San Diego Chargers: Ken Whisenhunt

The San Diego Chargers will have to fill two coaching vacancies on the team's offensive coaching staff, with the Tennessee Titans announcing Friday that head coach Ken Whisenhunt hired Chargers tight end coach Jason Michael.

Michael, 35, spent three seasons coaching tight ends in San Diego. The promotion offers a move closer to home for Michael, a native of Louisa, Ky.

The Chargers hired quarterbacks coach Frank Reich to serve as the team's offensive coordinator to replace Whisenhunt, creating a vacancy at quarterbacks coach. Now, San Diego coach Mike McCoy also will have to replace Michael.

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said this week his organization has been proactive in filling the vacant coaching positions.

“The great thing about Mike [McCoy] is he is very detailed and prepared,” Telesco said. “He has a list of people that if an opening comes available, this is the people he will be looking at. I have been in the league long enough to where I know a lot of people. You are always prepared for that. Usually it's not going to be a cold call resume coming in.”
SAN DIEGO -- Good morning. Well, it’s officially the offseason for the San Diego Chargers. But that does not mean the flow of information on the team stops here at NFL Nation. We’ll continue to keep you informed on the Chargers' offseason moves, draft preparation and free agency during the coming months.

We will begin this week with an overview on the Chargers' pending free agents, and a big-picture view of top free agents in the league by ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando. We’ll also take a first look at the draft, with San Diego holding the No. 25 overall pick.

Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated says shoring up the offensive line, finding a No. 2 receiver and getting help at cornerbacks are a couple things San Diego should address in the offseason.

Bill Barnwell of Grantland reviews all of last week’s NFL divisional matchups. Barnwell says the Denver Broncos escaped with a win over San Diego despite several mistakes in the second half that allowed the Chargers to get back in the game.

Ben Stockwell of Pro Football Focus reviews the Chargers-Broncos matchup, giving a game ball to Denver’s offensive line for controlling the line of scrimmage.

ESPN Titans beat reporter Paul Kuharsky provides his thoughts on how former Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will do as head coach in Tennessee.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean writes that the Titans took an aggressive approach to land Whisenhunt.

Dr. David Chao writing for the National Football Post provides some good information on the evaluation of concussions during the game, and how they are not just caused by helmet-to-helmet hits.

Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com provides a practice report focusing on NFL prospects at this week’s East-West Shrine game.

Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego talks with tight end Antonio Gates, who says the Chargers should have moved to the passing game earlier based on how Denver played them defensively.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com says San Diego’s future is bright after an improbable postseason run.

Darren Smith of The Mighty 1090 AM radio talks with former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson about San Diego’s playoff loss in this audio link.
SAN DIEGO -- With ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reporting that San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has accepted a job as the next head coach of the Tennessee Titans, look for Mike McCoy to move quickly to fill the vacancy with his team.

Reich
And McCoy might already have the man for the job on his coaching staff in quarterbacks coach Frank Reich.

Reich played 14 seasons in the NFL, serving mostly as a backup quarterback with Buffalo, Carolina, the New York Jets and Detroit. He has developed a good rapport with quarterback Philip Rivers in his first season as San Diego's quarterbacks coach.

One concern about Reich is experience: He has never served as an offensive coordinator in the NFL and has not called plays in his eight years as a coach in the league. So you wonder if McCoy would go back to calling plays like he did in Denver as Reich learns on the job.

The Chargers would like to get a person in place sooner rather than later, with player evaluations to get done and draft preparation heating up with the Senior Bowl next week.

Asked specifically if he's ready to promote Reich to offensive coordinator by reporters in San Diego on Monday, McCoy said he would make an announcement when a decision is made.

"I've got a plan for every position we have on staff, just like everything else we do here," McCoy said. "So I'll let you know when we make changes."

