New era be­gins for Charg­ers

Pre­sea­son gives team a chance to make a good first im­pres­sion in tem­po­rary home.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike DiGio­vanna mike.digio­vanna@la­ Twit­ter: @MikeDiGio­vanna

They open ex­hi­bi­tion sea­son to­day against Seat­tle in Car­son.

If the Charg­ers’ joint prac­tice with the Rams last week­end was a “dry run” for the StubHub Cen­ter, then Sun­day’s 5 p.m. ex­hi­bi­tion opener against the Seat­tle Sea­hawks is a dress re­hearsal for the in­ti­mate soc­cer-sta­dium-turned-NFL-fa­cil­ity.

The first of two home ex­hi­bi­tion games — the Charg­ers will host the New Or­leans Saints on Aug. 20 — will give team and sta­dium of­fi­cials a chance to mon­i­tor the flow of traf­fic out­side the sta­dium and fans in­side it, and to iden­tify and ad­dress any prob­lems in­volv­ing con­ces­sion stands, re­strooms and crowd con­trol.

About 8,000 fans at­tended last week­end’s prac­tice, but a ca­pac­ity crowd of 27,000 is ex­pected Sun­day night, putting the tem­po­rary home of the Charg­ers to an im­me­di­ate test.

Park­ing lots open four hours and gates 3½ hours be­fore the game. The team en­cour­ages fans to ar­rive early so they can park, pass through se­cu­rity and find their seats in time for kick­off.

Those ar­riv­ing late could miss the Charg­ers’ first-team of­fense — led by veteran quar­ter­back Philip Rivers, star run­ning back Melvin Gor­don and a fleet of ta­lented re­ceivers and tight ends — and de­fen­sive stand­outs such as edge rush­ers Joey Bosa and Melvin In­gram.

Charg­ers coach An­thony Lynn said most starters will play a se­ries or two and that Rivers, who is be­gin­ning his 14th NFL sea­son, will play only one se­ries.

“We just want him to start the game with his team­mates, then get him out,” Lynn said.

Even if the Charg­ers go three and out?

“Yeah,” Lynn said, “he’s prob­a­bly one and done.”

The game doesn’t count, but the Charg­ers, who moved from San Diego in Jan­uary and are try­ing to carve out a niche in the pop­u­lated South­ern Cal­i­for­nia sports mar­ket, want to make a good first im­pres­sion.

“It’s su­per im­por­tant for us to go out there and look good as a group,” said Gor­don, who rushed 254 times for 977 yards and 10 touch­downs and caught 41 passes for 419 yards and two scores last sea­son. “It’s our first show­ing as an of­fense, as a de­fense. We’ve got to be to­gether.”

The Sea­hawks have reached the play­offs six times and the Su­per Bowl twice in seven years un­der coach Pete Car­roll, win­ning a cham­pi­onship in 2013, and they like to set the tone for the sea­son be­gin­ning with the first snap of ex­hi­bi­tion play.

“They take ev­ery down se­ri­ous, even in the pre­sea­son,” Gor­don said. “I had a chance to play against them in the pre­sea­son in my rookie year [2015], and they got me more ready than any team. I’m def­i­nitely ex­pect­ing a good game, even if it’s a cou­ple plays. I’m ex­pect­ing them to play hard.”

With 90-man ros­ters and lim­ited play­ing time for starters, Lynn’s em­pha­sis will be on de­vel­op­ment, not win­ning.

“We’re more con­cerned about our team, eval­u­at­ing our play­ers,” Lynn said. “We’ll run our plays. We won’t do much schem­ing at all. …

“We’re just look­ing for guys to help make our de­ci­sions [on who makes the team] eas­ier. I want guys to go out there and make plays and stand out. You al­ways find a cou­ple in pre­sea­son that change your mind.”

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ken Whisen­hunt said he sensed a “good vibe” in StubHub last week­end, and Charg­ers play­ers ex­pect the at­mos­phere to in­ten­sify with more fans.

“I imag­ine there will be a ton of en­ergy,” left tackle Rus­sell Okung said. “We had a re­ally good crowd at the scrim­mage, Charg­ers fans were ex­cited to be there. They’re amped up. They’re ready to go. I’m ex­cited to see it packed out.”

The max­i­mum seat­ing ca­pac­ity for the team’s first of three sea­sons at StubHub will be 27,000, about 3,000 shy of what the Charg­ers thought they’d have. The de­ci­sion to de­lay ex­pan­sion was made in con­junc­tion with StubHub of­fi­cials and AEG, which owns and op­er­ates the sta­dium.

“We had the abil­ity to go larger, but based on their rec­om­men­da­tion, we de­cided to keep it at 27,000,” said A.G. Spanos, the Charg­ers’ pres­i­dent of busi­ness oper­a­tions. “We value their in­put.

“They have so much more ex­pe­ri­ence op­er­at­ing the build­ing, and they felt pretty strongly about it. We didn’t want to do any­thing to jeop­ar­dize what we hope is the best fan ex­pe­ri­ence in the NFL.”

StubHub gen­eral man­ager Katie Pan­dolfo said ca­pac­ity can be in­creased by adding 1,000 to 2,000 more bleacher seats to the berm on the north side of the sta­dium. If the Charg­ers make the play­offs, the team could sell stand­ing-room-only tick­ets.

“We orig­i­nally talked about 30,000, but when we looked at the field seats, other con­course seat­ing, I went back to the Charg­ers and said that at least for the first year, we should keep seat­ing ca­pac­ity con­sis­tent with what we’ve done for large Gal­axy games,” Pan­dolfo said.

“We know foot­ball events are dif­fer­ent than soc­cer games, a con­cert, a box­ing match. We have to watch fans, see how they move around the con­course. We felt it was best to start with this num­ber and have the op­tion to ex­pand next year.”

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