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A Review of the New Regime and What To Expect in LA

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A couple of weeks ago, the LA Chargers began a new era in their franchise’s history by hiring Jim Harbaugh. Since his hiring, it was expected that he’d bring in personnel who he and his brother, John, have worked with in the past. So far, this expectation appears to be true as LA has since hired Joe Horitz to be GM, Greg Roman was named OC, and Jesse Minter is to man the defense, to name a few. In this new dynasty, what should we expect from a team whose stars are quickly getting older? 


The Jim Harbaugh-Joe Horitz Duo

At his introductory press conference, Harbaugh made clear that the expectation isn’t one Super Bowl, but multiple. About a week later at his presser, new GM Joe Horitz doubled down on this. With Baltimore since 1998, Horitz began as a personnel assistant before spending eight years as an area scout, eleven years as their director of college scouting, and the past four years as their director of player personnel. As the director of player personnel, Horitz has overseen both college and pro scouting which has brought players Patrick Queen, Justin Madubuike, Rashod Bateman, Odafe Oweh, Ben Cleveland, Kyle Hamilton, Tyler Linderbaum, Daniele Faalele, Charlie Kolar, Isaiah Likely, and Zay Jones to Baltimore. 

With one of LA’s most pressing tasks is getting under the salary cap, Horitz has expressed interest in using compensatory picks as a strategy to do so.


Coaches, and Coaches, and More Coaches

As already explained, it was always expected that Harbaugh was going to bring in coaches either who he’s worked with in the past or who’ve worked with his brother in Baltimore. In the first few weeks of his hiring, he’s already brought in some notable names from Michigan including DL coach Mike Elston, strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert, and DC Jesse Minter. As for coaches with San Francisco or Baltimore ties, Harbaugh is also bringing in Mike Delvin, who was an assistant for the Ravens as an OL coach, Greg Roman, who was an OC for the Ravens and the 49ers, and Andy Bischoff, who’s been coaching TEs since 2018 including a brief stint with the Greg Roman and the Ravens. 

Another notable name whom Harbaugh has brought in is Marcus Brady. The former OC and QB coach for the Colts was most recently with Philadelphia as an offensive assistant. Although he interviewed for the OC opening, Brady will be brought on as a passing-game coordinator. 

However, one of the most notable coaches whom Harbaugh will have on his staff is Ryan Ficken. Throughout the offseason, it was clear LA didn’t want to let him go as they blocked him from interviewing for ST coordinator positions elsewhere. In his lone season in LA this past year, the Chargers went from being one of the most abysmal units to one of the league’s best. If offense sells tickets and defense wins championships, then special teams are the glue that binds both together. 


An Outlook of the Greg Roman Offense 

When it comes to the Greg Roman offense, it’s clear the intention is to run the ball. However, Roman will have to find a balance between a physical run game and Justin Herbert’s arm. Since his rookie year, Herbert has been one of the game’s most prolific passers. While he’s always been able to extend plays with his legs, it still isn’t something we should expect Herbert to do even with Roman’s playstyle. 

What we should expect though, is an investment in the OL, TE, and RB positions. If you look at the Chargers’ great teams of recent, they’ve always had solid RBs. From LaDainian Tomlinson, to Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead, to Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, the Bolts haven’t been able to replicate this success as recently. While Isaiah Spiller hasn’t gotten the touches to prove whether he can be effective or not, expect someone to be brought in through the draft or free agency. Still, don’t forget about Elijah Dotson as he could have another big preseason.

At the TE position, you see who the Ravens have drafted in the somewhat near and recent past: Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, and Charlie Kolar. While some have panned out more than others, it’s clear that an investment has been made in the position. This will be crucial for Roman’s offense as we should see a fair amount of 12-personnel looks. The same can be said with the offensive line as, over the years, the Ravens have drafted names such as Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown, Tyler Linderbaum, and Daniele Faalele. If this doesn’t scream trench warfare, I don’t know what does. 