Another possible candidate is former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who coached McCoy when at Denver in 1995. Kubiak served as the offensive coordinator for the Broncos, and McCoy was a rookie training camp arm.
SAN DIEGO – A public relations employee for the San Diego Chargers began Ken Whisenhunt’s interview session by telling reporters that the offensive coordinator would not be answering questions regarding reports that he had three interviews scheduled for NFL head coaching jobs this week.

Whisenhunt
But of course, that’s the first question Whisenhunt was asked. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Whisenhunt has an interview with the Detroit Lions to discuss that team’s head coaching vacancy on Thursday, followed by interviews with Tennessee on Friday and Cleveland on Saturday.

The interviews with Detroit and Tennessee likely will take place in San Diego, with the Cleveland interview likely to take place in Denver.

“I understand the process and I appreciate the interest,” Whisenhunt told reporters. “But I just want to make sure everyone understands my focus is on the game on Sunday.”

Asked how he can focus on game preparation for San Diego’s AFC divisional round playoff matchup with the Denver Broncos with three looming interviews for head coaching vacancies over the next three days, Whisenhunt had this to say: “It’s not hard. This is a playoff game. I think that’s where the focus has been. Anything outside of that is really secondary.”

Whisenhunt is considered the front-runner for the Lions' head coaching vacancy. The Lions seek an offensive-minded coach to help take talented quarterback Matthew Stafford to the next level. Whisenhunt already helped elevate the level of play with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Kurt Warner in Arizona and now Philip Rivers in San Diego.

Whisenhunt also was a teammate of Lions general manager Martin Mayhew during his playing days for the Washington Redskins.
SAN DIEGO -- The coaching carousel may stop spinning before San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has a chance to interview for one of the head coaching vacancies in the NFL.

Whisenhunt
And that’s just fine, according to Whisenhunt.

“That’s not something that I really even think about,” said Whisenhunt, when asked if he expected to be a head coach somewhere else next year on Thursday. “I think I’m very lucky to have had that opportunity, but I’m also very lucky that [Chargers owner Dean Spanos] Mr. Spanos, and Tom [general manager Tom Telesco] and Mike [head coach Mike McCoy] gave me an opportunity here. It’s been a great year working with these guys, and I’m excited about what we can do in the playoffs and in the future.”

The Houston Texans hired Bill O’Brien as the team’s head coach this week to replace Gary Kubiak, whom the team fired four weeks before the season was over. Whisenhunt reportedly was on a short list of head coaching candidates for the Texans, but could not interview for the job because the Chargers made the postseason.

Tampa Bay hired former Bears head coach Lovie Smith to replace the recently fired Greg Schiano. The only head coaching jobs that remain are in Minnesota, Cleveland, Washington, and Detroit.

According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Whisenhunt has emerged as a candidate for the Detroit head coaching vacancy.

Whisenhunt could be a possible fit for the Lions, who seek an offensive-minded coach to help take talented quarterback Matthew Stafford to the next level. Whisenhunt already has helped elevate the level of play with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Kurt Warner in Arizona and now Philip Rivers in San Diego.

Whisenhunt also was a teammate of Lions general manager Martin Mayhew during his playing days for the Washington Redskins. Per NFL rules, teams have to wait until next week to interview Whisenhunt.

“Last week we were so focused on that game, crossing our fingers and hoping things would line up for us, that you just don’t pay a lot of attention to it,” Whisenhunt said. “And it’s the same way. People say things to me. I’m honored that I’m mentioned for that, but to be honest with you, the focus is on trying to get our guys ready to go on Sunday. And I think that’s the way you approach it, and that’s the way it’s been so far.”

McCoy said Whisehunt, who served as the head coach for the Arizona Cardinals for six seasons, deserves a second opportunity. However, the focus on the organization is on finding a way to defeat the Bengals in the playoffs.

“We understand right now that we have one goal in mind, and that’s to beat the Cincinnati Bengals,” McCoy said. “When you win, and you have players that have success, coaches get opportunities. But we have one thing in mind right now, and that’s beating Cincinnati.”
SAN DIEGO – Philip Rivers has heard the speculation that offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt could be in the running for a handful of NFL head-coaching jobs when the regular season comes to a close. According to a report by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the Houston Texans are expected to interview Whisenhunt at the soonest possible chance.

