SAN DIEGO – When Norv Turner and A.J. Smith were fired in January, San Diego Chargers fans lost their favorite scapegoats, not to mention the ever-popular hash tag firenorv.
Now fans will have to suffer along with a pair of rookies, coach Mike McCoy and general manager Tom Telesco, if their beloved Bolts miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
The atmosphere around Chargers Park is decidedly better since Turner and the authoritarian Smith were fired a day after the Chargers finished 7-9, their first losing season since 2003. The football, though, might not be much improved.
The Chargers are in rebuilding mode under McCoy and Telesco, both 40.
McCoy was hired away from his job as offensive coordinator of the AFC West rival Denver Broncos, where he retooled the system to accommodate Tim Tebow in 2011. Then McCoy changed it for Peyton Manning last year. Now he's working with Philip Rivers, who in the last two seasons combined was sacked 79 times and committed 47 turnovers.
Telesco was hired away from his job as assistant GM with the Colts.
It's up to them to restore a squad that won division titles from 2006-09.
Five things to know as the Chargers prepare to open their season:
WILL MIKE MCCOY BE GILBRIDE 2.0 OR BELICHICK LIGHT?: The last hotshot offensive coordinator to be hired as Chargers coach, Kevin Gilbride, lasted only 22 games before being fired because he lost the locker room, the front office, the fans and the media. Like any first-time head coach, McCoy is marking his territory. He sometimes tries to be peppy, but usually comes across as uptight and curt. He relies heavily on a handful of mind-numbing cliches that make Nuke LaLoosh from "Bull Durham" sound downright profound by comparison.
McCoy is evasive about his lineup and loath to discuss injuries. If an injury isn't obvious in practice, McCoy will do whatever it takes to hide it — even in August.
SAY OW, TE'O: Rookie linebacker Manti Te'o is the Chargers' most intriguing and popular player. Fans flock to him for autographs and his jersey reportedly was the top seller among NFL rookies. But he's missed the last two exhibition games with a sprained right foot sustained sometime during his nine-play appearance in the exhibition opener, and has been confined to a walking boot. Te'o needs to prove he's strong enough and big enough to play inside linebacker next to Donald Butler, who's emerged as both a thumper and team leader. He also needs to prove he's mentally tough after getting fooled by a hoax involving a fake girlfriend while at Notre Dame.
RUN, RYAN, RUN: Ryan Mathews shed a huge weight in the offseason when he decided to stop trying to be heir apparent to LaDainian Tomlinson and focus on being, well, Ryan Mathews. So far, so good following his nightmarish 2012 season, when he broke both collarbones, lost playing time after a critical fumble against Atlanta and scored one touchdown. He's been sharp in the exhibition season, diving over the pile, hitting holes and finding the end zone. He fumbled Saturday night at Arizona, but it triggered a wacky play that ended with San Diego tight end John Phillips scoring a touchdown. McCoy said the Chargers would have gone right back to Mathews if Phillips hadn't scored. Turner, by comparison, reduced Mathews' touches last year after his critical fumble.
IT'S A FREENEY-FREE-FOR-ALL: Dwight Freeney sat on the free agent market for nearly three months before Telesco swooped in to sign the former Indianapolis Colts star when second-year Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram blew out a knee in a non-contact drill in May. The rap against Freeney is that he's 33 and his sack numbers declined each of the last three years. The truth is, the dude can still play. He's had a good exhibition season, showing the spin move off the edge that helped him become the Colts' all-time sacks leader with 107 1/2.
AS RIVERS GOES, SO GO THE BOLTS: When Tomlinson visited training camp this summer while on duty for NFL Network, he said letting Rivers get sacked 49 times last year was no way for the Chargers to treat their franchise QB. Rivers was under constant siege last year, which helped contribute to his 22 turnovers, including 15 interceptions, not to mention a case of happy feet. Rivers knows he has to play better this year, and McCoy has said everyone around the QB has to play better, too. He'll be behind a line that will feature newcomers King Dunlap (left tackle), Chad Rinehart (left guard) and rookie D.J. Fluker (right tackle). Center Nick Hardwick returns, and returning veteran Jeromey Clary moves from right tackle to right guard.
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