Evaluating the Los Angeles Chargers Special Teams: A Force to Be Reckoned With Again in 2024?

Special Teams may be the key to the Los Angeles Chargers winning more games in 2024.

Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers special teams unit has been on another level for the last two seasons and much of that success can be attributed to special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken, who joined the coaching staff in 2022.

The Chargers special teams Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade in 2021 was 68.6 for the season, ranking 28th amongst all teams in the league. And in 2022, they rose to 16th with a grade of 84.9, and by 2023, they were ranked number one with 90.8.

Due to Ficken’s coaching and a lot of great additions to the team, this unit is poised to not only do well for the third year in a row but maybe even better than their stellar performance in 2023. 

What The Los Angeles Chargers Did To Turn Their Special Teams Unit Around: 

NFL: Detroit Lions at Los Angeles Chargers
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1. Acquire Experienced Players 

The Punt Team

Part of the Chargers formula for success within this unit was investing in their punt team. In 2022, punter J.K. Scott and long-snapper Josh Harris were both added to the team. Harris is on a four-year contract while Scott originally came on a one-year deal and was signed to a two-year contract at the end of 2022. Scott came to the Chargers with four years of experience in the NFL while Harris had nine. The fact that these two were even brought in showed the investment in special teams from the start when Ficken arrived. 

The last season for Scott was his best since 2020 when he was with Green Bay, as he got the same grade for punting in 2023 that he got that year (78.6). Last season, he had a season-high for kicks inside the 20-yard line in Week 13 against the Patriots, giving the Chargers great field position during a low-scoring game with bad weather.

And those punts inside the 20 made him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, according to the Chargers site, “of his eight punts on the day, Scott registered a career-high and single-game franchise-record seven punts inside the 20, the most by any player in a single NFL game since 2019.”

Last season he tied his 2022 season career-high of 33 punts inside the 20, had career-highs in average yards per punt attempt (46.3), and had his longest punt of 83 yards.

To hear Scott talk about his punting in 2022 and how he tries to work on his hang time, shows dedication to the position, and puts the Chargers in good hands on the punt front. 

The Return Specialists

After losing wide receiver Andre Roberts in 2022, who was a seasoned return specialist, the Chargers acquired another experienced specialist in wide receiver DeAndre Carter, who had spent four years in the NFL before coming to LA. And in 2023 when Carter moved onto the Raiders, the Chargers drafted wide receiver Derius Davis, who had years of return specialist experience in college.

Both of these choices ended up paying off. In 2022, the Chargers got that calm, steady presence from Carter, as he only had one muffed punt during a game the Chargers easily won against the Colts.

And last year they got the speed of Davis, who had a season long of 87 return yards and a touchdown during Week 9 against the Jets.

It helps to have players who know what they’re doing when it comes to this area of special teams because there’s so much that can go wrong. I’m glad the Chargers kept investing in return specialists and hope that trend continues. 

2. Have a Consistent Kicker 

Dustin Hopkins was a consistent kicker but has had his share of injuries and after a flurry of alternate kickers over 2022, the Chargers finally got Cameron Dicker, who has been a great addition. In 2023, Dicker had 31 field goals for 33 attempted with 93.9% of field goals made. And for field goals that were 50+ yards, he made seven of nine. Dicker is young and extremely talented and if he can stay healthy, he has a long career in the NFL, and the Chargers have a solid player for the future.

3. Emphasize Special Teams During Training Camp and Beyond  

NFL: Preseason-Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The last few years, the emphasis on special teams has been there throughout training camp and the regular season with rookies and veterans alike. For example, during Week 6 of 2022, when the Chargers forced a muffed punt during the Broncos game.

According to Daniel Popper of The Athletic, that was something they had worked on all week, and when the opportunity was there, cornerbacks Deane Leonard and Ja’Sir Taylor knew how to react.

And Scott was not the only hero in that game against the Patriots, as according to Popper, Ficken had helped Davis prepare for the rain all week. I’m curious how Ficken will train players this year to adapt to the new kickoff rules. 

How The Change in Kickoff Rules May Impact The Unit 

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at New York Jets
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It’ll be interesting how teams adapt to the new kickoff rules. According to John Breech of CBS Sports who has a breakdown of them, they’re only in effect for a year, which gives teams time to experiment. The ability to have two returners could see Davis teaming up with someone, which could definitely lessen some mistakes in terms of muffed returns.

There will also be a setup zone and a landing zone. Breech says that “the receiving team has a 5-yard setup zone that runs from its own 30 to its 35-yard line”, while the landing zone is “the part of the field that’s between the receiving team’s goal line and the receiving team’s 20-yard line.” 

Breech also stated that the “kickoff coverage team and the blockers on the receiving team CAN’T MOVE until the football has either been fielded by a returner or touches the ground in the landing zone.” This will give teams a more equal opportunity during the kickoff to make plays, as no one will be able to move to get an advantage ahead of time.

With these rule changes, I see more plays like the forced muff punt the Chargers had against the Broncos coming to fruition. The Chargers have some stars on special teams and will develop more during camp, so it’s looking like it’ll be another banner year for them.