Whisenhunt maintains that his focus is on helping the San Diego Chargers reach the postseason, and that he will not be pursuing any job interviews until after the season is over.

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports"His background shows a heck of a lot of success offensively, both in Pittsburgh and Arizona," Chargers QB Philip Rivers said of Ken Whisenhunt. "He's been great."
“You would love to keep the same staff for a long time,” Rivers, the Chargers quarterback, said. “But it doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Obviously, it’s a little premature to talk about, but I would have been shocked had he not gotten a couple opportunities.”

Rivers understands Whisenhunt’s pedigree. As coach of the Arizona Cardinals he led that fledging franchise to a Super Bowl and two playoff appearances in six seasons, finishing with a 45-51 record. Whisenhunt also served as offensive coordinator for Pittsburgh during the Steelers’ Super Bowl season in 2005.

Rivers says that Whisenhunt has been important part of his success this season.

“This is Ken Whisenhunt’s offense,” Rivers said. “He’s called every snap, every play. He’s run every meeting. Obviously, his background shows a heck of a lot of success offensively, both in Pittsburgh and Arizona. He’s been great.

“I think the one thing I appreciate – and I could have a long list – is his steadiness. He’s intense. He loves ball, but his steadiness and consistency in his approach every day. When we lost and had a tough stretch, he didn’t get all in a panic. He just said, ‘Stay with it.’ And I think that rubs off on the guys. And it’s been fun working with him.”

Rivers said he never felt like Whisenhunt was a rent-a-coach, using his one season in San Diego as a steppingstone to a better gig.

“I didn’t think that he was coming here to say, ‘I’m just stopping here, and then I’m going to run off somewhere else,’” Rivers said. “That is not indicative of the commitment he’s given. He’s all in here. But I’m just saying, his reputation. He’s a heck of a coach. He’ll be a head coach again; it’s just a matter of how fast.”
SAN DIEGO -- Mike McCoy acknowledged after the San Diego Chargers' win over the New York Giants that teams may covet his offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, for potential head coaching vacancies.

But those organizations will have to wait until the end of the season for a chance to interview Whisenhunt.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Ken Whisenhunt
Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesChargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will get plenty of attention from teams seeking a new head coach.
“He's ready to go this week to try and find a way to beat Denver,” McCoy said. “He's going to take care of all of that down the road. Ken's not worrying about that one bit. He put a great plan together, and he's not worrying about that right now.”

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Saturday that the Houston Texans have Whisenhunt squarely on the radar for their vacancy, and are expected to interview the San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator at the soonest chance possible, according to league sources.

Per Schefter, Texans general manager Rick Smith and Whisenhunt got to know each other well from the one year they spent together working on the NFL's competition committee.

Whisenhunt served as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 2007-12. He joined the Chargers after being fired by Arizona following a 5-11 season in 2012. Whisenhunt was 45-51 overall with the Cardinals and led them to Super Bowl XLIII, where Arizona fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In his first season with the Chargers, Whisenhunt is partly responsible for quarterback Philip Rivers playing his best football during his 10 years in San Diego.

“His record for where he's been speaks for itself,” McCoy said about Whisenhunt. “Good coaches get good opportunities. And when you have good players and you win games, and offense, defense and special teams -- your phase does well -- it's deserving.”

Morning Links: Ken Whisenhunt a stud

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
11:20
AM ET
SAN DIEGO -- ESPN’s Kevin Seifert places San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt on his weekly list of studs and duds for Week 12 of the NFL for his role in the resurrection of Philip Rivers. Seifert: “So who gets credit for Rivers' renaissance? Rivers, of course, and surely new Chargers coach Mike McCoy has played a role. But I submit Whisenhunt as a less-obvious recipient. Whisenhunt's work with Rivers and the Chargers' offense has reminded us how good he had the Arizona Cardinals going as head coach when he had competent personnel at quarterback. There will be more than a few NFL teams searching this winter for an offensive-minded head-coaching candidate with a history of elevating the play of quarterbacks. At this point, it's difficult to know how Whisenhunt couldn't qualify as a strong candidate for one of those jobs.”

