Chargers push to turn greatest weakness into strength

The five main members of the Chargers‘ The 2021 secondary missed 15 games through injury. Each was absent at least two weeks.

Three of the top substitutes have missed 29 games after picking up injuries.

All of those failing body parts added up to some seriously shaky moments as the Chargers defense crumbled too often in a Season 9-8 which barely died playoffs.

On Saturday, the Chargers trained with 16 defensive backs, not including Pro Bowl safety Derwin James Jr.who remains in abeyance while negotiations continue hence a possible contract extension.

The Chargers’ off-season defensive rebuild included adding quality and depth. In back, they signed cornerback JC Jackson comes from his first Pro Bowl selection and veteran Bryce Callahan, who was lined up as the No. 1 corner in the slot. They also wrote JT Woods, Ja’Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard.

The influx exploded Michael Daviswho has started 49 games over the past four seasons, in fourth place in the cornerback depth chart.

It also increased competition. Defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said defensive backs brought “urgency” to the first four days of training camp.

If any of the Chargers defensemen felt too comfortable in their role before this season, Hill suggested that possibility is now over.

“Every rep counts,” I said. “Maybe in the past they could have looked and said, ‘Well, I don’t have that guy behind me. I can fix it. But this rep can be pulled off if you are not urgent and keep repeating the same mistake over and over again.

Operate against the Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbertthe defense has won most team periods so far.

Substitute Kemon Hall intercepted Chase Daniel on Saturday in a practice that also featured pass breakups by Davis (on a 50/50 ball intended for Jalen Guyton) and Asante Samuel Jr. (on an indoor screen at Mike Williams).

“I’m really pleased with the progress,” Hill said.

With so many defensive backs in camp, Chargers coaches expect the competition to only intensify as the roster is sorted.

“It’s going to be tough for those reps to get distributed,” Hill said. “These guys know that when they’re in there, that rep matters.”

Johnson adapts

The Chargers won’t practice Sunday before returning Monday morning for their initial practice in the pads.

This will be the first opportunity for the coaches to assess the first-round pick more closely. Sion Johnsonwho was drafted to be the team’s starting right guard.

Rashawn Slater, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie left tackle in 2021, praised Johnson’s confidence and noted his “calm energy.” He said the two talked about transitioning to the NFL.

“I told him, ‘The ball is the ball,'” Slater said. “At this level, everything goes a little faster. Guys have different skills, a little faster and stuff like that. At the end of the day, it’s like college. You just keep calm and trust in your technique and trust what you have here. He’ll be fine.

Competition for the starting right tackle between Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins III will also heat up on Monday.

So will the battle for the No. 2 running back job.

“Until the pads are in place, I don’t think you can do an assessment on a back,” coach Brandon Staley said. “We’re going to give them every chance to prove themselves. That’s what this training camp is going to be for this position.

The ball carrier behind the starter Austin Ekeler will also be determined in part by the contribution of the special teams. That includes the back, where Gabe Nabers and rookie Zander Horvath compete.

The impact of Mac

Slater called what he saw of veteran setter Khalil Mack ring away

“We’re barely rushing right now without pads and he’s already put some variations on some moves that I’ve never seen before,” Slater said. “He’s very smart. He’s very shrewd. He’s also very powerful.

The Chargers traded for Mack in March. Slater said fighting Mack could only boost his game.

“I guess that just goes to show that I thought I saw it all last year,” Slater said. “But no, I still have a lot to learn, and I will improve a lot against him.”

Practical observations

  • Linebacker Drue Tranquill and tight end Donald Parham Jr. did not practice Saturday due to undisclosed injuries. Staley is expected to provide updates on both players on Monday.
  • With James out, Tranquill and veteran Kyle Van Noy called the defensive signals into the group.