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Chargers’ Super Bowl hopes might hinge on third-year offensive linemen

It’s hard to find a set of NFL offseason power rankings that doesn’t include the Chargers inside the top five, or a shade outside. Few teams possess the type of talent the Chargers do, which has led to pundits calling them contenders with a Super Bowl-ready roster.
But … there’s always a “but” when the Chargers’ name comes up in prognostication pieces.
The biggest concern for the Chargers is on the offensive line. For the first three months last season, that offensive line defied low Pro Football Focus numbers by doing just enough to allow Philip Rivers to operate one of the league’s top offenses. Then it fell apart on a December Saturday night in Carson, when the Baltimore Ravens’ defense dominated the trenches in a game that cost the Chargers the No. 1 seed. That was followed by three more underwhelming performances from the offensive line before the Chargers’ 2018 season ended with a whimper against the New England Patriots in the divisional round.
Ask mostly anyone associated with the Chargers and they’ll admit the offensive line struggled down the stretch. They’re aware. So why no drastic changes? Teams often revamp their offensive line by overpaying top free agents or search for veterans who could benefit from a change of scenery. Others spend high draft picks to address the need.
The Chargers didn’t do any of that. Outside of using a third-round pick in last month’s draft to select offensive tackle Trey Pipkins, who’s considered a project, the Chargers will trot out nearly the same cast for the 2019 season, and they’re content with that.
For every criticism the Chargers’ offensive line has received this offseason, the organization has countered with a rebuttal.
Sam Tevi, the starting right tackle in 2018, allowed the third-most pressures among tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Yeah, but it was Tevi’s first year as a starter, the Chargers would contend.
One reason the Chargers didn’t seek outside help at offensive line is because Forrest Lamp is expected to compete for a starting job.
But why trust an offensive guard with only 17 career snaps since being selected in the second round of the 2017 draft?
“His best shot now is he’s finally healthy going into an offseason,” Chargers offensive line coach Pat Meyer said of Lamp.
In a way, the Chargers’ 2017 draft class could determine their Super Bowl chances for the upcoming season.
Two years ago, the Chargers planted the seeds for an offensive line rebuild by signing left tackle Russell Okung and drafting Lamp, Tevi in the sixth round and offensive guard Dan Feeney in the third round. They added to it last year with the signing of former Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey.
Now, the organization is banking on Year 3 being when they reap the rewards on their long-term offensive line vision.
The PFF numbers and many disgruntled fans say the Chargers are making a mistake by putting their chips behind Lamp, Tevi and Feeney, the least criticized of the 2017 trio, mainly because he was sandwiched between former Pro Bowlers Okung and Pouncey on the left side last year.

AFC West team pass-block grades last season and #NFL rank:
KC: 82.9 (5th) DEN: 62.8 (29th) OAK: 62.3 (30th) LAC: 62.0 (31st)
It may not be a flashy pick, but the #Chargers need to address this early in the #NFLDraft
— PFF LA Chargers (@PFF_Chargers) April 18, 2019

Meyer, who’s entering his third year as the team’s offensive line coach, has heard the complaints and concerns. He’s confident the narrative on the third-year offensive linemen will change after the 2019 season.
“I 100 percent believe all three of those 2017 picks are going to end up being good football players at this level,” Meyer said. “None of the guys that we have in this room, we’re not even close to saying we’re giving up on them. I think all of them are going to end up being really good football players.”
Pouncey recently called Lamp the strongest offensive lineman on the team, and he wants to see the former Western Kentucky standout use that strength on the field in 2019.
Lamp has spent plenty of time in the weight room the past two years because of a torn ACL he sustained in the 2017 preseason that cost him his entire rookie season. The rehab from the injury also didn’t allow him to participate in offseason activities last season.
With organized team activities starting Monday, Lamp is finally healthy to compete for a job in 2019.
“He’s going to have every opportunity to compete for a job like everyone else,” Meyer said of Lamp. “Obviously, he’s a talented kid. We drafted him a couple years ago, he just hasn’t been available, and when he was available by that point it was a little bit too late.”
A healthy Lamp watched Feeney and veteran Michael Schofield fill the guard positions in 2018. By the time Lamp was cleared to play, the Chargers didn’t want to disrupt team chemistry.
The team was winning, but the offensive line’s struggles from September to November were masked by Rivers’ quick release and the ability of running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler to break tackles.

We gon be better on all cylinders next year … that’s fasho https://t.co/RCQis6bLlW
— F L S H (@Melvingordon25) April 18, 2019

Pouncey is hoping Lamp could help them improve in 2019.
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“He looks awesome,” Pouncey said. “We hope that he can come in and play. This is a guy that came in with a lot of expectations. … He’s a guy that we’re going to need to play. He was a talented football player coming out of Western Kentucky.
“I know he had (an) injury over his first couple of years. To see the way that he has come in this offseason, how strong he is, how ready he is to be on the football field, I’m hoping for him. I hope he can go out there, win a starting job and help our football team get to where we want to be.”
The Chargers have flirted with the idea of playing Lamp at tackle, but Meyer isn’t ready to go that route.
“I see Forrest as a solid guard prospect,” Meyer said. “If he can’t figure it out, which I don’t think that will be the case … we would toy around with moving him inside or outside to compete.”
As for Tevi, it’s his job to lose at right tackle. Pipkins could be the wild card to push him, but the Chargers have said they want him to play left tackle and learn behind Okung.
“Sam was thrown into the fire last year,” Pouncey said. “He’s our starting right tackle and we’re happy for it.”
Time will tell if last year’s growing pains will benefit the 2017 draft picks.

I love the haters
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