. You have to do that in this league. For him to be able to go out there and fight through it, that was a big part of (his success). And (Wide Receivers) Coach (Nick) Sirianni did a great job with him and all the receivers. So I have a lot of respect for Tyrell, and he's going to continue to grow and get better. It is exciting to have a big guy that has that much speed who is still learning at the position and can still get better.