By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

With an entirely new coaching staff, the Los Angeles Chargers OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) take on a different importance. Not only do they have to overcome COVID 19 restrictions, but they would also need to mix that limited classroom coaching with on-the-field walk-throughs. It’s yet to be proven how this process will help galvanize the team and lead to wins, there’s no question about how Brandon Staley and his new Coaching Staff are attacking this process.

When asked about their intention going into the “The opportunity to really communicate in person with your guys and be able to compete with them in a meeting room standpoint. Especially on defense, we meet a lot, as a back seven group, as if we were playing the game together. We’re able to see things the same way and create that cohesiveness, that chemistry, that really wins the day on game day. When you’re in person, you can do that a lot better than when we’re on Zoom. On Zoom, we try to replicate it as best as we can, but you really get a feel for someone’s personality and their style when you’re in person. Today, being able to kick that off, it felt a lot more like the environment that I’m used to. I felt like our guys really excelled as the day went.”

Along with developing a new Coaching Staff, Coach Staley and his staff have also developed a leadership council for this team. In his own words, Coach Staley describes the importance of this leadership team, “Being brand new as a coaching staff and learning everybody, which is brand new on both sides, if you want to be a relationship-oriented team, then you need to put your money where your mouth is. We wanted to engage them fully in the process. When I got hired here with the Chargers, I talked to [General Manager] Tom [Telesco], [President of Football Operations] John [Spanos], [Executive Vice President of Football Administration/Player Finance] Ed McGuire, [Owner and Chairman of the Board] Dean [Spanos] and shared my vision for what the offseason would look like. I learned a lot last offseason, and I felt like if there’s a middle ground, a blend in sports performance, and if you listen to the players, the big thing that the players have a real issue with is 11-on-11 with no pads and the competitive one-on-ones with no pads and the risk that it puts them in. It compromises them, from a player safety standpoint. We felt like, coming into this spot, that we could really show that our model is one that hopefully people can follow throughout the NFL, which is when we’re in individual and we’re with our sports performance staff, we’re going full speed and we’re working at our craft because that’s what players do; work at your game full speed. But then, we want to avoid all of those possibilities in one-on-ones and in competitive 11-on-11s. We’ve eliminated that. All of our 11-on-11 is pure walk-through. What we’re trying to do is create that same game-like mental intensity, ‘playing a game,’ but without doing so physically. Our guys’ health is at the center of everything that we’re doing. Hopefully, we took a step in the right direction today.”

Uniquely, Coach Staley has adopted utilizing a split field during the OTA process. He would then explain the benefits of the process as “There are some coaches that I know have done it in the past, that I’m aware of. [Alabama Head Coach] Nick Saban is a guy that’s pretty famous for doing that at the college level. When I was at John Carroll, that’s how we organized our program with [Akron Head Coach] Tom Arth. He’s one of my best friends. We just feel like that’s the model where everybody on your team can grow and develop at a high level, not specifically to players but also coaches. That’s where they can grow a lot. That’s where your future coordinators are going to come from. You’re creating a pipeline of coaches that are growing, that will be used to running the show, running the huddle, communicating, and coaching at a high level. Hopefully, what you’re doing is developing coaches and players at the same time. We all know how the NFL is; it’s a long season. It’s an attrition league. We hope that our way of doing things, that cumulative effect of this learning environment, takes shape so that we can be good at the end of the season when everything is at stake.”

When asked about his thoughts on implementing the offense New Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi would say about his OTA process, “I think it’s been going well. It took a lot of input from the guys on the staff. Certainly, there are a lot of elements from New Orleans. But, a lot of ideas folded in from the O-line coach [Run Game Coordinator/OL Coach Frank Smith] and his assistant [Assistant OL Coach Shaun Sarrett], so Frank and Shaun, and just the rest of the staff, in general. [Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach] Shane Day coming over from San Francisco, certainly stole some elements from them. It’s been going well. It’s been fun to get out on the grass and start to install it.”