An Overview of the Jesse Minter Defense

A defensive assistant and DB coach for John Harbaugh before becoming a college DC, Minter is a young and exciting coach who received NFL interest this offseason. Over the past few years, Minter has made the Wolverine defense into one of college football’s most ferocious units thanks to stellar DL play, players who swarm ballcarriers, and an appreciation for numbers. 

To start, Minter likes to play with a 4-2-5 base; that is four down linemen, two backers, and five DBs. These linemen are typically extremely versatile athletes who can play various techniques along a defensive front. At the second level, Minter’s linebackers are typically very athletic as they’re the ones who lead the masses to the ball carrier. From this, you have your CBs and safeties who like getting in people’s faces and are very good at disguising zone from man. However, the cohesiveness of Minter’s secondary can’t be played correctly extraordinary nickel corner play. For Michigan this past year, that was Mike Sainristil. At the end of the day, expect this unit to be physical, cohesive, and to play fast.


Free Agents For the Offense

If the Chargers wish to stay true to Joe Horitz’s thoughts on the importance of compensatory picks, they’ll have to live with being picky with their free-agent signees. Los Angeles needs help all over the field. Mack, Bosa, and Allen are potential trade and cut candidates, and they’re losing a number of starters to FA. Still, where they could benefit most from this offseason’s market is at the TE position. 

While Hunter Henry, Gerald Everett, and Dalton Schultz are the top UFAs available, they’ll come at a price the Chargers likely can’t afford. However, cheaper options available are Noah Fant, Mike Gesicki, Irv Smith, Adam Trautman, and Harrison Bryant. Fant has been inconsistent over his career but has shown potential throughout. Beside Fant, there’s Irv Smith. An athletic prospect out of Alabama, Smith hasn’t been able to find traction with a team. While he’s more of a project, he’s still the terrific athlete he was coming out of college. Lastly, there’s Gesicki, Trautman, and Bryant. These are all more traditional TEs who perform well both blocking and pass-catching. 

Additional names to keep an eye on this offseason are RBs Antonio Gibson and JK Dobbins. Dobbins has ties due to his time spent in Baltimore. Although he’s been plagued by injuries, he still shows glimpses of what made him a high-draft pick when healthy. In Gibson’s case, his usage has never been the same since his first two years in the league. Still, he’s capable of carrying the brunt of an offense.


Free Agents For the Defense

In order for Minter’s defense to be successful, the DL has to be stout. If LA brings anyone back, I’d expect it to be Austin Johnson. When on the field, his contributions have been noticeable. Brought in to defend the run, Johnson has steadily improved as a pass rusher which could be the difference in bringing him back. 

Otherwise, some names worth mentioning are Javon Kinlaw, Leki Fotu, and Neville Gallimore. Kinlaw’s presence hasn’t been felt as expected. However, after a good offseason last year, where he was able to recover from a series of knee injuries, Kinlaw showed glimpses of why he was a highly regarded draft prospect. His numbers are still less than expected for a former fourteenth-overall pick, but perhaps new DL coach Mike Elston can unleash what the 49ers couldn’t. 

While Fotu was never a focal point of Arizona’s defense, he’s a gap clogger measuring 6’5” and 334 pounds. He’s still more raw than technical, but a body like him automatically draws attention. 

Bringing things home with Gallimore, his stats also aren’t anything to brag about. But, Gallimore is consistent at doing his job. When constructing a team, you can have all the athletes and big bodies you want. But, at some point, you need to also have football players and that’s what Gallimore is. He might not win every rep, but he’s consistent at doing the little things. 

Besides these three names, also keep an eye on CB Levi Wallace. He isn’t the answer to LA’s problems, but he’d be a huge step in the right direction. 


Building the Offense Through the Draft

With where LA’s first-round pick is, I wouldn’t expect them to go defense unless they trade back. So, which offensive player will they take? Brock Bowers, Rome Odunze, Marvin Harrison Jr., or Malik Nabers? As nice it would be to land Bowers, recent reports have stated his interest in playing for Tennessee. Furthermore, Joe Horitz has expressed his desire to bring in people who want to be Chargers. Long story short, if Bowers wants to be a Titan, then let him. I personally want Odunze the most; yes even over Harrison. Even though Harrison is a phenomenal talent, I think Odunze will have a smoother transition to the NFL. 

