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Training Camp Day 5: Los Angeles Chargers

My day started off at 5 AM. I drove an hour and twenty minutes to the Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa. I needed to beat the traffic from Central Malibu. Even at 6:20 AM I was not the first one to arrive. Almost a dozen fans had assumed their position in line patiently waiting for the gates to open at 8 AM. Practice did not start until 9 AM. These were seasoned loyal fans who wanted to catch a glimpse of the rookies and veterans up close. Braving the heat and waiting for hours just to watch this two hour practice.

For a Monday morning there was a decent turnout. The 9 AM hour arrived. The atmosphere was electric. As players began to take the field the crowd fell almost silent. I looked around expecting to see people holding their breath. Instead it was a sea of cell phones and cameras snapping away. This was the first padded practice of the year and man was it hot. The players seemed just as excited if not more so than the crowd to be taking the field for their first padded practice of the year. 

The day started off with walk-throughs for both the offense and defense. Fans got their first look at Derwin James Jr. in his number three practice jersey. Despite ongoing contract negotiations, James took his place during the walk-throughs for the first team offense. He was not in pads or sporting his signature yellow cleats. Instead he wore regular Jordan cleats. Nothing flashy, just a get down to business, I came to work attitude. I hope his present hints at a contract being agreed to between the two parties. I would anticipate a contract to be announced before Friday’s minicamp action if all goes well in their continued negotiations.

After a quick stretch and warmups, we were given the opportunity to see some one-on-one action between the wide receivers, tight ends, and secondary. Mike Williams dominated the two reps he took against new addition J.C. Jackson. As anticipated Williams used his big body to shield the ball from Jackson. Despite losing those two reps, Jackson showed a good ability to read the ball and break on quick routes. I was really impressed with Joshua Palmer’s route running during this session. Palmer was executing precise cuts, exploding with speed, and creating separation once he gained a step on the defender. Another impressive showing was from Michael Bandy.

Bandy was looking like a younger Wes Welker or Julian Edelman. In 2021, as a rookie, he only appeared in one game. Bandy made sure his presence was felt and noticed. Catching four passes for 88 yards with three of those catches being 20+ yards, his fight to show his quickness over the middle, precise route running, and his more than decent hands made no secret of his quest to claim a starting position. I made the Welker/Edelman comparison early, but we have also seen what Hunter Renfrow has been able to do for the Las Vegas Raiders. Like Renfrow, Bandy gives Herbert another safety valve option and that could prove to be a huge advantage when the Chargers make a deep run this season. 

Before the team period, the fans got to see positional drills for the wide receivers, tight ends and offensive lineman. We were then treated to one-on-one reps for the lineman. This gave us a good look at the battle for right tackle between Trey Pickens III and Storm Norton. Many fans still suffer painful flashbacks to Maxx Crosby’s  domination of Storm Norton in a game that could have sent the Chargers to the playoffs last year. Even though he was exposed by Joey Bosa, Norton made adjustments and started holding his own against Chris Rumph II. Zion Johnson took reps at right guard which is where he will most likely start this season. What really stood out was Johnson’s technique and footwork enabling him to remain in front of the defender. One small potential weakness noted, on longer reps Johnson’s feet seemed to stop and he appeared to be beat. This could just be the heat, working through some insecurities, or a new play with new teammates. If this is the only criticism for the first round pick, then I believe that is a huge win for the team, especially if Herbert can average a similar 2.4 seconds from snap to throw as he did in 2021. 

The next biggest matchup fans saw was rookie standout Rashawn Slater against the Chargers new edge rusher Khalil Mack. Mack made his presence felt once again by using his strength and speed against the second year starter. Slater was able to recover and reset to stop Mack a few steps from the quarterback. Going up against one of the best edge rushers in the league definitely will only help Slater get better. I believe that these players pushing each other, striving for faster, harder, better will pay major dividends in the long run. 

The Chargers held their 11-on-11, 2-minute drills and field goal/extra point reps on the far field making it difficult for fans to see the action. In spite of missing these close ups, fans were still in good spirits. As practice ended, there was a huge build up for the autographs. Autographs for most were from the defensive line.  No autographs were given by Khalil Mack or Joey Bosa. Austin Ekeler signed some autographs for the VIP and family sections off to the side before heading back to the buses. The fans did get a special surprise when head coach Brandon Staley came to sign autographs after his press conference. 

There were no major mistakes on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, just good competition all around. Even though the Chargers are only five days into training camp, it is an extremely promising sight to behold. Come Friday we will look to see if this positive showing continues.   

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