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Robert Mays Believes Chargers Should be Among Top AFC Contenders in 2023


Few people love football more than Robert Mays.

Mays, the host of "The Athletic Football Show" and an NFL writer for The Athletic, popped by Chargers Training Camp earlier this week as he began his annual summer trek around the country.

We caught up with Mays to get his thoughts on the Bolts in late July.

What was your initial reaction to Justin Herbert's contract extension?

"Inevitable, you know? He's one of the best players in the league and one of the best young players in the league. That's what happens with quarterbacks of that caliber and I've never had any questions of whether he is that caliber. Since the beginning of his career, the moment he got here, he's been one of those guys. I think he still is. The organization has done a pretty conscious job of trying to maximize him, which you saw with offseason moves they made and the decisions they made this spring.

"They're figuring out the right guy to take everything they can from this offense from a play-calling side and then they went out and used a first-round pick on a receiver. Last year was about the defense but now I think it, 'Alright, we have this guy making this much. How do we make sure we're getting every single ounce out of him?' And now that you're paying him that much money, it's important that you're squeezing all you can out of a [highly-paid] quarterback."

Check out the best photos from the second day of Training Camp 2023 at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa!

Outside of Herbert, who or what are you looking to learn about with the Bolts?

"How is the offense going to look and feel different than it did last year? They've had some success, but there are areas where you feel like there is more meat on the bone. Ultimately, I think that's what led Brandon Staley to make that decision [with a new offensive coordinator]. They have so much talent. You invested in the receiver position, have an All-Pro left tackle, spent a [2022] first-round pick on a guard, have one of the highest-paid centers in the league. They've made a lot of big-time investments in that group, so how do you get the most out of it?

"That question becomes: How does it look different than it did last season? I think there are going to be ways that it does and I hope that it leads to a more exciting version of this team. Because there were times over the last couple years where you watched this group and watched a quarterback with that arm and you said, 'I just need more out of it.' It felt so condensed and tight and like the wings were clipped a little bit. How can we change that feeling when you're watching this offense?

You're a bit of a football junkie. What do you appreciate about what Derwin James, Jr., brings to the field? And just how rare is that skillset?

"Yeah, there's a reason they paid him what they paid him, right? The safety market around the league, in general, has been a little but depressed compared to what it used to be. It's one of those positions that has been devalued a little bit across the NFL because most safeties aren't difference-making player that he is because you can use him in so many different ways.

"He's rare. There aren't that many guys in the NFL with the skillset you feel comfortable using in the way they use him. That speaks to why they gave him that deal and why he's such a lynchpin on the defense. There just aren't that many players at that position who can do what he can do."

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley is entering Year 3. How do you think the league views him, and how do you view him as a coach?

"I think that there's a lot of respect for the schematics and his role in helping make this defense a dominant idea and dominant defensive value system across the NFL. There's an undeniable appreciation of that. I think there's some questions about how it comes together in this setting when you're tasked with setting a vision for the team and you want the team to play a certain way. I think there's still questions to be answered about that and I think that is what comes next. This is a really, really huge year.

"He's someone who I really appreciate how proactive he is in trying to seek out where the game is and where it's going. I've always appreciated that about him and his mindset. There's an activity and kind of a restlessness to the way he thinks about this stuff. When you care about football and appreciate football, it's hard not to have a respect for that. But it's about bringing those ideas from an abstract level into something that leads to winning football.

"You look at this team and it feels like they are one of the best teams year-in and year-out. It goes beyond theoretical though. If they have this much talent and all the schematics make sense and line up, it becomes a reality where this team is one of those teams. When you play against them, you know what it's going to be and you don't want to have to deal with that."

Check out some shots of the Bolt Fam pouring into the Jack Hammett Sports Complex for the opening of Chargers Training Camp 2023!

Final one here. Take a peek into your crystal ball. Where will the Chargers be after Week 17?

"I've gotten in trouble answering this question about the Chargers many times in my career [laughs]. But I think they should be a team playing to compete for Super Bowls. That's where they should be. Again, if you line up everything they have with level of talent on both sides of the ball — and there's certain position groups you feel better about overall this year than maybe you did last year.

"There's the way the offensive line looked and the way Jamaree Salyer played last year. You move Zion [Johnson] back to a position he feels more comfortable with, so that group makes sense. You draft Quentin [Johnston], who has a different skillset than any guy on this roster. There's a little bit more juice in his hands and he can create more explosive plays that way. It just all makes sense.

"On the defensive side of the ball, of course there are going to be questions on how the secondary comes together and the linebacker spots because there's some turnover there. There's definitely some lingering questions to how that all crystalizes. But the level of talent on each side should undeniably make you a contender in the AFC.

"The way this team has spent money and created this timeline for themselves, that's no secret/ They have those expectations. Me lumping those onto them is not new to them and doesn't change the way people are going to talk about them. This team should compete to win championships and now it's about doing it."

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