Speaking of Rivers’ rebirth, ESPN Insider Louis Reddick breaks down how Rivers has made such an impressive comeback in this ESPN Insider piece. Insider

ESPN Chiefs beat reporter Adam Teicher writes that the Chargers exposed some weaknesses in Kansas City’s stingy defense, using crossing routes to create some explosive plays.

Former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen writing for Bleacher Report has an excellent break down of Rivers' winning touchdown throw to Seyi Ajirotutu.

Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego says against Kansas City we might have seen the beginning of a succession at tight end from Antonio Gates to Ladarius Green.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego writes that Ajirotutu silenced Arrowhead Stadium with his winning touchdown catch.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com recaps the game.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated places San Diego at No. 15 on his Fine Fifteen list. King: “Hat tip to Antonio Gates. Here’s a basketball player at Kent State who took a flyer on football because he was the size-speed type of athlete to be a good tight end. Good call. Sunday in Kansas City, Gates became the fourth tight end in NFL history to pass the 700-catch and 9,000-yard plateaus. He now has 701 receptions and 9,006 yards. Don’t want to bum him out, but Gates needs only 600 catches to pass Tony Gonzalez.”
SAN DIEGO -- It’s a conversation head coaches usually have with their offensive and defensive coordinators before the season starts -- will they be on the field or in the coaching box on game days?

And the answer to that question depends on a lot of variables -- visibility, motivation, a coach's ability to communicate and ultimately comfort level.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll wants his coordinators on the sideline communicating and motivating their players during the game.

But longtime defensive coordinators like Monte Kiffin with the Cowboys and Detroit's Gunther Cunningham prefer the bird's-eye view they receive from the coaches' box. Cunningham actually returned to the booth after spending a couple seasons on the sideline for the Lions.

“Personally, I like it up there, especially when it gets cold,” Cunningham told reporters when asked about the move.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy said he left the decision up to offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator John Pagano.

“It’s really what they’re most comfortable with,” McCoy said. “I preferred being down, myself, but that’s something you’d have to ask both of them. I was flexible with them in what they preferred and where and they wanted to be.

“The most important thing is that the whole staff communicates together and that they feel comfortable doing what they can do. But it doesn’t bother me. I don’t think it makes much of a difference.”

Whisenhunt said he preferred being on the field primarily because of his ability to quickly communicate with quarterback Philip Rivers. According to research complied by the Baltimore Ravens’ coaching staff, only five of the 32 NFL coordinators called plays from the coaches’ booth during the 2010 NFL season.

“If you are in the box then you have to relay it to a coach on the sidelines and sometimes that can take a little longer,” Whisenhunt said. “However, when you are on the field you can’t see as much as when you are in the box. So it’s a little bit of both.

“I think it’s a feel. It’s been good just because I have been able to communicate with Philip, and I think when you are talking after a series or in a break, you can get a better feel when you are actually on the field.”

Pagano said he better communicates with his defensive players when he's on the field.

“Years ago, I was always up in the box,” Pagano said. “I think being on the field I see the same types of things as I did in the box. Being in touch with the players is important to me.

“I preach communication. It's me being able to communicate to those guys that I feel the same way about being down there and around them. We have to be able to get things adjusted and that’s what our coaches do a great job of. I have always thought about it -- either going up or staying down, but I just feel comfortable downstairs.”
Philip Rivers and DeAngelo Hall USA Today SportsDeAngelo Hall, right, and the Redskins' secondary will try to slow down Philip Rivers, who has completed a league-best 73.9 percent of his passes.
This isn’t a compelling game when it comes to storylines. No big-name player is facing his former team. There’s no grudge match. And, in fact, San Diego and Washington have played each other only three times in the past 14 years, and not since 2010.

