By Ross Jones, FOXSports.com
LOS ANGELES — Mike McCoy’s first year in San Diego will go as smooth as Philip Rivers’ season. He knows it. You know it. The organization knows it.
That’s why the Chargers have put together a savvy staff, including Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator and Frank Reich as quarterbacks coach, to make sure Rivers is best suited to be successful in the new system.
While the Chargers were suffering through a 7-9 season in 2012, when Rivers was sacked 49 times, McCoy was coordinating a playoff offense in Denver. McCoy accepted the gig in San Diego and was immediately aware of the great potential he had with the former Pro Bowl quarterback.
“His arm is a lot stronger than what people told me that it was,” McCoy told FOXSports.com at a media luncheon Monday. “The way that he has picked up the system is unbelievable. Usually it takes some guys some time to take it all in and people have to go through the reps, but he picked it up so fast.
“He’s a football junkie. He absolutely loves the game and he loves to practice. He always has a smile on his face out there and he’s a great leader.”
Rivers, 31, must adapt to an offense that might not take as many shots down the field as a Norv Turner-led system, but that could help cure his turnover problem. Rivers has reportedly lobbied to keep some of the vertical plays, but is excited about McCoy’s philosophies and ideas.
“He’s really bought into change,” McCoy said. “And I think it’s good for him, too. We went through the same thing last year with Peyton (Manning). At this point in his career it’s good for a change. Nothing against what they’ve done before because he had a lot of success but when you have a change it forces you to go outside of your comfort zone.
“In the past, he didn’t have to worry about studying in the offseason because he knew everything already. He knew the installs, the way they were going to happen from year to year. Now, he’s got to look into things so he doesn’t make those mistakes.”
The Chargers quarterback accounted for 47 turnovers over the last two seasons and conventional wisdom has been that he’s tried to do too much. While that may be true, the burden should fall on everyone on the offense. The Chargers’ line was shaky at best and their running game struggled.
Ryan Mathews admits that he’s been an average running back during his first three seasons. A variety of injuries have plagued the former Fresno State star, something McCoy terms as ‘bad luck.’
There is a belief inside the organization that he can still be a big-time running back and McCoy credits his hard work in the offseason with strength and conditioning coach Kent Johnston.
“Without a doubt,” said McCoy, when asked if Mathews can live up to his expectations. “He can be a three-down player. It’s a new system for him now so he’s got to get away from the digits and what he’s learned in the past. I know I’ve said this, but we didn’t have a ton of mistakes in camp and I know the coaches have done a good job in the installation process and we threw a lot at them. He should have a great year.”
Mathews will be running behind an offensive line that will likely only return two starters.
“The most important thing to do in the next couple of weeks is find the best five guys and let them play as much together as possible. Five have to become one. You don’t have to have the best five linemen in the league. It’s the five guys who work together the best.
Since the regime has taken over, the Chargers have re-tooled the line by drafting Alabama’s D.J. Fluker, who looks to make an immediate impact, and acquiring free agent veterans King Dunlap and Max Starks. Whisenhunt also plans on moving Jeromey Clary from tackle to guard to make way for Fluker.
Rivers also has weapons on the outside. Although the Chargers don’t have an elite No. 1 wide receiver, the unit is deep and young and should be able to be effective in McCoy’s pass-happy attack.
“I’ll give the speech to them about they need to get in the best shape of their life and get ready for a track meet every Sunday,” McCoy said. “The good thing is when you have quality players and not just one or two of them, is if they get tired, we can [rotate them in] and we won’t skip a beat.”
The Chargers ranked near the basement in total offense in 2012, Improving it dramatically by righting Rivers’ wrongs has been a priority.
That’s McCoy’s job and his future hinges on it.