Things are a bit quiet around Hoag Performance Center.
With the Bolts on summer break, we got a few of the Chargers beat reporters together to discuss the offseason and look ahead to training camp.
Here's what Jeff Miller (Los Angeles Times), Elliott Teaford (Orange County Register), Daniel Popper (The Athletic) and Eric Smith (Chargers.com) had to say:
What's your quick feeling on the Chargers as they head into break?
Miller: There are about 100 reasons for this team and its fans to be optimistic again this year. After the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals, the Chargers feel like as solid a playoff contender as you can find in the AFC. As long as Justin Herbert stays healthy, I can't see that reality changing throughout the 2023 season. This is a team that appears to be trending in the right direction for the third consecutive year.
Teaford: There doesn't seem to be much of a buzz around the Chargers, and maybe that's a good thing. Expectations were very high last year, but after a relatively quiet off-season this year, things have quieted down. The Chargers made moves, but far fewer of them than last year. There were more subtle tweaks to the roster. Not a lot of front-page news over the past few months. Again, maybe that's a good thing. We'll find out soon enough.
Popper: After seeing pretty much the full squad on the field at minicamp, my overall feeling is: The Chargers have a ton of really good players. A simple thought, but that is honestly where my mind went while scanning the field from the sideline. I think that feeling was diminished to a degree last season considering all the injuries at so many key positions and to so many elite players. With most of those players back, it is clear the Chargers have enough top-of-the-roster talent to contend for a title. They just have to stay healthy.
Smith: The Bolts are loaded once again. But they're also focused on reaching their full potential this time around, something that didn't happen a year ago because of injuries or inconsistent play. Remember a year ago it seemed as if the Chargers were the "it" team around the league. There's much less fanfare this summer and the Bolts are OK with that. Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said last week that he "knows the team that we have." Heading into camp, the Bolts are stacked and ready to prove they belong among the AFC's elite teams.
Which player(s) stood out to you this spring?
Miller: The secondary seemed to have a solid - and at times almost dominating - minicamp. Alohi Gilman, Ja'Sir Taylor and Mark Webb shined during several 7-on-7 reps, which was encouraging given how much the depth will be needed this season. Add in the progress of J.C. Jackson in his rehabilitation from season-ending knee surgery and the Chargers' defensive backfield offered plenty to be encouraged about heading into training camp. Now, we'll see how everyone looks when the pads come on.
Teaford: It's always hard to tell from workouts, but I can tell you the play that stood out. Derwin James Jr.'s leaping, one-handed interception on the second day of the two-day minicamp was a great reminder of all he can do. His talent is remarkable and the Chargers are lucky to have someone like him. Also, I heard a lot of good things about linebacker Eric Kendricks and the instant impact he's had in the locker room and on the field. It sounds like he's going to fit it well.
Popper: A couple young defensive backs: cornerback Ja'Sir Taylor and safety Alohi Gilman. Both are in line to take over full-time starting roles in 2023. Taylor has been the starter as the nickel cornerback — or Star — in the spring. He'll be replacing Bryce Callahan, who manned the slot last season for Brandon Staley's defense. Gilman is set to start next to Derwin James at safety. Gilman had taken over a starting role down the stretch of last season, overtaking Nasir Adderley. Now the job is solely his, with Adderley retiring this offseason. I thought both Gilman and Taylor made a ton of plays in camp and were regularly connected and in good position in coverage. The Chargers will need big seasons out of the both players if they are going to build off how Staley's defense played down the stretch in 2022.
Smith: There's no doubt that the defensive players the others listed above all stood out. But I'm going to go with left tackle Rashawn Slater. There's a bit of a caveat here, as the Bolts didn't do full-team drills and we couldn't get a look at Slater in 1-on-1 drills. But simply having him back and manning one of the most important positions in football is such a boon to the Bolts. Don't discount the impact Slater's absence had on the offense a year ago, even if Jamaree Salyer played well in his spot. Having Slater healthy and in the lineup can't be emphasized enough.
What's your top storyline surrounding the team heading into camp?
