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Chargers want to start season fast after last year’s stumble

COSTA MESA, Calif. — An 0-4 start put the Los Angeles Chargers in a hole too deep to escape last season.

Coach Anthony Lynn wants his new team to spend September building instead of digging.

The first few weeks of this season are particularly important to Lynn and the Chargers, a popular pick to win the AFC West and to earn their franchise’s second postseason appearance since 2009.

The Bolts went 9-3 after their dismal start to their relocation season, but it wasn’t enough to make the playoffs. Lynn seems confident his veteran players learned the importance of early season urgency from last year’s setbacks.

“We’ll see how we start, but hopefully we start faster than we did last year,” Lynn said Monday after the Chargers began preparations for Sunday’s home opener against Kansas City.

The Chargers weren’t exactly terrible to begin last season: Three of those four losses were by seven total points, and the Chargers were undone twice by missed field goals in the final seconds. But they didn’t match the level of play they hit frequently later in the year , when the NFL’s top passing offense and an aggressive defense combined to turn the Bolts into one of the NFL’s best teams.

“You can’t take wins and losses from last season,” Lynn said. “I wish you could, but you can’t. But you can certainly bring the culture over, and I like the attitude of the players.”

The Chargers also feel they’ve got a reliable kicker after last season’s missteps. The team that cycled through four kickers last season is going with Caleb Sturgis, who was the champion Philadelphia Eagles’ kicker at the start of last season before getting hurt and missing the bulk of the year.

The Chargers also appear to be getting healthy after several regulars were slowed by injuries during the preseason.

Defensive end Joey Bosa, receiver Tyrell Williams, rookie defensive tackle Justin Jones and cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams all participated in the Bolts’ first practice of the week Monday. Bosa and Hayward, two of their most important defensive players, are expected to be ready to play Sunday.

“My only concern is a boxer needs so many sparring rounds before you go fight, and these guys have been out,” Lynn said. “So getting them caught up and back in the fold is my only concern.”

Tight end Antonio Gates was in the locker room after signing a one-year deal to return for his 16th season with the Chargers, but he won’t return to practice until Wednesday. Lynn is waiting to evaluate the 38-year-old star’s readiness before he determines Gates’ role this weekend.

“I just want to see his conditioning,” Lynn said. “I don’t want to put him in a position where he goes out there and hurts himself, and that sets us back four or five weeks. I just don’t see us doing that. But Antonio, he’s a pro. He’ll let me know how he feels at the end of the week and about how his pitch count can be, and we’ll talk about it.”

Kansas City will be a particular challenge right away for the Chargers, who were beaten soundly twice by the AFC West champions last year. Kansas City essentially sewed up the division with a 30-13 home victory over Los Angeles on Dec. 16 — the Chargers’ only loss in seven games to close the season.

Nearly every playmaker from last season’s team is back, and they all remember how it felt to be playing catch-up all season long.

“We definitely want to get it going from the start this year, and not wait to get to where we need to go,” running back Melvin Gordon said recently. “We’ve got to be ready.”

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