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Chargers Mailbag: Assessing the Bolts at the Bye Week


Welcome back to the Chargers Mailbag!

We'll be running one of these every week during the regular season, so send in submissions for the Mailbag here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go...

Glad we got to 2-2 before our bye week. But why do we always play close games? (Kyle via email)

Hello, Bolt Fam, hope you can all take a deep breath with the Chargers on a bye this week.

The win over the Raiders wasn't pretty, but it rarely is when the two AFC West rivals meet.

But the main mission for the Bolts was to get to .500 at the bye, and there was definitely a sense in Sunday's postgame locker room that the team was glad to accomplish that.

Or, in the words of Khalil Mack as he began to break down the huddle: "We're alive."

It would have been easy for things to come off the rails after a frustrating 0-2 start that saw a pair of razor-thin losses.

Credit coaches and players for sticking together and keeping a steady mindset in order to pick up back-to back wins.

Although some around the league might not be impressed with a 2-2 start, I'd counter that getting to .500 at the bye gives the Bolts a chance to put themselves in a great spot in the weeks and months ahead.

The goal of making a deep postseason run would have been dinged a bit if the Chargers had started 1-3, simply because of the extra effort and stamina it would take to climb out of that hole.

Remember that the Bolts were 2-2 a year ago before ripping off three wins in four games to help position themselves for an eventual playoff berth.

And with seven AFC teams currently sitting at 2-2, the Bolts are right in the thick of the early playoff race that still has miles and miles to go. Plus, two straight wins has also kept the Bolts within striking distance of the 3-1 Chiefs in the division picture.

In terms of the close games, that's almost par for the course across the league. Of the 64 total games played so far, exactly half (32) have been decided by one score or less.

Granted, the Chargers are one of two teams — along with the Vikings — who have seen a one-possession result in all four games. (If you know watched Week 3 or know anything about those two teams, that's very on brand).

My point is that every team in the league has played at least one close game this season.

The Bolts are still trying to find that full fourth-quarter effort that includes contributions from all three phases.

The good news for the Bolts is that they still have more than three-quarters of the season to round into form and be playing their best ball late in the season.

But it's also worth noting that the two-game stretch after the bye — home against Dallas on Monday Night Football and at Kansas City — might be the toughest back-to-back stretch all season.

The Chargers have the talent to compete with (and defeat) any team in the league. They will just need a bit more consistency to make it happen against teams that have the same postseason aspirations.

The upgrade you're looking for wears No. 30 and will hopefully return after the bye.

Austin Ekeler was limited in all three practices last week before the Raiders game. He didn't end up playing, but that's a sign that he is trending in the right direction with his ankle injury.

The hope is that the touchdown machine keeps progressing and is able to see the field against the Cowboys and beyond.

No, I personally don't see any additions to the secondary on the horizon.

The cornerback group seems to have settled the past few games with Asante Samuel, Jr., Michael Davis and Ja'Sir Taylor taking almost all of the reps there.

And although the Bolts were without their top three safeties — Derwin James, Jr., Alohi Gilman and JT Woods — against Las Vegas, Raheem Layne and Dean Marlowe stepped in and played well.

Much like Ekeler, the hope is that James and Gilman can rest up and get healthy during the bye. Woods is on the Non-Football Illness List and must miss at least four games, so the earliest he could return is after Week 8.

I don't see the Bolts adding a safety because Layne and Marlowe just proved they can play (and start) in a pinch. Both players were on the field for all 73 defensive snaps Sunday.

Plus, the Chargers like rookie AJ Finley, who helped out on special teams in Week 4.

Two things can be true here.

The first is that it's too early to talk contracts and the offseason. We'll cross that road later on, probably when the season is over.

But we can also acknowledge that Kenneth Murray, Jr. has been fantastic this season, especially in Week 2 and 3 when Eric Kendricks was out with a hamstring injury.

Murray wore the green dot in those two games, and did so again in Week 4, relaying the defensive play calls into the huddle.

He's been everywhere through four games and has shown up in the run game, in coverage and as a blitzer. And his interception in the end zone against the Vikings clinched the game in the final seconds.

The Chargers did not pick up Murray's fifth-year option this past spring. But that doesn't always been a player's time with a team is on the clock.

Let's see what happens in the final three months of the season and evaluate things then.

Give it some time on Quentin Johnston.

As I wrote last week, replacing Mike Williams will be a team effort over the long haul, and simply asking a rookie to step in and be Williams right away isn't feasible.

I expect Johnston to get more comfortable as the weeks go on, which should increase his role and production.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley was asked Monday about self-scouting during the bye and gave an insightful answer. He also included a part on "young players", a category Johnston falls into.

"You take that first month of the season and you try to figure out who you have, really trying to iron out your personnel and how you want to use people," Staley said. "I think that that is probably what is on our mind the most, just making sure that we're maximizing our group. Are we utilizing them in the best way possible?

"For example, for a young player, how his role is at the beginning of the season isn't going to be what it is middle to the end of the season," Staley added. "How are we going to get him to that point where we're maximizing him in that way?"

To me, that says the coaching staff is aware of the development process of Johnston and other young players on the roster and will make it an emphasis in the weeks ahead.

As for Allen, you can't expect him to top 200 yards every game, especially when the Raiders were keying on him with Williams out.

The Bolts passing attack had its moments Sunday but also hit some lulls at times, too. That's going to happen, especially in tight divisional games.

Allen is going to be just fine down the stretch. And I think Johnston will be, too.

He's already on the 53-man roster and played four special teams snaps against the Raiders, all as a gunner.

Now, if your question is whether he will remain on the roster in the coming weeks, that's a bit more up in the air.

And it's mostly tied to Jalen Guyton, who is on Injured Reserve but is eligible to come off it at anytime. The Chargers can activate his 21-day practice window, something Staley said could happen soon.

"We will update you when we open up that window, but he's progressing," Staley said Monday on Guyton.

If Guyton returns in the coming weeks, perhaps that bumps Fehoko off the active roster. Either way, the Bolts seem to have more wide receiver depth this season than they did a year ago.

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