Besides skill positions, LA needs to improve its OL. With Corey Linsley potentially retiring, LA would be losing a key piece along their OL. To replace Linsley, Jackson Powers-Johnson, Zach Frazier, Cooper Beebe, and Mason McCormick are names to watch. Some might need more work than others, namely McCormick, but he’s a very capable talent that would be a steal.

Additionally, since Trey Pipkins has been unable to protect Herbert’s front, Taliese Fuaga would be the perfect pick should the Chargers trade back. However, another viable option that will be available later in the draft is Jeremy Flax. Flax, to me, would be reminiscent of Baltimore selecting Faalele a few years back. A mountainous individual at 6’6” and 356 lbs, Flax has been a consistent starter for the Kentucky Wildcats in recent years. Flax could be whom the LA needs to finally have a formidable OL. 


Building the Defense Through the Draft

Hopefully, by now there’s a clear understanding of what type of players Jesse Minter needs in order to be successful. Thankfully, there are several players who can make immediate impacts next season. In the first round, there’s Terrion Arnold. While I don’t anticipate LA taking him unless they trade down, he’s a physical corner that can be LA’s CB1.

After this, there’s DT T’Vondre Sweat and CBs Quinyon Mitchell, DJ James, and TJ Tampa. To preface, I’d like to mention that there’s a chance these guys are all taken late in round one. However, they could be perfect fits for LA in round two. Sweat is a massive individual whose athleticism doesn’t match his size. While he could use work rushing the passer, he, like Fotu, will still require attention due to his size alone. As for Mitchell, James, and Tampa, all are fine press corners that possess the natural length needed to make immediate impacts at the next level.

In the third round, you get LBs Tommy Eichenberg and Payton Wilson, and DBs Jaden Hicks and Mike Sainristil. Eichenberg and Wilson are both natural LBs who have a terrific feel for the game. However, this isn’t to underestimate their athleticism as they’re both more than capable of flying around the field to make plays. As for Hicks, he’s been a great safety for Wazzu lining up everywhere for the Cougars. While it’d be better off to start him in a high-safety role, he’s capable of more. As for Sainristil, he was the glue that gelled the Wolverine defense together. He’s a slot CB that can stick in man and is great as a rover as well.

Finally, you get to DT Keith Randolph Jr. and DBs Cam Hart and Kitan Oladapo. Randolph has been overshadowed at the DT position thanks to his teammate Jer’Zhan Newton, but rest assured he’s a phenomenal talent in his own right. While Newton might get all the attention, Randolph is perfect for just about any defensive front. Cam Hart is similar to the other CBs I’ve named due to his length. He’s long, athletic, and is an underrated prospect. Finally, Kitan Oladapo was for Oregon State and Sainristil was for Michigan. While he should gain more recognition throughout the pre-draft process, Oladapo is one of the draft’s most hidden gems right now. 


Also Going on in LA…

Also going on in LA, the Chargers have announced two additions to the personnel department and have hired NaVorro Bowman to coach the LBs. Chad Alexander will be the new assistant GM and Corey Krawiec will be the new director of player personnel strategy. Alexander brings 25 years of experience to LA, the past five spent with the Jets as the director of player personnel, and the previous twenty as their assistant director of player personnel. 

Krawiec comes straight from Baltimore where he assisted the personnel department and coaching staff in constructing strategies based on statistics and analytics. Prior to the Ravens, Krawiec was an analytics consultant for Hockey Analytics from 2011-2013 and a hockey operations intern for the Chicago Blackhawks during their Stanley Cup-winning season in 2009-2010. 

Bowman really doesn’t need any introduction. A phenomenal LB for San Francisco in his day, he knows Harbaugh’s system inside and out. While his primary task will be to coach, he’ll also be a key piece in establishing the type of culture needed for LA to become a winning football club.


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