Miller: The most obvious answer here is the offense under new coordinator Kellen Moore. Based on all our questions during minicamp, the Chargers should be expected to come out in late July and start scoring during pre-practice stretching. But, for me, the bigger story will be the defense. The Chargers must be better at stopping the opposition than they've been the past two seasons.. With Herbert, this team always will be effective passing the ball. But the fate of 2023 Chargers will be determined by their defense, something Brandon Staley has been building since his arrival in January of 2021.
Teaford: I'm curious to see if new OC Kellen Moore is more aggressive with his play-calling. I'd like to see more deep throws this coming season-- as I would assume all Chargers fans would, too. I thought the Chargers were a little too conservative last season. Some of it might have had to do with Herbert's rib injury in Week 2, but the dinks and dunks seemed to frustrate the fans. A lack of a consistent running game also was problematic last season. The ground game has to improve if the Chargers are to challenge the Chiefs in the AFC West.
Popper: I am curious to see what Kellen Moore's offense looks like in full-speed 11-on-11 drills. The Chargers did not have as much cap space this offseason as they had in previous offseasons. As such, they were less active in free agency. The only high-impact addition was signing Eric Kendricks. The biggest move the Chargers made was firing Joe Lombardi and hiring Moore. The hope is that Moore's scheme and play-calling will elevate Justin Herbert and the rest of the Chargers offense to new heights, both in the run and pass games. Training camp is when we will truly start to see what progress the offense has made with Moore leading the way.
Smith: The Chargers offense. Once Justin Herbert worked his way back into 7-on-7 drills this spring, the Bolts offense looked aggressive and explosive in practice. And we're not talking 15-yard throws down the field. Herbert routinely uncorked 30-plus yard passes that put pressure on the secondary. The easiest way to win this in this league is to score more points (shocking, right?) Based on what we saw this offseason, Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore appears ready to unleash a potent offense both through the air and on the ground. If the Bolts want to accomplish their goals in 2023, they will need their offense to be at its full potential.
Take a look back at the Chargers Mini-Camp 2023 in monochrome
Which area of the roster are you intrigued to watch in camp?
Miller: How about the kicker competition between Dustin Hopkins and Cameron DIcker?! A competition that might even include the Chargers trying to execute squib kickoffs based on one of the NFL's newest rules. How's that for intrigue? Seriously, though, there's no reason to joke about this team and its kicking situation, since Chargers fans are too well aware of the history involved. Entering camp, I'd give the edge to Hopkins based on leg strength and experience, but Dicker proved himself to be an NFL kicker last season.
Teaford: There are a couple of interesting camp battles looming, including who wins the kicking battle between Dustin Hopkins and Cameron Dicker, plus who ends up as the No. 2 back behind Austin Ekeler. There's also the lingering question of if/when Justin Herbert gets his ginormous contract extension. He said he wasn't too concerned about it and would participate in camp rather than do a hold-in if he hasn't gotten his new deal. I suspect it will get done before Labor Day, as James' deal did last year.
Popper: Edge rusher. And in particular, rookie Tuli Tuipulotu. Once the pads come on in training camp, we will be able to see Tuipulotu rush the passer and defend the run full speed for the first time. He will face some quality competition in 11-on-11 drills and 1-on-1s against left tackle Rashawn Slater and right tackle Trey Pipkins. We should be able to see early on what kind of impact Tuipulotu can make this season. The Chargers need him to emerge as a steady presence behind Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa as the third edge rusher.
Smith: The kicker battle is up there, and edge rusher, too. But I'm going with inside linebacker. I might be biased here since I've known him for nearly a decade, but Eric Kendricks is going to have a tremendous impact on the Chargers, both on the field and in the locker room. And I believe he's going to help unlock the best version we've seen of Kenneth Murray, Jr., a player who has all the physical traits you can ask for in the position. New linebackers coach Jeff Howard will be tasked with helping Kendricks settle in and also maximizing Murray's full potential. If the duo can do that and help shore up the Bolts run defense, the Chargers have a chance to have a be among the league's most complete defenses this season.
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