Coach Lombardi would also go on to describe the process of developing a collaborative environment by stating, “It’s been outstanding. [Head Coach] Brandon [Staley] and I go way back, so it’s such an easy relationship from that standpoint. Right now, because the practices are at a walk-through tempo, there’s a lot less stress involved, certainly from the players but even from the coaches in that there’s not a winner and loser. Regardless of how you think about it, that certainly adds pressure during practice — just getting the guys lined up in the right way and then going in the right direction. Then, really, in slow motion, getting to see this defense, which is unique. It’s different than maybe what most people are used to, so being able to see it in slow motion is really going to help us prepare for training camp and get the ball rolling really well at that point.”

Newly named Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill said about how he thought the OTA process has been, “It’s been pretty good. I love the guys all being here, seeing all of their faces. You see them on Zoom for so long, and to get them in person and to connect those faces with who you’re seeing across the screen, has been amazing. Just to get these guys on the grass and being able to talk to those adjustments has been great for us.” 

Coach Hill would also describe the competition level of this team and share an example, “For a quick example, we have the guys split up on different fields. Even though we’re doing a walk-through on one field, we want to let them know that we’re looking at the other field, too. When we’re looking at the film together, we’re competing. Who had the best rep on that side of the field? Was it field one or field two? It’s challenging those guys to be on point every down because they know we’re looking not just at their field, but we’re looking at the opposing field, too. It’s important to those guys. In the classroom, we’re trying to create that. We use Kahoot! [game-based learning platform] a lot. We’re trying to test their knowledge on what they retained from the day and see if they can spit it back at us. Those guys get competitive in those modes. It was amazing to just see after the first day we did it. We just did a test run on Chargers history, and at the end of that, [S] Derwin [James] was pissed. Right there, you just know that you have a competitive group. It doesn’t matter if we were on the field or not; we try to put them in those competitive modes and you saw it on day one. Just to make note, so guys know, Nas has pretty much won all of them.”

Newly named Special Teams Coordinator Derius Swinton II, would also share in thoughts on the process by talking about his group and improving their play, “In our situation, and these guys know it, it’s a real competition. ‘Spring Training’ is what I told them. It’s Spring Training; you guys are pitchers and catchers, you’re coming in and we’re working for roster spots. None of those guys are scared of competition. We all have a rotation of who has a ‘live bullpen day,’ a guy who is going to go live with the team. We have it organized in that way. They’re here competing. I’ve been really impressed with how they’re professionals. They’re also helping each other. A lot of people do have specialists on their roster, where it’s just to fill a spot. I think [General Manager] Tom [Telesco] and Brandon [Staley] would tell you that these guys aren’t just filling a spot, all of them are NFL-level players and we’re trying to find the best mix of guys to fit our roster for the regular season.”

He continued to say, “Any time that you get into a new place, you just don’t look at it as the past. I tell them all of the time that it’s a blank slate. Whatever you’re being taught now, I can’t tell you what you were being taught then. I didn’t install it. Those guys were good coaches. The results weren’t there, but they’re good coaches — nothing against them. I just say, ‘Hey, it’s a blank slate and we’re putting our system in. Day-by-day, you just incorporate our system. From the time that they got onto the Zoom meetings, it’s just building; it’s speaking our language, it’s looking at the PowerPoints, looking at the voice-overs. Now, they come in and they almost know that when they watch the film, ‘Hey, he’s about to ask this.’ When they start calling out the answers before you even ask them, now you know that the culture is building your way. Then, we translate it to the field.”

Since Coach Staley was hired back in January, he said all the right things, we are now getting our first glimpse into how his newly formed coaching staff has gone about melding his structure with implementing their ideas. Though this offseason has been different than most, these men appeared to have done a fine job of communicating their intentions and we will soon hear from the players on how they feel about this implementation process. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or forward any suggestions on what additional topics or angles you’d like to see discussed to info@whatsgoodinsports.com

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