The Los Angeles Chargers' 2021 offseason goal under new coach Brandon Staley was straightforward: improve the offensive line in front of burgeoning young quarterback Justin Herbert.
L.A. gave big money to center Corey Linsley and added guards Oday Aboushi and Matt Feiler in free agency. Then the Chargers used a first-round pick on Rashawn Slater and a fifth-rounder on backup guard Brenden Jaimes.
On paper, a line composed of Slater, Aboushi, Linsley, Feller and right tackle Bryan Bulaga is a massive upgrade to what was in front of Herbert last season.
Joining NFL Network's Schedule Release '21 show on Wednesday, Staley said giving Herbert better protection will allow the young QB to hit the next level.
"We want to be a complete offense and we really want to be a complete team. And I think that's what's gonna allow Justin to be as good as he can be," Staley said. "I think everybody knows how special he is, but I think what we wanted to be able to do is become a line-of-scrimmage team. Those guys that you mentioned in free agency, those guys have all played at a really high level up front in this league. And we feel like Corey Linsley and Justin kinda being able to run the show in the middle of our team, that's gonna be a winning edge for us. But just becoming a more physical team. We drafted Rashawn, who we're really, really excited about. And I think that that's gonna allow our skills guys to really express themselves. You guys know, Keenan [Allen], Mike [Williams], Austin [Ekeler], Jared Cook. We've got a lot of weapons and it's certainly gonna allow Justin to play at a high level."
Last season, Herbert was under immense pressure almost from the snap. According to Pro Football Focus, the Chargers O-line ranked 28th in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency, one spot behind the Cincinnati line, which has been skewered for getting Joe Burrow pummeled last season. L.A. allowed 201 total pressures, per PFF, tied for second-most.
Despite the enormous pressure he was under, Herbert excelled on his way to winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The young QB proved he could be on time and accurate even when getting blasted. Imagine what he could do with additional time to carve up defenses.
We'd be remiss not to note that this isn't GM Tom Telesco's first swing at fixing the offensive line. It's been an issue he's tried to tackle for years. Each time he's whiffed.
For the Chargers to take the next step from perennial offseason hype bunny to an actual contender, Telesco's moves need to work out on the field, not just look good on paper.