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Chargers in prove-it mode, chase consecutive 10-win seasons

Jul 26, 2023; Costa Mesa, CA, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws the ball as quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier watches during training camp at Jack Hammett Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Chargers

2022 record: 10-7, second AFC West

Playoff picture: The Chargers made the playoffs for the third time in 13 seasons in 2022. They potentially can get there again, but head coach Brandon Staley is potentially at risk if he falls short given the way the postseason exit came about.

Biggest Week 1 question: The Chargers collapsed in epic fashion in last season’s playoffs, blowing a 27-point lead and losing 31-30 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Is the residue of that collapse still hanging around? Kellen Moore is the new offensive coordinator and he will be asked to take quarterback Justin Herbert to the next level. The buzzwords in training camp: vertical passing.

What’s new: The Chargers believe veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks still has fuel in the tank. He was a six-time Pro Bowler in eight seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. First-round pick Quentin Johnston arrives at a time when veteran Keenan Allen (10 games in 2022) might be slowing down; his health is no longer a given. Johnston was the 21st overall pick and looks like a power forward in cleats, bringing mismatches in the red zone.

They’re gone: Linebacker Drue Tranquill moved on and landed with the AFC West rival Chiefs. Three-year starting safety Nassir Adderley surprisingly retired at age 25.

On the money: Herbert signed a five-year $262.5 million deal to become the highest-paid player in NFL history before he has won a single playoff game. He has thrown for more yards (14,089) than any player in his first three NFL seasons. Austin Ekeler wants more pay, too. While running backs are battling to regain financial footing, Ekeler has been essential to the Chargers and Herbert, scoring 38 total touchdowns over the last two seasons (most in the NFL). Pass rusher Joey Bosa and safety Derwin James are stellar and the club hopes linebacker Khalil Mack can reach double digits in sacks for the first time since 2018.

Get to know: Johnston will increase the depth at receiver. Allen is a five-time Pro Bowler but averaged 11.4 yards or less in each of Herbert’s three seasons. While Allen missed seven games, sidekick Mike Williams missed four in the regular season and also sat out the Jacksonville loss. So a youthful Johnston figures to be valuable.

Nobody is anointing Johnston as the next Lance Alworth or Charlie Joiner, but the TCU product has tremendous athleticism. He played high school basketball and said he patterned part of his game after Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. Expect him to win his share of jump balls.

Vegas says: BetMGM set the Chargers’ win mark at 9.5 (over -115).

–Field Level Media