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Training camp preview: Chargers rising in AFC West?

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Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.

Today, we take a look at the San Diego Chargers. Click on the tabs above to see other AFC West camp previews. For the rest of the NFL, click here.

Training camp report date: Rookies and veterans, July 29.

Training camp location: Chargers Park, San Diego, California.

Offseason in a nutshell: If we don't count nearly moving the franchise to Los Angeles, everything was fairly quiet in breezy San Diego this offseason. Antonio Gates is back but Ladarius Green is gone. Eric Weddle got his wish and separated with his long-time team, paving the way for Dwight Lowery. Running back Donald Brown wasn't re-signed but wide receiver Travis Benjamin is here to hopefully add a much-needed second dimension to this offense. The minor swaps, along with a change to Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator, should have the team on more stable footing in 2016, but did they do enough to drastically improve from 4-12?

Player to watch: Defensive end Joey Bosa. As we've noted in the past, Bosa's lost spring is a crying shame for both the Chargers and the young pass rusher. We can endlessly rationalize the argument on both sides but it comes down to minutiae that will never be a problem if the Chargers develop Bosa like they are expected to. Cash flow and offset language. No end in sight. When Bosa takes the field he'll be unfairly subjected to the he doesn't love the game chorus, just another hurdle to overcome as he learns an NFL defense for the first time -- one which he's expected to anchor on the left side.

THREE BURNING QUESTIONS

1. Does Philip Rivers' return to the sweet spot coincide with the return of Ken Whisenhunt?

Rivers completed nearly 70 percent of his passes back in 2013, the last time Whisenhunt was involved with San Diego's offense. During that 9-7 season, Rivers chucked 32 touchdowns on 4,478 passing yards and finished the year with just 11 interceptions. Watching Rivers work with Keenan Allen was a thing of beauty, a relationship that paved the way to Allen's big-time contract extension this summer. So is this a better team personnel-wise than the last time Whisenhunt roamed the sidelines? Rivers, who has had better statistical seasons before and after 2013 but maybe never one as rhythmic and consistent, is out to prove as much.

2. Can Melvin Gordon make a 180-degree turnaround?

Gordon's futile first season was not all his fault, but reading between the lines, one could tell there was some behind-the-scenes cringing done by the Chargers' coaching staff and executive group after witnessing a wildly disappointing 184 carries and 641 yards. It's not fair to blame his struggles on the offensive line alone either, which is why this offseason served as a motivational pick-me-up campaign to boost Gordon's confidence heading into camp. The NFL moves fast and San Diego needs some kind of running game after Gordon finished third to last among qualifying NFL running backs in Rushing Net Yards Over Average (NYoA), a wonderful stat compiled by NFL GSIS that measures a team's performance with that player on the field against a league average that factors in just about everything. The only running backs theoretically worse? DeMarco Murray and Jeremy Hill. The bottom line: San Diego cannot afford to have a player on the field that makes the team markedly worse. Can Gordon show us that 2015 was just an aberration?

3. Can San Diego capitalize on their hotbed of defensive talent?

John Pagano survived an offseason coaching shakeup with one clear directive: Find a way to take a statistically average defense packed full of first-, second- and third-round picks and make it work. Last year, San Diego was -4 in turnover margin and was one of the worst teams in the NFL in defending passes over the middle, short right, deep left and deep middle. Sometimes all it takes is a few tweaks, and the addition of Casey Hayward should help sure up some of the issues they had at the nickel position. Jason Verrett's continued ascension up the cornerback rankings should also make life a little easier on Pagano as he toys with new blood at safety.

Way-too-early season prediction: The division is for the taking, with the Broncos' expected regression thanks to the loss of Peyton Manning/Brock Osweiler, but is San Diego strong enough to compete with Oakland and Kansas City? If this pass defense improves and their 27th-ranked rushing defense can catch up to league average, San Diego could easily double their win total (four) from 2015.

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