COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Okay, so the bye week is over, and the Los Angeles Chargers face 11 straight games (albeit against one of the easiest schedules in the league) and Anthony Lynn finds himself surrounded by a youth movement ... led by one player who is making a difference where it really counts.
That would be a 22-year-old quarterback in Justin Herbert, who certainly isn't showing his age. To wit: he has a 68.8% completion rate (97-of-141) for 1,195 yards, nine touchdowns, three interceptions, one rushing touchdown and a 107.1 passer rating.
Okay, that's good stuff. He will stay.
As will fourth-year receiver Mike Williams, who is a veteran compared to much of the group. The important stat about Williams is not the years as a pro, but his 6-foot-4, 220-pound dimensions. Same for first-year tight end Donald Parham Jr. -- who played in the XFL this winter before it was shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic -- who clocks in at 6-8, 237. It was late Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden who said, "You can't coach height."
"Anytime you see Mike Williams on the sideline, with one-on-one coverage," Herbert said. "I know that I am going to go to him. He is one of the best in the game. I have complete faith in him. I know he is going to make a play on any ball I throw up into the air."
That's confidence. That confidence, plus youth, is what the Chargers need to harness if they hope to emerge from a hard-luck 1-4 start in which they lost every game by one score, including two in overtime and two in which they squandered 17-point leads.
The Chargers only have one game against a team above .500 in the next five weeks, as they host the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) on Sunday, then play at the Denver Broncos (2-3), host the Las Vegas Raiders (3-2), play at the Miami Dolphins (3-3) and host the winless New York Jets (0-6). So there is opportunity for the Chargers if their youth continues to mature.
"With a positive attitude and hard work," Lynn said. "I expect this team to bounce back. ... The wins will come."
The confidence will be helped by the likely return of veteran receiver Keenan Allen, who left the Chargers' Week 5 loss to the New Orleans Saints with back spasms. Lynn says that Allen, who has 34 receptions for 356 yards and two touchdowns, will be just fine. He gives Herbert a Pro Bowl target and safety blanket.
The other first-round rookie from this past April's draft is 22-year-old linebacker Kenneth Murray, who has been average at best as he learns a new system different than the one he played in at Oklahoma. He has 38 tackles, one for loss, and two passes defended in the first five games. Pass coverage is still a work in progress for Murray but at 6-2, 241 pounds and a 4.52 40, he has tremendous upside and is bound to improve as he learns Gus Bradley's defensive system.
Youth will also be served at running back, as two young Chargers hope to provide production in place of injured starter Austin Ekeler. Third-year running back Justin Jackson, who is just 24, and 22-year-old rookie Joshua Kelley have gone back and forth as the next man up.
It seems as if Kelley, a fourth-rounder from UCLA, might be the odd man out right now. Jackson, who was injured early in the season, came back against New Orleans and led the team with 15 rushing attempts for 71 yards and caught five passes for 23 yards. Kelley, whose fumbles on crucial drives contributed to losses to the Carolina Panthers in Week 3 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4, had 11 carries for 29 yards.
The Chargers have been decimated by injuries, especially to the offensive line, a position they had hoped to shore up this offseason up by adding veterans Trai Turner (trade from Carolina for Russell Okung) and Bryan Bulaga, who signed after 10 seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Both would have added veteran leadership (and play) but both are injured and questionable for Week 7.
That leaves the Chargers' offensive line relying on a group of young players who refer to themselves as the 17ers as an ode to their 2017 draft class.
Among them are Dan Feeney, who moved to center after Mike Pouncey was injured and had hip surgery, and guard Forrest Lamp. They are reminders of what good can come from a rough start, as they started 0-4 during their rookie season before improving to 9-7 and barely missing the playoffs.
Linval Joseph, who joined the team this year from Minnesota and one of the team's few active, grizzled veterans, addressed his younger teammates before the break. He was with the New York Giants in 2011 season, when the team went 9-7 to barely make the playoffs and won four in the playoffs to win the Super Bowl. Those are the types of lessons Lynn hopes rubs off on the younger players and turns into a post-bye surge.
Said Lynn: "We have 11 games left to turn this around. We know we can play with anybody because we’ve been doing it. We just have to finish games."