Still, there is a lot going on in this game. If the 2-5 Washington Redskins are intent on turning their season around, they need to win. Even in a bad division, a 2-6 record would be tough to overcome. At some point, teams just have to play well, and the Redskins must prove that can happen.

For San Diego, the Chargers’ 4-3 start is a good one. However, if they want to stay in the AFC playoff race or remain a threat in the AFC West, they can’t afford to lose to a sub-.500 team.

ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric Williams and Redskins reporter John Keim break down this week's game:

Robert Griffin III threw 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions in winning rookie of the year honors in 2012. This season, he’s thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions through seven games. What has changed with his decision-making?

Keim: Griffin is used to making big plays, and last year, a number of them occurred because of his legs, whether running or extending plays. But that’s not always happening, and in games where his legs aren't a weapon, he has forced some throws. Not all the interceptions are his fault, of course, but in general, that’s been a theme: forcing throws. Also, they’re not able to use as much play-action throws as last year because of game situations, and when that happens, he and the passing game are very, very ordinary. They need to move defenders around, causing chaos in drops, with their zone-read fakes and play fakes. Denver also kept seven in coverage last week, and that’s always trouble for a unit that has just one receiver who threatens a defense in Pierre Garcon (although tight end Jordan Reed does now, too).

Philip Rivers’ stock has dropped the past couple of seasons. But under a new coach, he’s playing at a high level. Why?

Williams: Coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt installed an up-tempo, no-huddle offense focused on the short passing game and getting the ball out quickly. The result has been better decision-making for Rivers. He leads the league in completion percentage this season at 73.9 percent, which is nearly 10 percent more than his career average (64.3). And his 111.1 passer rating (second in the NFL) is more than 15 points higher than his career rating of 95.6. San Diego’s offensive line also has done an excellent job of protecting Rivers. The Chargers have allowed just 11 sacks through seven games, tied for second-best in the NFL.

Washington’s defense is allowing 32.7 points a contest, second-worst in the NFL. Why is Jim Haslett’s defense struggling to keep teams out of the end zone?

Keim: The defense struggled mightily in the first four games but has mostly done its job in the past three games, when the Redskins have been hurt by special teams (two punt returns for a score; a 90-yarder to set up another one) and the offense (turnovers deep in their own territory; an interception return for a score). But this is not a top-level unit by any means. The Redskins' secondary has holes, especially at safety, and the linebackers, as a group, aren't great at coverage. But they've played the run better of late, and they’re causing turnovers. They have two good but not great pass-rushers in Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. They have a good nose tackle in Barry Cofield. So they have good parts. They played great for three quarters against Denver; alas, the game went four.

Why has the Chargers’ pass rush been more productive lately?

Williams: Defensive coordinator John Pagano has used some creative defensive fronts and exotic blitz packages to manufacture pressure. Along with that, the ability of interior defensive linemen such as Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes to push the pocket inside have created one-on-one matchups for San Diego’s inexperienced edge rushers. And guys such as Thomas Keiser and Larry English have taken advantage of their opportunities.

Speaking of opportunities, Alfred Morris has followed up an impressive rookie campaign by rushing for 565 yards and four touchdowns through seven games. He leads all running backs with a robust 5.23 yards per carry. How has Morris remained effective, even with Griffin struggling?

Keim: Good question. Morris is better than he was a year ago, thanks to even better vision and stronger legs. Both qualities were good last year, too. Defenses have keyed more on him, knowing that on zone reads, for example, Griffin would not hurt them (until recently). Also, Denver rarely used an eight-man front against Washington in an attempt to play better in coverage. The Redskins usually receive good blocking from their tight ends and receivers, which helps Morris as well. And the line’s continuity shows up in the run game. But Morris deserves a lot of credit. He’s a patient runner who knows how to set up a defense, then cut back once it overcommits. Morris has proved this year that he’s not a creation of the zone read. The key for Washington is giving him more carries; this season's high is 19. Last season he had 10 games with more than 19 carries. Of course, that stems from winning and being in control of games. The Redskins have done little of both this season.

