CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Coach Anthony Lynn recognizes the Chargers are facing many unknowns this weekend in their official return to the Los Angeles market after 56 seasons away.
Those concerns are nothing compared to the excitement of a new start.
The Chargers (0-1) will host their first regular-season game in the NFL’s smallest stadium against the Miami Dolphins, who are playing their first game of the season after their opener was postponed by Hurricane Irma.
The Dolphins will also send out new quarterback Jay Cutler, while the Chargers had only a short week of recovery and preparation for their LA debut.
Lynn feels he knows a few things for certain, however. For starters, he expects the Chargers to get an immediate boost from playing in the league’s coziest confines at StubHub Center.
“The players love it,” Lynn said. “Some of those guys were surprised how much. They even asked me if you could put another deck on StubHub because they liked it so much. … The fields are outstanding. The grounds crew there, they get those fields ready for soccer players, and that ball has to roll a certain way, so that field is one of the best fields I’ve ever been on.”
The Dolphins have had plenty of time to get acclimated to the West Coast: They’ve spent a full week in Oxnard , California, after leaving South Florida early with their families to avoid the hurricane.
The Dolphins could fight rust in most starters’ first game action in 3½ weeks, or they could be well-rested and ready to build on the promise of last fall’s 10-6 campaign and their first playoff berth since 2008.
“It’s always tough to be affected by something you can’t control, like the weather,” Miami receiver Jarvis Landry said. “It’s definitely nerve-wracking when it’s affecting so many different people. Being out here for a week, we’ve been able to focus on getting our jobs done. It’s been great for us, and I don’t expect it to hurt us at all.”
Lynn’s coaching staff doesn’t know exactly what to expect from Adam Gase’s team, but the Chargers are expecting the Dolphins’ layoff to be a positive for Miami.
“They haven’t played football in a long time,” said Lynn, the former Buffalo Bills assistant. “They’re obviously fresh, and we don’t have any game tape on them. But we’ve seen preseason stuff, and I’m very familiar with them, playing in that division. So I don’t know if there are any pros and cons.”
Here are more things to watch in the first NFL game at a 27,000-seat stadium built for soccer:
DYNAMIC DUO: The marquee matchup pits the Dolphins’ rebuilt offensive line against Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, the Chargers’ intimidating pair of pass rushers. “It will be all hands on deck for those two outside guys,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “We’ve got to know where they are and what they are doing. Those two guys, they can wreck a game.”
PASSING FANCY: The Chargers feel they know what to expect from Cutler, the veteran Chicago quarterback coaxed out of retirement after Ryan Tannehill’s serious preseason injury.
In fact, Ingram was particularly blunt Thursday when asked what problems Cutler poses: “None. We don’t see him as a problem for us.” The defense made a few early missteps Monday in its debut under coordinator Gus Bradley, but finished solidly in the Chargers’ 24-21 loss at Denver.
GATES GETS IT: Antonio Gates didn’t get a touchdown grab in the season opener to break his tie with Tony Gonzalez at an NFL-record 111 TD catches by a tight end. Gates now gets three straight chances to do it at home. The 37-year-old star sounds ready to be done with this wait for history. “If I get it, I’ll enjoy it and be appreciative of it,” said Gates, who caught 24 TD passes in the previous three seasons combined. “I’ll celebrate a little bit with my friends and family. But either way, we’ve got a game next week, and I’ll have to forget about it come Tuesday.” Another milestone of note: Gates’ next reception will be the 900th of his career, a mark only reached by two other tight ends: Gonzalez (1,325) and Jason Witten (1,096).
RUN GAME: The Chargers’ rushing attack got off to a weak start in Denver with just 54 yards from Melvin Gordon, but offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt attributes much of that to third-and-long situations and the Chargers’ deficit throughout the second half. The Dolphins had an outstanding run game last season led by Jay Ajayi’s 1,272-yard season, but their reconfigured offensive line still faces major questions, particularly at both guard positions.
BIG PARTY: The Chargers are planning numerous festivities around their opener, including the presentation of LaDainian Tomlinson’s ring from the Pro Football Hall of Fame at halftime. Six players from the original 1960 Los Angeles Chargers will be recognized on the field during the first quarter. The stands will also be filled with Philip Rivers’ powder-blue No. 17 jersey, since every season ticket holder at StubHub will be getting a custom-sized jersey for every seat they’ve purchased.
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