With training camp right around the corner, the time is near for the San Diego Chargers to shed the 4-12 record from last season and find a new identity as a winning franchise.
For them to do that, a new core group of players must emerge in the locker room and on the field.
Gone are the days of longtime Chargers like safety Eric Weddle, center Nick Hardwick, punter Mike Scifres and wide receiver Malcom Floyd, all of whom played at least ten seasons in San Diego. For quarterback Philip Rivers -- whose career has been tied to that core -- change is the only constant.
"It was Norv [Turner] that told me this, way back in 2009 or 2010, that at some point you're going to go through this change," Rivers told XTRA 1360 recently. "He was referencing Nick [Hardwick], [Jeromey] Clary and [Kris] Dielman, where he said that all those guys aren't going to be here, and you're going to have a bunch of young guys. I think I now see what he's talking about, because it's me and Antonio [Gates] as far as the guys that can even reference 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008."
Rivers, who is headed into his 13th NFL season, is evolving as well, and accepting of the change that is inevitable as players get older.
"I'll always be a teammate first because that's my favorite part, but I think your interaction and the dynamic is a little different when you've got a 35-year-old and a guy that's not 21 yet," he said. "It's just different."
With the old core group gone, it's time for younger players to find their identity, and it appears the defense may provide that foundation. Linebackers Manti Te'o and Melvin Ingram are headed into their respective fourth and fifth seasons, and with cornerback Jason Verrett poised to have what could be a breakout year (not to mention the promise of Joey Bosa and Denzel Perryman) it appears the key to the Chargers' potential may lie in defensive coordinator John Pagano's unit.
Rivers knows it.
"I've seen that transition phase out from the core group that we had," Rivers said. "It's been transitioning to a new core group. And it's kind of been fun -- I've missed all the [old] guys, but it's been fun to see, who's gonna be this new core group? I've kind of told Manti: It's [your] deal now. I'm going to stick around and put my touch on it, but y'all gotta take this thing over. And y'all ARE the core guys.
"Don't look around. Who else is going to do it?"
Who else, indeed?
Time for these players to show what they've got.