There is a change in identity coming to the Chargers offense, and it will be hard to tell what exactly it will look like. This will be Shane Steichen’s first season as a full-time Offensive Coordinator. He will have the opportunity to install a completely different offense built around players new to the Charger’s organization. There has been quite a bit of turnover this off-season on the offensive side of the ball, and the teams strengths seemed to have shifted a bit. To understand what this offense will look like, we must first look at the roster the way it sits.
Change in Quarterback Play
Philip Rivers is no longer the focal point of the offense and Tyrod Taylor is a completely different style of quarterback. Additionally, the team drafted Justin Herbert in the first round of the draft. Herbert has the arm to be a gunslinger, but is also mobile enough to add an extra dimension with his legs. For the first time in 16 years, the Chargers will have mobility under center. This should invite a shift in play-calling and tempo. The question is whether Herbert has a real opportunity to start, or if I’d he will be forced to sit and learn?
Moving Toward a Running-back by Committee Approach
Melvin Gordon has left for the division rival Denver Broncos. This would make Austin Ekeler the full-time starter, but the team also has Justin Jackson and 4th-round pick, Joshua Kelley as additional options. Ekeler will definitely see snaps as a receiver, so expect Jackson and Kelley to see lots of carries throughout the season. Jackson is your shake and bake option, while Kelley adds the downhill, between-the-tackles role that Gordon previously filled. All three players offer different skill sets depending on what Steichen wants to run.
Adding Receiver Depth Late in the Draft
With the addition of both Joe Reed and KJ Hill, you can make the assumption that this receiver group is upgraded from last season. Joe Reed excels in space with spectacular kick return ability and KJ Hill makes his money as a crisp route runner. Both players will likely be WR4 and WR5 on the depth chart though, because Austin Ekeler will play lots of snaps split out. Andre Patton had lots of playing time last season, but little in terms of targets, he didn’t see too many. I’m willing to bet that Reed and Hill play a similar role in an offense with many mouths to feed. This group is still built on the backs of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but there is now additional help.
New Starters on the Offensive Line
The offensive line is massively upgraded from last season. Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga might be the best guard-tackle combo in the league right now. Mike Pouncey should resume his role calling out the protections. The question marks will be on the left side. Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp will be in an important camp battle for Right Guard and both are in a contract year. Trey Pipkins looks to take over the role as the blindside blocker. The line also has a boost in leadership, with offensive line coach James Campen. This will be an important year for multiple players at multiple positions in the trenches. Hunter Henry will also resume his role as the starting Tight End.
Making Sense of the Offensive Scheme
You can bet that the read-option will find its way in the playbook. Both Tyrod Taylor and Just Herbert are dangerous enough as weapons to use it. Considering that Tyrod likes to protect the ball and with the offense that Herbert ran in Oregon, you can bet that this team will be heavy on screens. This should mean opportunities for Ekeler and Jackson and maybe even Joe Reed outside. We should also see an increase in tempo, where the clock isn’t taken down to the final seconds play after play. One of the big question marks I have is where does Mike Williams fit in this offense?
Tyrod, contrary to to what many analysts say, isn’t afraid to go deep. If you watch film from his time in Buffalo, he aired it out quite a bit to Sammy Watkins. He just doesn’t thrown up some of the prayers that Rivers would. He takes the safe throws underneath and hits the deep ball when it’s wide open. One of the issues I have with Tyrod is his arm strength. Herbert has the arm to make some of the throws Tyrod wouldn’t even attempt. Those deep outs, deep corners and back shoulder fades are not part of Tyrod’s skill sets. So Mike Williams strengths don’t not really fit Tyrod. Herbert can best utilize William’s strengths.
On the flip-side of that, Keenan Allen fits Tyrod’s “safe throws” tendencies. Tyrod really wants route-runners who create separation and run option routes. It will take time for Herbert to understand what routes Keenan will want to run against how the defensive back is playing him. That comes with time and learning to be on the same page as your receiver. I am not saying that Tyrod and Keenan are on the same page. I am saying that Tyrod is a veteran, and should be able to recognize it sooner than Herbert. Tyrod also has an entire year of practice with Keenan.
What this offense ends up looking like really depends on who is under center when the season opens. I expect the playbook to be simplified if Herbert is named the starter, similar to what Ron Rivera did for Cam Newton his first year. The offense should be built around Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler as playmakers with Hunter Henry as a security blanket, regardless of who the signal caller is. Mike Williams will also need to perform better than he did a year ago, especially in the underneath routes. Lastly, the running back committee should be leaned on heavily through the season. I am extremely excited to see what Shane Steichan does his first year controlling the offense.