By Jeff Miller/Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Having rebuilt the right side of their offensive line, the Chargers received a boost to the middle when center Mike Pouncey was medically cleared to resume his career.
The nine-year veteran out of the University of Florida was limited to five starts in 2019 because of a neck injury that required surgery in October.
“I expect to be full go whenever that time comes for us to come back to football …” Pouncey said. “Any time you come back from surgery there’s always going to be steps. But I’ll be ready to go when the time comes.”
Though Pouncey repeatedly expressed a desire to continue playing, there had been uncertainty regarding the future of the four-time Pro Bowler.
General manager Tom Telesco and coach Anthony Lynn recently said they expected Pouncey to return. But they left it up to Pouncey to share the official news, which he did Wednesday during a video call with reporters.
“I’ve come back from surgery before, and I understand that with any surgery … there’s going to be a mental block from it,” he said. “But it’s never been a problem for me before. I don’t think it will be this time.”
While dealing with the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pouncey has been training near his home in south Florida with his twin brother, Maurkice, a two-time All-Pro center for Pittsburgh.
He said they have access to a private gym and have been able to work at times on a field nearby. Pouncey, 30, explained he has been training like “normal,” though he did say he’s still “in the rehab stages.”
He also said he would have no problem if, given the impact of the coronavirus, the Chargers were forced to practice or play elsewhere this season.
With restrictions varying community by community and state by state, there has been speculation that the three NFL teams in California might need to be temporarily relocated.
“All of us are dealing with change throughout these tough times,” Pouncey said. “I think it’s something that everybody in the world has to adjust to, not just us as football players.
“We’re all professionals … So, if we have to go and move to a different state or a different city to be able to get back to work and help feed our families, I’m sure most of the guys will be for it.”
This is a significant offseason for the Chargers along their offensive front. They traded left tackle Russell Okung for right guard Trai Turner and signed free-agent right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
On the left side of the line, Dan Feeney is the incumbent starter at guard, with returnees Sam Tevi and Trey Pipkins among the candidates to start at tackle.
Lynn also hired a new offensive line coach, James Campen, who spent last season with Cleveland after 15 years with Green Bay, where he worked with Bulaga.
Campen, 55, said that he was scheduled to meet with Lynn for about 15 minutes during his initial interview but that the session ended up lasting closer to two hours.
“I kept saying to myself, ‘Please hire me here’ because the dynamics were very appealing to me,” he said Wednesday, noting how much he liked the talent on the roster and the makeup of the offensive coaching staff.
The Chargers are reworking their line because the group last season struggled with consistency, a factor that Lynn has said contributed to Philip Rivers’ 20 interceptions.
Rivers is now with Indianapolis after signing as a free agent following 14 years as the Chargers’ starting quarterback.
“I guess I feel like every Philip Rivers fan feels, you know, it sucks seeing him play for a different football team,” Pouncey said. “I guess all of us have admired his whole career, the player that he’s always been, the person that he is.”
The Chargers are planning to open the season with veteran Tyrod Taylor as their starter, with Justin Herbert, the No. 6 overall pick in April, being groomed as their next potential long-term solution at the position.
“I really believe in Tyrod,” Pouncey said. “He’s a guy who’s proven himself in this league. He’s a baller.”