McVay, Rams seek return to playoffs after big staff changes
LOS ANGELES RAMS (9-7)
CAMP SITE: Thousand Oaks, California
LAST YEAR: Posted third straight winning season under coach Sean McVay, but fell one game short of playoff berth after reaching 2019 Super Bowl. Offense had its least impressive season under McVay, while defense was solid outside a few embarrassing performances. The results prompted McVay to make big changes to his coaching staff with departures of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and special teams coordinator John Fassel.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, special teams coordinator John Bonamego, RB Cam Akers, WR Van Jefferson, DT A’Shawn Robinson, LB Leonard Floyd.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Todd Gurley, WR Brandin Cooks, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, special teams coordinator John Fassel, LB Clay Matthews, LB Dante Fowler, LB Cory Littleton, K Greg Zuerlein, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, S Eric Weddle.
PANDEMIC CHALLENGES: Rams’ three new coordinators have barely met their new players in person, and most of their scheme installation has been virtual. That shouldn’t be problem for McVay’s offense, but first-time defensive coordinator Staley faces plenty of work to instill his philosophy in his new players. LA used its first two draft picks on offensive players, so Cam Akers and Van Jefferson must get up to speed quickly.
CAMP NEEDS: Along with all of that teaching by the new coordinators, Rams must identify starters at several positions. They’ve got to figure out whether Akers or returnees Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown should take on most of Gurley’s longtime role. They must choose replacement for Littleton, their top tackler and lynchpin of their defense. They also need to keep eye on re-signing CB Jalen Ramsey, who is in final year of his rookie contract.
EXPECTATIONS: Playoff contention again. With heavy turnover on roster and coaching staff, Rams are unpredictable as they head into another season in NFL’s toughest division. McVay’s charmed career hit its first real setbacks last season, and his unorthodox hire of Staley will determine much of his success going forward. Yet Los Angeles’ top-end talent remains among best collections in the game, and Rams fully expect to challenge for another postseason berth.
Chargers don’t have much time to make changes on offense
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-11)
CAMP SITE: Costa Mesa
LAST YEAR: Chargers’ seven-win decline from 2018, when they made playoffs, was worst drop-off in league last season and second biggest in franchise history. Nine losses were by one score. Offense committed turnovers at worst possible times with six occurring in red zone. Defense forced league-low 14 turnovers and fourth-worst third-down conversion percentage.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: OT Bryan Bulaga, CB Chris Harris Jr., DT Linval Joseph, OG Trai Turner, QB Justin Herbert, LB Kenneth Murray, LB Nick Vigil, OL coach James Campen
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Philip Rivers. RB Melvin Gordon, FB Derek Watt, S Adrian Phillips, OT Russell Okung, WR Travis Benjamin, LB Jatavis Brown, DT Brandon Mebane, LB Thomas Davis Sr.
PANDEMIC CHALLENGES: Offense will change with QB Tyrod Taylor expected to take over but how much can be installed in short period? Chargers also have challenges holding camp at their complex, one of smallest in league.
CAMP NEEDS: Shane Steichen takes over as offensive coordinator after replacing Ken Whisenhunt midseason. Not only does he have to make sure Taylor and skill position players are on same page, but offensive line will have at least two new starters. Left tackle remains biggest question mark with Trey Pipkins, Sam Tevi and Trent Scott expected to compete.
EXPECTATIONS: Chargers have plenty of talent with RB Austin Ekeler, WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and TE Hunter Henry at skill positions, but turnovers and giving up big plays was downfall last season. They remain behind Kansas City in AFC West but still hoping to contend for wild card.