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Behind Enemy Lines

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Behind Enemy Lines: An Inside Look at the Chargers


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans travel to San Diego this weekend to face the Chargers.

The Titans (4-4) beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 36-22 last Thursday. The Chargers (3-5) lost to the Broncos 27-19 in Denver on Sunday.

This week I caught up with Michael Gehlken, who covers the Chargers for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Michael is in his seventh season covering the Chargers.

You can follow him on Twitter @sdutGehlken.

Here's how our conversation went…


Wyatt:** Hey Michael. I appreciate you taking the time. I know the Chargers have been competitive in every game this season, with all five of their losses coming by single digits. They lost in overtime to the Chiefs (by six), and have losses by four points (Colts), one point (Saints), three points (Raiders) and eight points (Denver). What's the mood there at the season's halfway point?

Gehlken: Well, there's an understanding that while they could look back at the first half of their season and say, 'Wow, we could have won six games or seven games or even all eight' the fact is they didn't get it done. And in order to end the season where they want to finish it, which is in postseason contention, they have to be able to finish games. This team has lost far too many close games. You look at all five of their losses and they have been by a very narrow margin and when you really look at those games on an individual basis, some of the ways they have let teams off the hook in the fourth quarter are bewildering and it is pretty bizarre how the Chargers have lost games. It is bizarre how they find themselves in this position, and they are certainly shorthanded due to injuries. But this team understands it could be better than their record is, but in order to qualify for the playoffs, they have to be far better than they have been from a finishing standpoint.

Wyatt: Quarterback Philip Rivers continues to put up good numbers for the Chargers. He's already thrown for 2,285 yards and 15 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. I know he's coming off a three-interception game against the Broncos, but how has he been?

Gehlken: Philip is Philip, and he is as consistent as you could ask of a franchise quarterback. He is certainly consistent on a day-to-day standpoint, optimistic when it would be very easy to find pessimism in the locker room around him. And the players around him ultimately do follow his lead. So he keeps the guys in it. It has been a hallmark of the Chargers really since he became the starter in 2006, that this team under him fights, throughout games, throughout seasons and despite the Chargers record you would anticipate them doing that again this year.

Wyatt: What about his supporting cast? How are the Chargers getting it done on offense?

Gehlken: Philip has had to adjust given the Week One loss of (receiver) Keenan Allen and the Week Two loss of (running back) Danny Woodhead. Those were two of his most trustworthy outlets, two players with whom he's connected year after year with when healthy. It's a different offense without them. Philip has adapted through the likes of (receivers) Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin, and he's seen Hunter Henry be highly productive at tight end besides Antonio Gates. But the development of (running back) Melvin Gordon (572 rushing yards) arguably has been as important as any development with this offense since Week One. He has become that bell cow that the Chargers drafted in the first round last season, given that Danny Woodhead is out with the torn ACL. Melvin has had to carry much more of a load from a passing game (24 catches) standpoint and his pass blocking and route running have both come a long way since early September.

Wyatt: The Titans will see a familiar face on the San Diego sideline in former head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who's back as offensive coordinator in San Diego. Do you sense this game is extra special for Whisenhunt, and does he seem comfortable back in San Diego as OC?

Gehlken: I am sure that even if Whisenhunt would deny or understate it, it is something different when you are coaching against the team for which you were the head coach for nearly two seasons. This game means something for Whisenhunt, but beyond that dynamic, I think this game just means so much for the Chargers organization as a whole. I don't anticipate Whisenhunt letting personal storylines sidetrack what is an important game for this team, and for this season. So I would expect Whisenhunt to continue to do what he has been doing, which has been a natural fit. It's almost as if he never left. He was the offensive coordinator in 2013 and has largely fit right back in as far as returning to that role as the Chargers primary offensive playcaller.

Wyatt: OK, just two more here. Former Titans running back/return man Dexter McCluster has also found a home with the Chargers. How has he fit in there, and what has his role been?

Gehlken: Dexter McCluster has been very valuable on a couple of fronts, probably first and foremost, what he offers in the return game. The Chargers were hoping for a lot more as far as early production out of Travis Benjamin. They signed him out of Cleveland in March in hopes that he would rectify a porous return game. Instead, Benjamin struggled with decision making. He muffed multiple punts, and he showed hesitancy to field punts that cost the Chargers yardage. More than anything, Dexter McCluster has given the return game a decisive presence back there when it comes to returning kickoffs, but even more returning punts. He has also been able to contribute some in the passing game, but Melvin Gordon is largely handling all things related to the Chargers running back position.

Wyatt: Last one here. Rookie defensive end Joey Bosa, the team's first-round pick out of Ohio State, has been really good for the Chargers after his long holdout and missing the first four weeks of the season. He has four sacks and has been disruptive since. Was the fan base patient with him during his holdout, and what do they think about him now?

Gehlken: It is funny. You see how quickly the court of public opinion can change about a player. When a player hasn't signed -- and he missed the entirety of training camp and the preseason -- there was a section of the fan base that didn't side with Joey Bosa and his agent. Some wrote him off. But since he has returned, and he returned with a two-sack performance in his NFL debut in Week 5 against the Raiders, the court has changed its mind in regard to Joey Bosa. He is loved in San Diego, and it is easy to see why. He is a freak. He is a man-child at 21 years old. Somebody needs to check his birth certificate because he is so advanced for an NFL rookie. He missed so much preparation time in late July and throughout August, and for him to be doing what he is doing – four sacks in his first three games – is remarkable. And even his fourth game this past Sunday against Denver he was a difference maker. Joey Bosa is legit, and any fan who wasn't in his corner during the contract dispute seems to be now.

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