Chargers Training Camp is on the horizon. The Bolts will host 10 open practices as they welcome fans back to Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa.
The Bolts are looking for a repeat appearance in the postseason as they enter Year 3 under Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, and have a roster filled with talent and work ethic.
Chargers.com will take a look at each position group leading up to training camp. The offensive line is up next.
Who's on the roster?
Rashawn Slater (3rd NFL season; 3rd with Chargers), Zion Johnson (2;2), Corey Linsley (10; 3), Jamaree Salyer (2;2), Trey Pipkins III (5;5), Will Clapp (6;2), Brenden Jaimes (3;3), Foster Sarell (2;2), Zack Bailey (2;2), Isaac Weaver (2;2), Andrew Trainer (2;2), Jordan McFadden (1;1), Johari Branch (1;1), Nic Melsop (1;1) and Austen Pleasants (1;1).
Some of the parts may have moved around, but the sum of the Chargers offensive line features a strong group of starters.
And it's a unit that could be among the league's best in 2023.
The group is led by veteran center Corey Linsley, who is entering Year 10 in the NFL and is a key leader on and off the field.
"He brings the leadership aspect because he's been there and done it," said Chargers offensive line coach Brendan Nugent. "It's hard to not buy in because he's been doing it for so long. He's a great part of the room and what we do."
The Chargers will also get a massive boost from the return of left tackle Rashawn Slater, who most of the 2023 season with a torn biceps. Still only 24 years old, Slater was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro selection as a rookie in 2022.
And Nugent believes the star left tackle can take his game to another level.
"He was improving from what he was as a rookie," Nugent said. "And then from what I saw from him this offseason, his work ethic is second to none. There's no doubt in my mind he'll come back and get even better as the season goes on."
Take a look back at the Chargers Mini-Camp 2023 in monochrome
Trey Pipkins III returned this offseason as a free agent after becoming a full-time starter for the first time in his career in 2023. Pipkins battled through a knee injury for most of the season but provided stability and solid play on the right side.
"He's just got better every day and kept working at it and never settled. Having him back is big for the room," Nugent added.
Much of the focus in training camp will be on the guards, where second-year players Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer are undergoing position changes.
Johnson, a 2022 first-round pick, started all 17 games at right guard as a rookie. But he's moved to the other side and slots into the position he played at Boston College.
Salyer was thrust into action at left tackle in place and Slater in 2023 and performed admirably. But the 2022 sixth-round pick will now play right guard as he has position flexibility, and also earned a starting spot based on his play a season ago.
The starters are set, and there is solid depth behind them, too.
Will Clapp, Foster Sarell, Zack Bailey, Brenden Jaimes and rookie Jordan McFadden are likely in that next group to be called upon if the starting unit is hit by injuries again this season.
The rest of the group features either undrafted players or those who are still getting their feet wet in the NFL.
"Expectations are great for everybody that's not in the trenches. We can talk about it all we want, but you have to show actions. We have to show that we can do it and we will do it and we will do it consistently." – Nugent on the potential of the Chargers starting offensive line.
Player to watch: Zion Johnson
All eyes are usually going to be on a team's first-round pick, and Johnson looked the part as a rookie.
Even as he played on the opposite side of the position that made him a Round 1 pick in the first place.
"He was as advertised. Everything we saw on tape, he brought it here," Nugent said of Johnson. "Anytime you draft a guard in the first round it's, 'Can he block the 3-technique 1-on-1?' That's usually the defense's best interior player.
"And he did it and did it consistently. There were some ups and down for him but he got better as he went along. And he's looked good this offseason, too," Nugent added.
Johnson should now be more comfortable at left guard and also used to the rigors of the NFL as he enters his second season.
And he should thrive in Year 2, too, especially considering he's flanked by Slater on his left and Linsley on his right.
"Putting him and Rashawn next to each other will be a big benefit for us. You have two guys that are similar athletically," Nugent said. "Zion, from a comfort standpoint, will feel better on that side. And I think he and Rashawn will work really well together."
Key question: How does Jamaree Salyer transition to right guard?
Salyer was one of the feel-good stories of the 2022 season as he came out of nowhere to be a consistent and reliable starter along the line.
Remember that he primarily worked at guard in training camp and the preseason, but made the switch to left tackle in a flash and performed well.
"Nothing fazes him. He's got a ton of football sense and stuff makes sense to him as it moves," Nugent said. "As a play starts and unfolds, it makes sense to him. But not a lot fazes him.
"Part of that is him coming from Georgia, but he's just a calm player out there," Nugent added. "He understands his game and how he has to play and what he has to do."
Much like Johnson's move to play next to Slater, Nugent said the Bolts wanted to pair Salyer and Pipkins together on the right side.
"Now we have two bigger, heavier players on the right that I think will work really well together," Nugent said. "It's just finding matches on each side. It's all about working together, especially a guard and a tackle. I think that match is going to be really good."
Overall, it's not difficult to imagine a scenario where Linsley remains one of the game's best centers, Slater continues to excel at left tackle, Pipkins continues his recent progression and Johnson thrives back at left guard.
If Salyer can make a smooth transition to right guard, the Chargers could roll out one of the league's best offensive lines in front of Justin Herbert.
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