Chargers coach Anthony Lynn is making players face their faults

on Sep3

Earlier in the night, linebacker Nick Dzubnar missed an assignment and allowed a touchdown. Coach Anthony Lynn wasn’t going to do the same.

Following the Chargers’ 13-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints in their second preseason game of the year, Lynn followed through on a promise to his players and to his staff. His team — the first he’s had autonomy over — was going to be one that was accountable for mistakes.

So when Dzubnar failed to get off the block and get to the hole off the left tackle, Lynn made sure to let the reporters know exactly what happened.

Later in the week, defensive end Joey Bosa was talking about the play and, again, pointed out the problem at middle linebacker in addition to a missed tackle by safety Tre Boston.

“Just looking at that play, it’s just one guy out of position [and] one guy missing a tackle,” Bosa said. “When everybody’s doing their job, there’s absolutely nowhere to run. And you can see that … if you watched film after that play.”

There was no fear in Lynn’s assessment and none in Bosa’s. It was true. Dzubnar was out of position. Boston took a bad angle and missed the tackle. And by plainly speaking about it, the Chargers are showing early signs of adopting one of Lynn’s core principles.

“I think he demands respect of the team. Guys listen to him. We’re not afraid to play hard for him, because we trust in what he’s doing,” Bosa said. “I always say that he makes sure guys are accountable for their actions. If you have a bad play, it’s on you. You’ve got to figure out a way to make it better. I think he’s kind of forcing that on the team.”

As the Chargers try to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and only the second time since 2010, the hope, in part, is that Lynn can correct some of the issues that plagued the team a year ago.

In Mike McCoy’s final year as coach, the Chargers won five games. But over the course of the season, they were outscored by only 13 total points. Fourth-quarter leads came and went. The back end of the roster couldn’t make up for a plethora of injuries.

Lynn can’t make the team healthier — though the Chargers implemented a new strength and conditioning program — but he can make them more consistent. And, he hopes he and the other coaches can make the reserves credible rotation players.

“We’re going to find out how good of a coaching staff we are right there because we have to develop that depth,” Lynn said. “We’re not going to go out and get any more people. This is what we have. And we have to develop that depth behind our [starters].”

And that, partly, is where the accountability can come in.

If the Chargers can have 53 players accepting and learning from mistakes, the injuries that are sure to come won’t be as crippling.

“There was a lot of pointing fingers going on last year,” Bosa said. “Now, if you make a mistake, it’s going to be on the video in front of everybody in the room. You’ve got to look at yourself and fix it. People don’t really, as long as you’re playing hard, they’re not going to get on you too hard for making a mistake because it’s going to happen every once in a while.

“But guys are doing a lot better job of being accountable for what they’re doing, fixing it and not letting it happen again.”

Offense

Everything for the Chargers starts with Philip Rivers, one of the most durable and consistent quarterbacks in the NFL. Though injuries have slowed the group around him, Rivers hasn’t missed a start since he took over as the quarterback in 2006. Last season, Rivers admittedly was too loose with the football, and his 21 interceptions were a career high.

He might not have to do as much as he begins his 14th season because talent should be everywhere Rivers looks.

On the outside, Keenan Allen looks fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him all of last season. With Allen out, Rivers and Tyrell Williams developed a bond that helped the former undrafted receiver from Western Oregon break out with a 1,000-yard season in his second year. Travis Benjamin, who was slowed by injury a year ago, had a strong camp and could be a threat from the slot. And, first-round pick Mike Williams is being eased in after a back injury cost him almost all of the summer and preseason. The hope is he’ll be able to return early in the season to bolster an already strong receiving group.

If the outside is covered, Rivers also might have the best NFL tight end duo at his disposal with future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates and second-year man Hunter Henry. The pair combined for 15 touchdowns a year ago, and the team likely will use creative ways to keep both players on the field.

Lynn, who is known as a running-game guru, has a former first-round pick in Melvin Gordon, who is coming off a bit of breakout year. After struggling as a rookie, Gordon had 10 touchdowns in 2016 and came up three yards shy of 1,000.

But for all of this to work, the Chargers’ revamped offensive line must perform. The team replaced three starters from last season, spending in free agency on left tackle Russell Okung. The Chargers also selected three linemen in the 2017 NFL Draft, with third-round pick Dan Feeney primed to contribute sooner than later. Losing second-rounder Forrest Lamp to a season-ending knee injury in camp hurts the group’s overall depth, though.

Defense

If there’s one certainty on the roster, it’s that the Chargers should be able to get to opposing quarterbacks without having to send a lot of blitzers.

Bosa, the reigning defensive rookie of the year, and Melvin Ingram give the team two highly skilled rushers off the edge, setting the tone for the entire defense. The duo had 18.5 sacks a season ago with Bosa missing four games. The two have been dominant in camp and the opposition will need to gameplan for them all season.

The Chargers also have a pair of top-notch cornerbacks in Pro Bowlers Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett. Verrett, a first-round pick in 2014, is coming off knee surgery but should be ready for the season opener. Hayward, quietly one of the most productive cornerbacks in the league a year ago, should be even better with Verrett back on the other side.

The team will have to answer questions in the middle of the field, though, where it’ll be without linebacker Denzel Perryman until midseason at the earliest. Dwight Lowery and Boston are battling for the chance to start at safety opposite Jahleel Addae, a critical position in the scheme of new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

Special teams

Lynn tabbed NFL coaching veteran George Stewart to revamp the team’s special teams unit, which has been at the bottom of the league for the last two seasons. Incumbents Josh Lambo and Drew Kaser appear to have the edge in the kicking and punting battles, respectively, but everything with this unit — from kickers to returners to coverage men — is open to change if the job’s not getting done.

dan.woike@latimes.com

Twitter: @DanWoike



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