Eric, do you believe in this team yet, or do you still see a lot of holes? If so, where?

Williams: Offensively, San Diego has what it takes to make the playoffs in the AFC. The Chargers are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. Rivers’ ability to move the ball in the passing game has been nicely complemented by the emergence of bruising runner Ryan Mathews, who had back-to-back, 100-yard rushing games. But defensively, the Chargers remain a question mark, even though they have not allowed a touchdown in 11 quarters. The Chargers’ defensive backfield has just two interceptions this season, and Jarret Johnson leads the team with just three sacks through seven games. The Chargers still lack elite playmakers on defense.

SAN DIEGO -- Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, says his offense shouldn’t be surprised by anything the Indianapolis Colts do defensively in Monday’s matchup here at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Colts, led by defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, and more important, defensive-minded head coach Chuck Pagano, run a similar style 3-4 defensive front as little brother John Pagano, defensive coordinator for the Chargers.

“There are some similarities,” Whisenhunt said. “When you watch tape, you’ll see some things and say, ‘Hey I recognize that.’ But it’s different players. They run some things differently and when you get into some of the different varieties of it, whether it’s the sub packages, there are differences.

“But there’s no question that it helps that we’ve been able to go against the base defense when we’re going against Pags [John Pagano]. John [Pagano] does a nice job with our guys as far as what we see and that’ll help.”

While the schemes may be similar, the Colts pose more of a threat on defense because of the personnel on the side of the ball, including the NFL’s leading sack man Robert Mathis (9.5 sacks), along with ball-hawking cornreback Darius Butler (2 interceptions, one returned for a TD).

So the Chargers will have to do a much better job protecting the football than they accomplished against the Raiders last week, which leads to the first thing I’ll be looking for in tonight’s contest.

1. Ball security: Through five games, Indianapolis has forced 10 turnovers, including seven interceptions. The Colts forced just 15 turnovers all of last season, so this year’s defense is doing a much better job getting after the football. The Chargers turned it over five times against Oakland last week. If San Diego has a repeat performance, this game could be over by halftime.

2. Run the football: Yes, it would be great to see Philip Rivers sling the rock and put up another 400-yard passing day, right? Wrong. The Chargers ran for a paltry 32 yards last week. That’s not going to get it done. If Ryan Mathews is healthy, he should get at least 15 touches to keep the Colts’ defense honest.

3. Wrap-up: Indianapolis is in the top five in the league in rushing, averaging 142 rushing yards a contest. They’ve got a new toy in running back Trent Richardson, and they plan on using him. The Chargers are only giving up 117 yards a contest. It will be important for Corey Liuget, Cam Thomas and Kendall Reyes to play tough up front defensively, and for the back end of San Diego’s defense to make sure tackles in open space.

4. Make a play on defense: It’s been five games, and San Diego’s secondary has yet to haul in an interception. Defensive tackle Cam Thomas has the team’s only pick, and that happened on San Diego’s first defensive play of 2013. The Chargers need to make a couple of game-changing plays on defense to help flip field position, and steal a few possessions from Andrew Luck.

5. A special play on special teams: San Diego’s return game has yet to make a big play this season. Today would be a good day for one. Again, the Chargers will need to match scores with a pretty potent Indianapolis offense. And getting an impact play on special teams could help San Diego’s chances to stay in the game.
SAN DIEGO – When it comes to getting carries, an offensive coordinator is never going to satisfy everyone in the running back room.

Everyone wants their touches. And when a running back is playing in a pass-first offense, those touches can be few and far between. But through four games, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has done a nice job of managing the workload between his stable of running backs.

“A lot of it is package-driven,” Whisenhunt said. “We go in there with a lot of different personnel groups, and we have different guys playing in different spots within those groups. If we’re having success with that group, then whatever the rotation is, those guys are going to get more plays on any given Sunday.

