Last year, the San Diego Chargers stumbled to a 5-7 start and seemed all but assured of missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Instead, they closed the season on a four-game winning streak, made the playoffs and then shocked the Bengals in the AFC Wild Card round, winning 27-10 in Cincinnati.
Although San Diego lost to Denver the following the week, it enters 2014 with a sense of hope that hasn’t been there in years past.
“This year, guys know that we have something very special here in San Diego,” Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Not only that, but I know as an individual what my coach expects out of me, and I know what I expect out of myself, which is just to play at a very high level – to give it all we have for the next six or seven months and see where it leads us. If we come into work focused every day and give it all we have mentally and physically, I believe we can be a darn pretty good team.”
It helps that linebacker Melvin Ingram will be 100 percent healthy. Remember that four-game winning streak that San Diego went on? That coincided with Ingram’s return from a torn ACL. Now he’s had an entire offseason to heal.
“He looks pretty darn good if you ask me,” Liuget said. “He looks more explosive. I believe he’s a little lighter. I just can’t wait to see the young guy get out there and play again. He looked terrific (toward the end of last season). He looked good. I can’t wait to see what he can do when he’s 100 percent healthy.”
Should key injuries plague the Chargers again this season, Liuget believes they’ll be more prepared.
“We know the mentality here in San Diego is, ‘One man down, next man up,’” Liuget said. “Our second team has to be just as good as our first team. And that’s with any sport, any team, anywhere. You always want your second group to be just as good as your first group. We have to have that mindset. We did okay (last year), but we didn’t excel to the level that we felt we could have. But definitely having Melvin back and (Dwight) Freeney back is going to be pretty good for us. I think we’re going to do pretty well for ourselves.”
Training camp is only a few days old, but Liuget sees a positive difference in several players, including Manti Te’o, who struggled a bit as a rookie. Te’o finished with 41 tackles and assisted on 20 others while dealing with the fall-out from his online-dating hoax.
“He’s more focused,” Liuget said. “He’s determined to get back to the status he had in college, playing to the level he was playing and also just to get out there and be himself. He doesn’t have too many distractions now. Last year, he probably was worried about it a little bit. I’m not sure. But the off-the-field stuff probably took a little toll on him. But from what I see within the guy right now, he’s focused, he’s determined and he just wants to be the best football player he can possibly be.”
As for the offense, Liuget expects another dominant season from Philip Rivers, who last year finished fifth in the NFL in passing yards (4,478) and fourth in touchdowns (32).
Rivers’ rah-rah, in-your-face style rubs some opponents the wrong way, but Liuget loves it.
“That is Philip Rivers all the way,” he said. “That’s him. He’s competitive. He wants to win at anything. He believes deep down in his heart and soul that every little thing matters. When the time comes in a game where you have to run a route or where you have to make that play, did you do it the correct way in practice? In the game, it’s going to show. Every little thing to him matters. He just gives it his all. That’s just Philip Rivers. He loves to compete. He loves to have fun with the game. He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and hands down, thats what you want out of your quarterback.”