Below are three takeaways from Tom Telesco's end of season press conference.
Building a 'complete team' for 2022
2021 was an eventful year for the Chargers to say the least. The Bolts had to manage onboarding almost an entirely new coaching staff, integrate a rebuilt offensive line and welcome fans to a brand new multi-billion-dollar stadium.
With a few weeks to process the Chargers' 2021 season, general manager Tom Telesco held his yearly end of season press conference to evaluate the season and prepare for 2022. One of Telesco's main points from Thursday's press conference was something that head coach Brandon Staley has talked about as well, building a 'complete team' in 2022.
"If you get one takeaway from this, is that we're going to focus on the whole, complete team going into next year," Telesco said. "There won't be one side of the ball, there won't be one position group, that won't be one position — it's a complete look at the football team. We're not going to just look at the offense and say, 'Well, it's a top-five offense, so we're all set there and we're just going to look other places.' It just doesn't work like that. It's just too complacent. It's going to be a different team next year. We're not going to have the same exact 11 starters on offense and defense. There's going to be a total team focus, as you move in through this offseason, to get us where we need to be."
Telesco explained how at the moment, his main focus is looking at 2021 as a whole in order to put together an even better team in 2022. Telesco also expressed his excitement with the direction the Bolts are heading.
"We do have work to do," Telesco said, "It certainly wasn't a perfect product by any means, but I think if you're objective and you look at our team this season, I think it'd be hard to say that you don't see a bright future with this football team, but that's not to say that it's a finished product. We know that we still have got work to do, but I think it's an exciting start with what Brandon [Staley] has put together and what we have, together, as a team. I'm excited to get moving on it."
While the Bolts offense set team records throughout the season and finished fourth in the NFL for overall offense, the Chargers defense wasn't 'consistent enough,' according to Telesco.
Telesco ultimately took the responsibility for the unit not performing up to their standards this season, citing red zone defense, run defense and third down defense as areas that need to shore up in 2022. Telesco gave some insight into how the Bolts can improve in those areas.
"We have to take a good look at that, and we have to get better, there's no doubt about that," Telesco said. "Some of it is alignment, assignment and technique, some of it's personnel and some of it is just being in the second year of the defense."
Continue to Build Team Identity
One of the main challenges a first-year head coach is tasked with is installing their scheme and operation for an entire team before the season starts. Telesco evaluated Staley's first year as head coach and talked about how the connection Staley has established with the Bolts' players helped create a new identity within the organization.
"He really has a great connection with our team and with our players," Telesco said. "I think you saw that on a daily basis. He has definitely brought an identity to this football team, which is step number one as you come in as a new head coach. I think that the future's bright with where we are. We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but I think that he handled a lot of situations — not to mention everything that goes on with COVID[-19], which is not really part of the head coach handbook. He handled things very, very well this year."
One of the identities of the 2021 Chargers was their ability and confidence in converting fourth downs, never shying away from a moment to make a game-changing play. Telesco touched on the evolution of analytics throughout his 26 years in the NFL, a tool that he and Staley use to assist with those decisions in the heat of the moment.
"You know what you get with us; we're going to play aggressive" he said. "It's not reckless, I really don't see it as reckless. All of these decisions, even though they're made in real-time, there's research involved in it prior to the game. There's also context involved in that, too. Like I said, Brandon [Staley] is not a robot, but with decisions on the field, you have to make quick, quick decisions in real-time. I thought that he did a really excellent job with that this year. He has my support behind that."
Emphasis on developing 'our own' players
Throughout his nine seasons as the Chargers general manager, Telesco has shown his philosophy of building the roster through the NFL Draft rather than making trades. With a large amount of cap space heading into 2022, Telesco explained how that amount won't alter his philosophy this offseason.
"We would rather draft and develop our own and sign our own, wherever we can," he said. "We know that it can't be everybody, but that's our desire. We have a lot of cap space this year. It doesn't change how we'll approach free agency. We have to budget for the future. We have got six Pro Bowlers and three of them are on rookie contracts, so that has to be in the back of your mind."
With several players on the Bolts roster near or at the end of their current contracts, Telesco talked about where his priorities are heading into the offseason and his philosophy when it comes to adding players in free agency.
"Our first priority is to reward our own, where it's needed," he said. "Then, we'll go from there and look on the outside and see what players really fit what we want to do here. Free agency is very difficult to find the right players that come in and fit at the right time. It's very difficult. The draft is much easier, in that regard. But, we have to pair them both, you just can't try and just draft your way through this, you have to add the frequency. That's part of it. Our philosophy is what it's been. It's probably what it will be moving forward. It doesn't mean that we're not aggressive with it, we're selective with it and we think that it works."
One of those players Telesco drafted and has watched grow while on the Bolts roster is wide receiver Mike Williams. In the final year of his contract, Williams had a career year in targets, receptions and receiving yards. Telesco talked about the fight he saw from Williams throughout the season, but especially in Week 18.
"I came down to the field, for the Raiders game, in overtime, and watching him play in overtime, he gave everything he had," Telesco said of Williams. "He had nothing left by the time it got to the end of that game. If we would have won that game, it would have been a performance that we would've been talking about well after the fact. I'm thankful that we drafted him and I'm thankful that he's here. We'll figure out the future moving forward, but he was a big part of this football team this year and he has been in the past, as well."
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