By Dave Thomas
With lingering doubts about where the San Diego Chargers will call home in 2016, the focus for 2015 is simple: win the AFC West Division and go from there.
It all kicks off for the Bolts this Sunday in Southern California when they play host to the Detroit Lions.
While the Chargers are hoping that the off-field distractions (will they be in San Diego next season?) do not take up residence on the field, all the Bolts can do is go out and play between the sidelines week after week. Whatever happens off the field between officials in the greater Los Angeles area and Chargers’ management can’t impact the team.
Turning to the action on the field, San Diego will look to improve upon back-to-back 9-7 seasons the last two years. With rivals Denver and Kansas City expected to field very competitive teams (the verdict is out as usual on Oakland), the AFC West would seem once again to be up for grabs.
Leadership Begins With Rivers
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that any success the Chargers are likely to have in 2015 revolves around one, Philip Rivers.
Signed in the off-season to a four-year contract extension ($84 million involving new money), the heart and soul of the team is inked with the Chargers through the 2019 campaign.
Outspoken in the past about his desire to have the team remain in San Diego, Rivers has all but put that matter to bed as he and the Chargers focus on the start of a new season.
One factor that helped keep the Bolts home from the post-season a year ago were some injuries to key members of the offensive unit.
Former Chargers’ running back Ryan Mathews (Philadelphia) played in only six games a season ago, something that ultimately helped move him across the country to play this season for Chip Kelly and the Eagles.
Healthy Woodhead Is Important
Meanwhile, versatile running back Danny Woodhead also battled the injury bug a season ago, seeing his 2015 campaign end early in the year (broken ankle in game three versus Buffalo). Without Woodhead in the lineup for most of the season, the Chargers were left trying to find someone who could not only run and catch the ball, but also return punts on occasion.
With Woodhead back and healthy for 2015, he should see a decent amount of touches as he teams with rookie sensation Melvin Gordon and last year’s top running back for the team, Branden Oliver (582 yards rushing in 2014).
One of the keys this Sunday will be what Rivers can work out of the passing game.
Given veteran tight end Antonio Gates starts a four-game suspension (tested positive for PED’s) and backup tight end Ladarius Green has been battling concussion issues this week, Rivers may have to rely more on his wide receivers (Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Stevie Johnson) to take up the slack.
Defensively, the Bolts have a few injury issues to deal with.
As of Thursday’s practice, the Chargers reported that outside linebackers Jerry Attaochu (hamstring) and Tourek Williams (foot) were not practicing. If both Attaochu and Williams can’t go on Sunday, look for Cordarro Law to move into the top spot on the depth chart.
While the Chargers won’t play a division foe until Oct. 25 (home versus Oakland), getting the season off to a good start against a formidable Detroit team will sit well with everyone in San Diego.
Jerry Attaochu, Outside Linebacker (hamstring, limited practice Thursday)
Ladarius Green, Tight End (concussion, did not practice Thursday)
Craig Mager, Cornerback (hamstring, limited practice Thursday)
Johnnie Troutman, Guard (arm, did not practice Thursday)
Tourek Williams, Outside Linebacker (foot, did not practice Thursday)
Antonio Gates, Tight End (begins four-game suspension for testing positive for PED’s)
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.