While it is refreshing to see the national attention on the San Diego Chargers tempered a bit after the past few years of high expectations and outlandish predictions, ranking the team with the middle of the pack in a preseason power poll is too unenthusiastic. Call it disrespect or call it a warranted reevaluation of the team’s overall talent, regardless of what label it gets, the Bolts should carry a real chip on their shoulders heading into the 2012 season and that seems like a good thing.
Often times teams that hear nothing but hype during the build-up to the start of a season fall flat on their faces when the time comes to actually win football games. You have to look no further than the Philadelphia Eagles last year or the even the Chargers over the course of the last three or four seasons to see that trend play itself out.
That won’t be a problem for the Bolts in 2012 as they have fallen out of favor a bit with the media as a whole. In the power rankings, the Chargers are considered no better than a middle of the pack team ranked 15th by ESPN, 16th by PFT, and 16th in the AP Pro32.
With the volume lowered a bit on the hype, the Bolts’ players seem to be excited about the possibilities that lie ahead of them. Tight end Antonio Gates said: "It's definitely humbling. Because we haven't gotten that exposure, it's humbling to our team." Being humbled could be quite useful to a club given the title of preseason darlings more often than not over the past handful of seasons.
While players of the quality found on NFL rosters aren’t really in need of additional motivation, the Chargers will certainly have the ‘doubters’ to call upon all year when they see success. A player that embodies that approach needed to succeed is fullback Jacob Hester and he sees some real value in the team’s newfound obscurity. He said: "It's kind of good this year to not have people talking about you. I hope it stays that way and we go out and have a workman's mentality and do what we need to do."
A workman’s mentality is just what this Chargers team needs to regain the mojo that they enjoyed from 2006-09 when they won the AFC West each year. After years of being dubbed as darkhorse Super Bowl picks, the Bolts aren’t even the consensus choice to win the AFC West this season now that Peyton Manning is with the Denver Broncos. The fact that the limelight is shining elsewhere now should be beneficial to the team and the lower the expectations, the higher the probability of exceeding that outlook.
Optimism is always strong at the beginning of a new season, but Head Coach Norv Turner seems particularly enthused about his club this year saying: "We're much more athletic. We're much faster. And I believe we're going to be much more physical. Again, we have a lot of work to do to get everyone on the same page and get everyone understanding what we're trying to accomplish."
That added speed, athleticism, and physicality is all thanks to a massive overhaul engineered by General Manager A.J. Smith who saw the light this offseason. His club had been stuck in a rut for too many years in a row and needed an influx of new blood to liven things up and regain that championship hunger. The team now seems to have recaptured their desire to train, get conditioned, and really stay committed to one another as their ultimate team goal. According to Gates: "It doesn't guarantee anything but it's a start for us.”
With veteran leadership added to this roster along with several impressive rookies who will see significant playing time in year one, this Chargers team is poised to look a lot different than the ones from the past four or five years. And that’s a good thing.
Now it’s your turn! Do you see the media’s less favorable outlook on the Chargers as a good thing for 2012? Will the Bolts be a middle of the pack team this year or will they make a run for the playoffs? Are Antonio Gates’ ‘humbling’ comments a positive or a negative? Is Norv Turner’s view of the roster on par with what you see from the team in the year ahead? Do you think the Bolts will have a new hunger and sense of urgency to perform this year as opposed to seasons past? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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