Meet the Bolts 2016 coaching staff.
Numerous factors contributed to a disappointing 2015 campaign for the Chargers.
Poor special teams was chief among them as the Bolts ranked near the bottom of the league in starting field position on both sides of the ball.
Tabbed to right the ship as the team's special teams coordinator is Craig Aukerman. The 39-year old previously spent the past three seasons as a special teams assistant and has long been regarded as an up and comer in the coaching ranks.
Aukerman's determination to turn around the Chargers' fortunes on the third side of the ball is conveyed clearly through the passion in which he speaks.
"Obviously I'm fired up!" he said. "I'm excited and ready for it. My coaching style is aggressive. I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and I think the players feed off of that. I think they like it. So if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be aggressive. We are going to strive to get better at every single thing we do fundamentally."
His plan to improve across the board starts immediately, as his first order of business is to hire a replacement for his old position as special teams assistant. Once that coach is in place, they will bunker down and evaluate every aspect of 2015.
"We will look at every single thing we did the past year," he said. "We will make improvements on it, and add a few wrinkles here and there. For the most part, we are going to grind away and really get after it because we have to improve at everything."
Identifying players who can assist on the third side of the ball can be difficult, as many times college coaches don't expose their star players to special teams in college. As such, there are certain qualities Aukerman looks for when unearthing talent.
"The first thing I look for is their passion. If they are working hard in practice and attentive in meetings, or ask questions, right then and there I get a clue that they might have that little chip on their shoulder that they can play special teams too. That is what we are looking for. For most players, to continue on this team they aren't only going to be asked to play offense and defense. It will be to play special teams, too. That is especially true for the young guys."
Aukerman plans to get that message across immediately when players arrive for the offseason program. He will hammer home to young players how playing at a high level on special teams is their ticket to a roster spot.
"I'll put together a presentation for them and a plan," he said. "I'll let them know that even Pro Bowl players for offense and defense have to play on special teams sometimes. And also, the best way for them to make it on to the roster as a young player is through special teams. You graduate from college, and you are going to go out and love the profession you are in. You get to play football, you get paid for it, and few get that opportunity. This is what you love! So we'll break it down to them that if they are going to make this team, they have to succeed on special teams. They have to work their tail off on special teams. "
The Chargers saw a taste of what Aukerman can do as coordinator as he oversaw the unit down the stretch in 2015 after the team mutually parted ways with Kevin Spencer. It was a difficult month, yet one that proved extremely valuable.
"Kevin obviously was a huge mentor to me. He's a great guy, and I learned a lot from him. It was tough, but the players all rallied around me. That was exciting. For me to do my own thing was great, but the way the players bonded together is what was really awesome."
While special teams struggled overall, there were bright spots. One of those was Josh Lambo, who was the top rookie kicker in the league with 106 points (second most for a rookie in team history). He converted 26 of 32 field goals (81.3%) and made 19 of his las 23 attempts. His 54-yard kick vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers was the third-longest in franchise history and the longest for a rookie. Lambo's only misses were from 42, 47, 48 (three times) and 60 yards. He also got stronger as the year progressed on kickoffs, and ended the season with 41 touchbacks after the Chargers finished last in the league with only 10 the year before.
"Josh's potential is unlimited, and we're excited to work with him even more," Aukerman said. "Josh had a good year, and we're obviously excited about him. He did really well in kickoffs, and was strong in field goals. I know the type of guy he is, and he is going to get better every single year."
Another promising rookie was Javontee Herndon. After releasing Jacoby Jones midway through the year, the team promoted Herndon off the practice squad and he brought a spark to the return game. He averaged 21.4 yards per kickoff return and 7.4 yards per punt return, and will be a strong option moving forward in 2016.
"We're excited about Javontee. That kid worked hard throughout training camp and on the practice squad, and then he got his opportunity to showcase his skills. He had some nice returns for us, and we're looking forward to him doing even better things next year."
Aukerman admitted that punting was a mixed bag in 2015, but noted it's improvement down the stretch.
"I thought it got better toward the end of the year. Mike (Scifres) was punting the ball better, and our coverage units got after it. That was good. A lot of young guys got in throughout the season, and they had more experience. We're going to continue to build off of that."
Two of those players were Nick Dzubnar and Tyrell Williams. An undrafted free agent out of Cal-Poly San Louis Obispo, Dzubnar's team-high 13 special teams tackles were five more than the next closest Charger. Meanwhile, Williams showed promise as a gunner, particularly on special teams.
"We are excited about Tyrell. He came in early in training camp, and in the preseason had impressive games. He was inactive and on the practice squad, but at the end of the year was active and had his chance. He did it again, and had some nice plays. We are excited about his potential, and other young guys too like Nick. We are going to work hard in the offseason, and I asked them before they left what they are planning to do to get better on special teams."
Finally, Aukerman boasts a strong relationship with special teams captain Darrell Stuckey, who was a Pro Bowler in 2014. He believes their pairing bodes well for the future, citing how well they worked together over the final month of 2015.
"When the situation happened with Coach Spencer and I got bumped up, Stuckey took over an even bigger role in what we do. We had talked, and he came in early and we saw some things together. I even gave him the opportunity to speak in front of the players at times, and he stepped up. That's why he is a Pro Bowl player and a captain. He's a professional, does his job correctly and that is why guys look up to him."