INDIANAPOLIS — Chargers coach Brandon Staley flashed a smile and his eyes lit up when asked why wide receiver continues to be the deepest position in the NFL draft.
Staley was back to being the enthusiastic football coach who provided thoughtful responses during his NFL Scouting Combine news conference on Wednesday at the Indiana Convention Center.
“I think this class is really good, too,” Staley said about the receiver prospects. “I think what you’re seeing is these kids that come up nowadays, the passing game is at the front of everything that they do from when they’re a young kid to when they’re in high school. And the passing game is where it’s at. And you know, with the advent of full flag football.”
Staley wasn’t afraid to talk scheme with reporters during his rookie season as a head coach, but his answers became shorter toward the end of the 2021 season. Staley had disappointment in his voice the last time he met the media because he blamed himself for the Chargers missing the postseason after a 9-8 campaign that ended with a heartbreaking overtime loss against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Staley was dispirited about star quarterback Justin Herbert not getting an opportunity to be showcased on the playoff stage and for the team’s poor defensive results, especially against the run.
But the combine is the unofficial start of a new NFL season and that has re-energized Staley as he begins his second year with the Chargers.
“Anytime you have system continuity, you’re going to really create a comfort zone within the player,” Staley said when asked how he plans to continue Herbert’s development after he became a Pro Bowl quarterback in his second season. “I think that’s something that is happening for him right now. I think there’s gonna be a confidence that knowing that he’s been through this, and now, you know, all the things that he’s actually experienced live, like, we can build off that whether it was good or bad.”
Last offseason, the focus was to improve the offensive line to provide better protection for Herbert. The Chargers signed center Corey Linsley and left guard Matt Feiler and drafted left tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round. Those investments led to a prolific season for Herbert and career years for wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Austin Ekeler.
The offense is in good shape heading into the 2022 season, but the team needs to continue investing in the offensive line with the right side in limbo. Right guard Oday Aboushi is a free agent, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga is a potential salary cap casualty.
Signs point to Staley and Chargers general manager Tom Telesco prioritizing the defense this offseason, despite both saying they want to improve the entire roster.
“I think on defense, up front and then in the secondary, are going to be some areas that we look at,” Staley said. “But I know that Tom spoke to you guys yesterday. I mean, it’s really about us building a complete football team. That’s the goal of this offseason for us, to become a complete team.”
Staley, however, made it clear that they’ll be looking to add cornerbacks. They have depth issues at that position with slot cornerback Chris Harris Jr. scheduled to be a free agent and Michael Davis, who had system growing pains and struggled in his first season as the team’s No. 1 outside corner back. Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. had a standout rookie season, but he struggled to stay healthy because of multiple concussions.
Last year, Staley was quick to call Davis a No. 1 corner back. Staley wasn’t as quick this time around for his second season with the long, athletic cornerback.
“I think Mike’s a starting corner in the league,” Staley said. “That No. 1 term gets thrown out there. There’s not very many of them in the league. So I think that (Davis) improved a lot as a player. He has a much stronger sense of his game. Now, you know, especially playing in our system, which is a different system. From a technique standpoint, from a scheme standpoint, I think he was asked to do a lot of new things.
“He had a lot of good moments within the season. I know that he’s actually at our facility working hard right now.”
If the Chargers are looking to add cornerbacks through the draft and if they want one with their No. 17 overall pick, Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. and Washington’s Trent McDuffie are intriguing options, if any of them last that long.
“Corner is definitely going to be something that we’re looking at,” Staley said. “We’re always going to be looking at it. As long as I’m the head coach, we’re gonna be looking for corners. Because like he (a reporter) mentioned, you’re aware of these receivers that we have to defend.”
Staley is proud of the numbers his offense posted last season, but he expressed interest in the many talented wide receivers who attended the NFL combine.
“What you’re after is you have to have complete receivers who can get there (as a deep threat),” Staley said. “It’s not just a fast guy. You need a receiver who can run the (full route) tree.”
Staley also discussed the differences between a single-high defensive system and the two-high safety scheme he runs with the Chargers. It was informative, but it took a big chunk of the 15 minutes Staley had with reporters Wednesday.
Staley went the route of Telesco by not revealing much about how they plan to improve the Chargers’ roster in free agency and in the draft. But at least Staley was back to being enthusiastic about football.
— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) March 2, 2022