For the first time in two seasons, Jack Hammett Sports Complex opened its gates to Chargers fans for the unofficial start of the 2021 season.
The excitement was palpable and the powder blue crowd was loud. The moment felt significant.
But on the grass, less was more.
Head coach Brandon Staley kicked off his first training camp practice Wednesday morning in Costa Mesa with a brisk session – all with the big picture in mind.
"We were 75 minutes on the field today and that was by design," Staley said. "I wanted our guys to kind of get to the end of practice and say, 'Hey, I could have gone longer than that.'"
Staley detailed the team's practice routine, which starts with an activation period followed by a dynamic stretch. He said he wants to "phase our practices in properly" in an effort to slowly build towards Week 1 at Washington.
That also means being mindful of the veterans on the team who have logged the most NFL miles. Staley pointed to defensive tackle Linval Joseph, tight end Jared Cook, offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. as players who may not need the reps that players earlier in their career require.
In addition to installation and personnel evaluation, Staley said one of the early goals of camp is establishing the team's practice habits, whether it's in shells or pads.
"There's a precision to how we want to practice," he said. "Really, we want to define that well so that the players can go execute it. When you define things well for the players, then they can go do it. We kicked that off today."
Herbert a Hit on Day One
Quarterback Justin Herbert has never played or practiced in front of Chargers fans in Southern California since being drafted 15 months ago – until Wednesday.
The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year felt the love throughout the morning.
"It's good to have the fans back and be able to thank them for their support," Herbert said after practice. "As weird of a year that it's been, to have them show up to watch football and be a part of it, I think it's a pretty cool moment."
Exactly a year ago, Herbert was getting second- and third-team reps during training camp. He didn't have an in-person offseason program.
Fast forward to today, he's thrown touchdown passes to seven different players who are currently on the Chargers roster. One of the biggest differences from last July, Herbert said, is the timing he's built with his receivers.
Take a look at some of the best photos from the first day of Chargers Training Camp 2021.
He's continued to do the same with his newest veteran teammate.
"Jared Cook and I had a great conversation about stick routes today and what he was thinking," Herbert said. "He's been around for 13 years. This is going to be his 13th camp and so I've got a bunch to learn from him. And just being able to talk to him – talk about the routes – I think it helps us all."
As Herbert prepares for year two, he said in a way it feels like a second rookie campaign with fans back in the mix.
But regardless of how a season may look, the goals never change.
"My personal goal is to be the best quarterback that I can be, the best teammate for this team, the best leader, whatever it is that I can be for this team," Herbert said. "I'm not too involved with stats and things like that, but making sure that I show up to work and I give my best effort, that I study hard and I do the right things in the weight room, on the field, in the film room and good things will happen after that."
'A Different Movie' With Derwin
With the return of fans to training camp also came the return of safety Derwin James Jr.
James Jr. was cleared for football activities at the start of OTAs in May after suffering a knee injury in camp a year ago. And though he and his defensive teammates are learning a new system with new coaches, expectations remain high.
"We want to be the number one defense in the league," James Jr. said. "If that's not our goal, then I don't know what is. We always want to be the best defense. When we come out here every day, we want to work towards that."
James has weathered adversity in each of the last two seasons, missing 27 games due to injury. His presence is game-changing, illustrated in his All-Pro rookie season when the Chargers went 12-4 in 2018 – tied for the best record in the AFC.
"I was excited to compete with him today," Staley said. "I know how hard that he has worked to get to this moment. You always take everybody's circumstances into consideration. You know what this guy has been through and you know what this thing means to him. For him to go out there today and run the show for our team, while competing at a high level, we're asking him to do a lot because he can handle a lot."
"To see him live his dream today and help us get one day closer to being as good as we can be, because we all know that when he is out there, this team is a lot different football team and it's a lot different movie, and I'm excited to watch this movie with him in it."
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