“We’re certainly conscious of the fact that Ryan [Mathews] is running the ball very well and we’re trying to get opportunities for him to do that. But Danny [Woodhead] has been playing well for us. Ronnie Brown has been playing well for us. It’s really a good problem to have to be honest with you.”

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsRyan Mathews is the Chargers' top rusher and every-down back, but his role changes near the goal line.
San Diego is running the ball only 41.5 percent of the time (148 passing plays vs. 105 running plays). But when the Chargers have run the ball, they've been pretty effective, averaging 105 yards a contest.

Mathews is the team’s every-down back. The Fresno State product has a team-high 226 yards on 64 carries, a 3.5-per-carry average. His longest run is 20 yards. Mathews also has seven catches for 66 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown. But he has not scored on rushing touchdown this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, Mathews has only one carry inside the opponent’s 10-yard line this season, and only four of his carries have come inside the 20-yard line. Brown has handled both carries for San Diego from the opponent’s 1-yard line this season.

Even though he has not received touches near the goal line, Mathews said he’s comfortable with his team’s new offense, and his role in it.

“We've got a bunch of great running backs here that can all make plays,” he said. “If the personnel is called up, and your number is called up, then you go in the game and do your best on every play.”

Woodhead has been used mostly in passing situations and in the red zone. The Chadron State product is the second-leading receiver for the Chargers, with 22 catches for 162 yards. Woodhead had his first, two-touchdown-reception game against Dallas last week, twice beating Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter on wheel routes.

Woodhead also has 90 yards rushing, and is the closest player in terms of skill set the Chargers have had since losing Darren Sproles to New Orleans in free agency in 2011.

The unselfish Woodhead said that whenever his number is called, he’ll be ready.

“That’s the last thing I’m concerned about is how many touches I get,” Woodhead said. “I don’t want to get into that, because then the focus would be on myself. I want to focus on what we have to do to win the game. And when I’m out there, if I get the touch, I’m going to try and do the best I can with it. But you’ve got to realize that there’s 10 other people helping me if I get yards.”

Brown has been used mostly in goal-line and passing situations. Brown has 55 yards rushing, including a 1-yard touchdown. And then there's Le'Ron McClain, who at 6-foot and 260 pounds remains one of the most bruising lead-blocking fullbacks in the business.

The diversity of runners the Chargers have on the roster allows them to attack opponents in a lot of different ways, keeping defenses from just focusing on Philip Rivers and the passing game.

“I know Ryan would like to get the ball 20 times, but every back would,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “Every receiver wants 10 catches. It’s a team game. There is going to be games from week to week where certain guys are the best guy for the situation.

“Ryan is the guy we are going to pound the ball with. That’s what we put him in there to do, and he did a good job with it running physical and making the most out of his opportunities. We’re going to play a number of guys. We not worrying about giving this guy this many touches, we’re going to do what’s best to win.”
Rivers/LockerUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, right, will try to keep up with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who have scored 61 points through two games.
The San Diego Chargers are the Tennessee Titans' white whale.

The teams don’t play that frequently -- just nine times since 1993, including a wild-card playoff matchup in January 2008. The franchises have undergone all sorts of changes during that span, but one thing has remained consistent when they meet: The Chargers always win.

Bill Williamson, why do you think that is, and what are the odds it continues?

Bill Williamson: I don’t see the Chargers' history with the Titans being a factor. I know in Nashville the word "Chargers" makes fans cringe because of the history. Both teams are rebuilding and trending upward. These are two similar teams, and they will both be in the AFC conversation in the coming years.

The Titans made a lot of changes. This isn’t the team the Chargers beat 38-10 last September. What’s the biggest difference?

