There's no use in hiding it – losing Hunter Henry to an ACL injury on the first day of OTAs is a major loss for the Chargers. After all, we're talking about one of the top young tight ends in the NFL.
While it's a blow to lose a player of Henry's talent, all is not lost for the Bolts.
After all, recent history is flush with unheralded backups rising to the occasion when a starter goes down.
Take a look at Trevor Williams. There were significant questions when Jason Verret was lost for the year in 2017, but Williams stepped up and not only held his own, but developed into an indispensable member of the secondary. Verrett's injury also thrust Desmond King into a bigger role, and he emerged as one of the top rookie defensive backs last season.
He's hardly alone.
Austin Ekeler went from complete afterthought to a key cog in the offense in a matter of months after injuries thrust him into action as Melvin Gordon's complementary back. In addition, starting guard and team captain Matt Slauson was lost for the season after a Week 7 arm injury against the Denver Broncos. Just like that, third-round pick Dan Feeney became a starter. Not only did the offensive line not miss a beat, it actually improved, as he proved to be a rock in the run game and in pass protection.
So, who will step up in Henry's absence?
Virgil Green is the only established veteran at the position, so there are quite a few unheralded tight ends who'll get a crack to prove their worth.
The most well-known might be Sean Culkin, who was a member of the team's 53-man roster all of last season. A hulking 6-5, 225-pounder out of Missouri, the 24-year old caught 61 passes for two touchdowns in 48 career contests. While he's most known for his rugged demeanor as a blocker, he flashed abilities as a pass catcher, hauling in nine receptions for 77 yards in four preseason games last summer. His nine catches were tied for the second-most on the team.
Another tight end who'll be given every opportunity is Braedon Bowman, who spent most of 2017 on the practice squad. The 6-2, 240-pounder appeared in three games for the New York Jets in 2016 before an ACL injury ended his season. He then spent time with the Saints before the Bolts added him to their practice squad.
Training camp will be the first time fans get to see Bowman up close. They might be in for a treat as the tight end turned heads throughout the offseason program.
In addition, a trio of undrafted tight ends in Austin Roberts, Cole Hunt and Ben Johnson have a chance to make a name for themselves. Tight Ends Coach Rip Scherer is a fan of theirs as well, as he had this to say about the rookies following the offseason program:
"There's an opportunity for everybody who is on your roster, and that includes them. Each of them brings a little different positive (element) to the table. Austin Roberts is the most undersized of the three, yet he brings a speed dimension that we do not have in our tight end room. And it's one a lot of teams don't have at that position. He's a guy that can really run. At the same time, I've seen him as a blocker because I coached him in college at UCLA. So, I know that fundamentally, he has all the tools to be a productive blocker. Ben Johnson, he's kind of a hybrid guy. He's big enough and physical enough to be a blocker, and then he does a nice job catching the ball in space. And Cole Hunt is a really cerebral player. He understands the game. He's really progressed from a learning standpoint. So, all three of those guys have an opportunity. They all bring something a little different, and this training camp is critical for them to make strides going forward."
The Chargers' 2018 training camp schedule is official, so mark your calendars to watch the Bolts prepare for the upcoming season! The team will hold 14 practices open to the public between July 28 and August 23. For more information, please visit www.chargers.com/camp.
Take a look at the entire Bolts roster leading into 2018 Preseason.