Breaking down Chargers GM Joe Hortiz’s combine press conference

The Sporting Tribune's Fernando Ramirez on what new Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz is looking for at the NFL Combine.

Joe Hortiz spoke to the media at the combine for the first time as the general manager of the Los Angeles Chargers.

He was asked about anything from what he learned working with the Baltimore Ravens for 26 years to what will happen with the four players who are due to make over $30 million this season.

One of the most significant holes in this team will be at the center. Corey Linsley is dealing with a heart issue and will most likely retire in the coming weeks.

Linsley showed since signing with the Chargers in 2021 what a difference he made at the center position. He would call out schemes and help make life easier for quarterback Justin Herbert.

So, where do they go from here?

“We had some guys that filled in for us there,” Hortiz said. “Some are free agents, so, obviously, we’re going to address that as we lead into free agency. There are available guys in free agency and then, certainly, the draft. We have guys on the roster that we feel can snap the ball right now, and we’re excited about those guys. Then, we’ll continue to add pieces as we can.”

Here is the list of centers available in free agency and the draft.

Free agents: Andre James, Connor Williams, Mason Cole

Draft: Jackson Powers-Johnson (Oregon), Zach Frazier (West Virginia), Sedrick Van Pran (Georgia), Drakę Nugent (Michigan)

The name that stands out is Drake Nugent because he was recently with head coach Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, but Mason Cole was also with him from 2014 to 2017.

Center is going to be a pivotal position to watch for the Chargers.

The running back will also be a key for the Chargers as Greg Roman takes over as the offensive coordinator. Last week, he said he wanted to provide Herbert with a great running back.

When Harbaugh and Roman were together in the NFL, their offense featured Frank Gore, LaMichael James, and Anthony Dixon. Expect the Chargers to have something similar, as they want to be a balanced team.

“Running backs are important for an offense, and I truly believe that,” Hortiz said. ‘I’ve been in Baltimore for 26 years, and running backs were extremely important. Certainly, in Jim’s offense and Greg’s offense, it will be. The value placed on it, the monetary value, those are the things that we talk through and work through, but there is value in the running back position, for sure.”

The question is where that leaves Austin Ekeler. He has been a back for them that has found the end zone numerous times and is elusive, but they could look in a different direction, especially after a lackluster 2023 season due to injury and other things.

“Whether Austin’s back or not, they have an opportunity to go out and prove themselves and grab a share of the offense or grab an increased role, and that’s what we want from them,” Hortiz explained. “Every player on our roster, regardless of their status ending the season, it’s what you’re going to do going forward. Being out there, working hard right now, coming in and attacking the day, repping with the coaches, getting engaged, there’s an opportunity for every one of our players, regardless of who is on the Chargers, who is back with the Chargers and who is gone.”

Here are some names that are free agents and draft.

Free agents: Derek Henry, Saquon Barkley, Gus Edwards, De’Andre Swift

Draft: Jonathon Brooks (Texas), Trey Benson (Florida State), Blake Corum (Michigan)

Corum is the name that stands out, as he was also with Harbaugh last season, but there are several names. Even though they both fit the Chargers style, Barkley and Henry may be too expensive for the team.

Hortiz was asked about the situation involving Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Joey Bosa, and Khalil Mack. All are owed big-time money, but maybe only one or two or three are on the 2024 team.

“We’re making progress on it. It’s still a work-in-progress,” Hortiz said. “The staff really just got finalized last week. It’s kind of a cross between installing the offense and installing the defense, while evaluating the players, and that’s natural because you’re figuring out which players fit what we’re going to do and how they’re going to fit — and that’s players on our roster, players in free agency. Kind of mixing it all together from a pro perspective.”

He and his staff have their work cut out because Allen and Mack are coming off career years in their 30s and still have some juice left. While Bosa and Williams are younger and hit with the injury bug when healthy, they are difference makers.

The Chargers could also make other changes to their roster to help improve it.

“I’ll say this, the guys that are currently on our roster, I like all of the players,” Hortiz explained. “I think that you find a role for them. That’s what we do. In scouting, we find the things that they can do for the team. And we do it in coaching, what can they do well for us? I don’t think that you eliminate any player, it’s more of how they fit the team.”

When a new GM and head coach come in, there are numerous changes to a roster, so expect some moving pieces in the coming weeks.

Hortiz knows the AFC West will be a gauntlet.

“Certainly, Denver and Las Vegas are on the come. Kansas City, they’ve shown us what they are,” Hortiz explained. “I think they’re talented teams. Certainly, three-time Super Bowl champs, that’s who we’re all chasing in the division, but they’re well-run organizations with great leaders. I know Tom [Telesco], being over there, and Antonio [Pierce] did a great job at the end of the year. Certainly, Denver with [Sean] Payton and [George] Paton, they speak for themselves. Kansas City, hats off to them. They’ve done what a lot of teams haven’t been able to do it a long time. That’s what we’re chasing. Our work is cut out for us, but we have the guys that can do it, I think.”

It all starts with Kansas City, as they have won three Super Bowls and six division titles since the combo of Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes teamed up. 

They must also face Sean Payton, Patrick Surtain, and Justin Simmons’ Denver Broncos. Along with familiar faces Tom Telesco, Antonio Pierce and Maxx Crosby’s Raiders.

This division will be tough.

Hortiz spoke about building a roster.

“I think that you’re working to get the roster to where you want it every single day, and that’s leading up to the draft,” Hortiz explained. “Certainly, we’re going to be taking a draft-centric approach. I believe in that. But, [unrestricted] free agency, June free agency, signings right before August, turning the roster during the season. The roster should never be where you want it, you’re always trying to move ahead and get it. We’re going to continue to work to add pieces, but we’re going to do it throughout the year, at all at all times of the year.”

As previously mentioned, Hortiz and Harbaugh have their work cut out for them as the roster has a lot of holes, and they have tough decisions to make, but this is who Chargers fans should want making them.

What does Hortiz see when it comes to the draft process?

“With the players, obviously, it goes by position, but I think, really, half of it is what they do on the field — the type of player they are — but a lot of it is the person, too, the other half,” Hortiz said. “You have to know what you’re getting as a person. I think that his makeup, what type of teammate he is, how coachable he is, his desire to play the game, the toughness, those are the things that really matter to me and our organization.”

He spent numerous years working under Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta and was able to spot talent. This is Hortiz’s wheelhouse.

Hortiz is excited about coming into a situation where the quarterback position is already resolved.

“I know that I have to take my time and get through the draft and all that,” Hortiz said. “But, to have Justin, it’s really cool and it’s a great opportunity. It’s very unique. You don’t get those chances right off the bat, and that’s what made this place such a special opportunity for me.”

Lastly, plain and simple, Hortiz wants to win.

“I just want to help us win and support the team, support the players, support the coaches, and deliver a winner for the Spanos family,” Hortiz said.