Paul Kuharsky: The central part of the offseason revamp was the offensive line. The Titans have three new starters on the interior with left guard Andy Levitre, center Rob Turner and right guard Chance Warmack. Turner has been shaky, however, and Warmack is a rookie who is going to take some lumps when he’s across from someone like J.J. Watt. The group hasn’t jelled yet, but the run-blocking has been pretty good.

We've seen the good Philip Rivers and the bad Philip Rivers over the years. With the new regime in place, what is your feeling on who he will be now?

Williamson: I might be the wrong person to ask, Paul. I’ve always been high on Rivers. Yes, his play sank the past two seasons and he committed 47 turnovers during that span. But it wasn’t all on him. The previous regime in San Diego let go of a lot of skill-position talent, and the offensive line was decimated by injuries. Rivers didn’t have much help. He was pressing as a result. So far under head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback coach Frank Reich, Rivers has looked re-energized. He has looked relaxed and confident over the first two weeks. He has shown that he is still a high-level player. Stopping him is the main challenge for the Titans.

How’s Jake Locker coming along?

Kuharsky: He made a bad throw on a crucial third-and-1 late in regulation in the loss to the Texans. The Titans have hardly turned him loose so far. But since the start of camp, he’s shown steady progress. I’m not a complete believer by any means, but I think he has a chance and I didn’t always feel that way. We still haven’t seen some aspects of the offense that should be featured for him. Maybe this week he’ll run around more and we’ll see more boots and rollouts.

I’m curious about one of the guys who will be chasing Locker. The Titans have seen a great deal of Dwight Freeney over the years. How has he fit in the defensive scheme there?

Williamson: An old foe, indeed. Freeney is in a tough spot. He was signed (and paid well) to be the Chargers’ primary edge pass-rusher after 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram blew out his knee in May. But at 33, Freeney is best suited as a rotational player. He has half a sack this season. He has been active and will give his best effort, but he needs help. It would be a stretch to think he can still be a premier player. But he knows the Titans, and I’m sure he will be motivated to perform well Sunday.

What can Rivers and the Chargers' offensive line expect from the Titans’ pass rush?

Kuharsky: The best guys so far haven’t been the ends. Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley should key the rush. Ayers moves from stongside linebacker to end on rush downs but has been limited by a bad ankle. Tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown have been the best rushers so far. The fronts are less predictable and the blitzes more frequent. That’s the influence of defensive assistant Gregg Williams. This defense is far better than I expected.

Chargers begin to revamp

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
2:50
PM ET
A day after setting the 53-man roster, new San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco went to work, adding depth to a roster that needs to get deeper.

Telesco started with the defense. The Chargers acquired defensive tackle Sean Lissemore from Dallas for a conditional 2015 seventh-round pick. Lissemore adds to a thin position. He is a good fit for the 3-4 defense. The fourth-year player could be a rotational player.

The Chargers also signed linebacker Reggie Walker. He was previously with Arizona where he played for new San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and new San Diego special-teams coach Kevin Spencer. Walker is known for being a strong special- teams player. That’s vital. The Chargers were awful on special teams in the preseason.

To make room for Lissemore and Walker, the Chargers reportedly cut linebacker D.J. Smith and put defensive tackle Damik Scafe on injured reserve.

Running back Edwin Baker, cut by San Diego, signed with Denver’s practice squad.

Chargers have tailback options

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
8:00
AM ET
The San Diego Chargers are not one of the deepest teams in the NFL. They are thin at several positions as they begin a new era.

However, one place where the Chargers seem to be fairly deep is at tailback. The team is going into the season with starter Ryan Mathews, and backups Danny Woodhead, Fozzy Whittaker and Ronnie Brown. All three backups should have a role, starting with Woodhead.

The depth is important considering Mathews’ injury history. He has missed 10 games in his three NFL seasons, so it is reasonable to think the backups will play a significant role.

Whitaker is an interesting player. He is a hard, versatile runner, who has potential. He played for new San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona and fought his way onto this team.

As the Chargers are likely to go through growing pains in 2013, one area of strength resides in the backfield.

SPONSORED HEADLINES