A year ago at this time, the Chargers had a new defensive scheme and the hope that — over the next 18 weeks — things would come together.
The fact they’ve since rebuilt their personnel on defense reveals just how much that hope wasn’t realized.
On Sunday, they’ll unveil a group with at least four new starters, a group expected to be much stingier, especially against the run.
Head coach Brandon Staley this week expressed “full confidence” in his revamped defense but also noted the uncertainty that exists entering the Chargers’ opener against Las Vegas.
“There’s that element to the beginning where your guys have to figure it out together,” Staley said. “The one thing I’m excited about is who I am figuring it out with. I really like who we’re going to go compete with on Sunday.”
At least six of the Chargers defenders forecast to start against the Raiders didn’t play in the preseason, providing one level of unpredictability.
Another level comes from a Las Vegas offense that will be operating under a new coaching staff headed by Josh McDaniels, formerly the offensive coordinator in New England.
The Raiders also added one of the most dynamic weapons in football in wideout Davante Adams, a two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler, to team with tight end Darren Waller and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow.
Given the coaching and scheme changes and the fact most of Las Vegas’ regulars didn’t appear in the preseason, either, there will be plenty of in-game deciphering Sunday.
“You just look at the coaches at their different stops, other coaches on their staff … and take a look at the new players and where they’ve been before,” Staley said. “Just try to piece it together the best that you can.
“You have to be ready to figure it out on game day and have a lot of contingencies in place because once that game expresses itself, you have to be ready to go adjust and play to it.”
In 2021, the Chargers defense struggled mightily in attempt to figure it out. After yielding 126 rushing yards to Washington in the opener, the Chargers gave up at least 186 yards on the ground to four of their next five opponents.
The exception came against the Raiders in Week 4 when the Chargers opened a three-touchdown lead and controlled time of possession while limiting Las Vegas to 48 rushing yards.
But the inability to both stop the run and hold on third down turned out to be season-long themes as the Chargers finished 9-8 and were eliminated from playoff contention on the final play of the NFL’s regular season.
Mack, Joseph-Day, Fox and Reeder all have experience with Staley and his scheme.
“We played against these guys that we’ve picked up and they’re the same dudes,” center Corey Linsley said in training camp. “They’re super talented. They’re super strong with heavy, heavy hands. They’re great with their technique.
“In Coach Staley’s defense, it’s assignment. They’re very smart. We were learning last year that it’s a very complex defense. But the guys that we have obviously played in the system, so they’re also very smart football players. To be able to combine those two — the technique and the heaviness and the hands and all of that — with the intelligence, it’s promising.”
The Chargers haven’t ruled out Jackson yet, Staley saying Wednesday that he thinks the decision could come as late as Sunday. But Jackson not practicing again suggests he’s unlikely to be ready to face the Raiders.
Tight end Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring) also seems to be trending toward not playing. He didn’t practice and has been out since suffering his injury in early August.
For the second consecutive day, the Raiders had no players listed on their injury report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.