Chargers escape bottom of special teams rankings, still have work to do

COSTA MESA, Calif -- Los Angeles Chargers special teams coach George Stewart vowed to fix a group that was coming off two straight seasons of ranking worst in the NFL statistically, according to Rick Gosselin of Talk of Fame Radio Network’s annual special teams rankings.

Well, the Chargers were not last in 2017, but they did not fare much better, finishing No. 29 in Gosselin’s rankings of special teams groups that have been compiled annually for the last 39 years.

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said during his end-of-the-year press conference that his group still has a lot to work to do on special teams.

“I think we started out slow,” Lynn said. “We had a young special teams group. We had guys who had never played special teams before playing special teams. But now I think those guys are like our core.

“I think they got better over the season and in coverage schemes, things like that. I think if the kicking was better, the special teams wouldn’t be such an eye sore at times. For the most part, I think our young guys stepped up, and I think they’re fine right now.”

Lynn’s primary focus this offseason in fixing his special teams is finding a kicker that can make field goals in the clutch and stay healthy for the duration of the season.

The Chargers had five different players handle field goals, kickoffs and extra points in 2017, including punter Drew Kaser. The Bolts finished a league-worst 66.6 percent on field goals.

While all of that was going on, Josh Lambo -- a loser in the training camp competition to Younghoe Koo -- was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars and finished 19 of 20 on field goals with a long of 56 yards and made a 30-yard field goal in overtime to defeat the Chargers in Week 10.

Kicker Nick Rose finished the season for the Chargers and remains on the roster for 2018, and the Chargers signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-round selection Roberto Aguayo to a reserve/future contract.

Along with their struggles at kicker, the Chargers also finished worst in the NFL in kickoff starting point with an average of the 23-yard line. The Chargers also were one of 11 teams without a takeaway on special teams.

However, the Chargers did make some improvements on special teams this season. Kaser was fourth in punt average (48.1 yards per punt) and finished with 31 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

The Chargers were one of 13 teams that did not have a turnover on special teams, although the New England Patriots tackled Travis Benjamin for a safety.

Benjamin averaged 9.5 yard per punt return (No. 8 in the NFL), including a 65-yard return for a score. Benjamin also had a 91-yard punt return called back against the New York Jets on a bogus holding call on Nick Dzubnar. Benjamin finished with a league-high 25 fair catches, which I do not mind because it means the Chargers’ potent offense will take the field.