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5 Takeaways: What We Learned About the Bolts This Offseason

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The Bolts have earned a break before training camp.

The Chargers closed out the offseason program Wednesday with their second mandatory minicamp practice at Hoag Performance Center.

The Bolts now have more than a month off before camp begins, but here's a look back the five biggest things we learned this offseason:

1. Justin Herbert is slinging it around

It took Justin Herbert a few weeks to get involved in team drills due to offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.

But once the Chargers quarterback made it to 7-on-7 drills, he let it rip.

Now, it wasn't as if every throw from Herbert was 50-yard bomb down the field. But the aggression of getting the ball downfield was obvious, as Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, tight ends and others were the routine targets of 20 plus-yard throws.

Herbert said this week that he believes the Bolts offense can be more explosive than it was a season ago.

"Yeah, I'd like to think so," Herbert said. "I think that's always the goal for an offense, is having those explosive plays, whether that's through the run game or the pass game.

"[Offensive Coordinator] Kellen [Moore], he has a great mind," Herbert added. "He's done such a great job of kind of interpreting exactly what he wants for this offense. It's a clear message for us as an offensive unit of what he's trying to accomplish."

The Chargers drafted wide receiver Quentin Johnston in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, and the rookie will join a room that features Allen, Williams and Joshua Palmer.

Add in Gerald Everett and Donald Parham, Jr., at tight end, plus running back Austin Ekeler, and the Chargers certainly have no shortage of weapons in the passing game.

The hope is that the big-time plays we saw this spring will carry over into training camp and the 2023 season.

"I just think that Justin has a comfort zone with who he's throwing to," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said. "I think the continuity of being able to throw the Keenan, Mike, DP [Parham], Gerald — when you know your weapons, I think that you can be more aggressive, so I think that there's a comfort zone.

"Obviously, the comfort zone within our system, as well. Those are all positive things. This is going on Justin's fourth season in the NFL, so I think he knows who he is as a player. He's improved so much," Staley added. "These guys around them, you will be aggressive when you have the type of weapons that we have. It's been a really competitive couple of days and it's been good to see the group come together."

Check out the best photos from Day 2 of Chargers Mini-Camp 2023

2. The Bolts are locked in

A year ago, the Chargers were one of the most talked about teams in the league.

They followed that up with a playoff berth despite a myriad of injuries and manpower lost.

This spring? They aren't worried about the outside hype or noise, and instead prefer to simply focus on themselves.

"I know the team that we have. The players that were talked about in that way last year, they're still all on our team," Staley said. "We've added even more pieces.

"We are confident in who we are and we're just confident in the work that's ahead and that we have the guys that are capable of doing it," Staley added. "We're excited to get to training camp. But I love coaching this group. I know this group is really good."

The Bolts 2023 schedule is a tough one, and the AFC itself is certainly loaded with stacked teams.

But don't be surprised the if Chargers quietly make some noise this season.

3. The trenches can't wait to get to work

The Chargers didn't do any full 11-on-11 drills this spring, meaning linemen on both sides of the ball mostly worked on individual drills and techniques.

But that will change once the pads come on in camp, and players on both sides of the ball can't wait for the context.

Defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day preached patience this week, even comparing the offseason to baking a cake.

The defensive front will be focused on improving the run game in 2023, while the pass rush will once again center around Khalil Mack and Josey Bosa.

The tandem showed flashes of dominance a year ago when healthy, but that was limited to just five games due to Bosa's groin injury.

Both players said earlier this spring that they are each 100 percent, meaning the plan from a season ago has a chance to come to fruition this year.

"I think we have the opportunity to really get to a special spot between us two," Bosa said.

Offensively, there are familiar names along the line. But while Rashawn Slater, Corey Linsley and Trey Pipkins III are in their usual positions, Zion Johnson (left guard) and Jamaree Salyer (right guard) are in different spots.

Linsley said the group has been working on cohesion (and improving the run game) this offseason but added the real work will begin in training camp.

"The goal through camp is to build that continuity," Linsley said. "I feel like we communicate really well. Now, it's just about getting the feel for everything down."

Check out the best photos from Day 1 of Chargers Mini-Camp 2023

4. J.C. Jackson is progressing well

As mentioned above, injuries took their toll on the Bolts a season ago.

And while some of those players (Slater, Bosa, etc.) are fully healthy again, others are working to get there.

That includes cornerback J.C. Jackson, who suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee in Week 7.

Jackson met with reporters Tuesday and offered an update on his progress, noting he is "right on track" with his rehab.

"I wouldn't put a percentage on it," Jackson said. "But I'm getting there. I'm almost to where I want to be."

According to Jackson, he has a doctor's appointment next week and could get good news then.

Jackson was open and honest with reporters, saying that his first season in powder blue was a disappointment in his eyes based on his up-and-down play and his injury.

But he also said he's more motivated than ever to make a return to the field and show everyone — including himself — that he's still an elite cornerback.

The Chargers had Michael Davis, Asante Samuel, Jr., and Ja'Sir Taylor as their main cornerbacks this spring. But if Jackson can make a full recovery and be an impact player again, the Bolts might have one of the deepest cornerback rooms in the league.

"I expect myself to come out here and practice every day," Jackson said of his mentality. "That's how I'm taking it mentally — that I'm going to be ready for training camp, ready for Week 1. Whenever the doctors say I'm cleared, I'm going to be ready.

"I'm ready to get back out there. I love the game of football and I'm ready to compete," Jackson later added.

5. Expect a tight kicking battle

We'll end with special teams, which features plenty of intriguing storylines.

Punter JK Scott will look to put together another strong season after his Chargers debut in 2022, and rookie Derius Davis will likely get the first crack at both return spots in camp.

But all eyes will be on the kickers once July rolls around, as Dustin Hopkins and Cameron Dicker are engaged in a tight battle for a lone roster spot.

Both players were rock solid before each had a shaky day Wednesday, but keep in mind that it's only mid-June.

Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken said earlier this spring that while both players will be evaluated on a daily basis, the lens will narrow in training camp and the preseason.

What is Ficken looking for?

"I think, for us, it's the consistency. The ball flight, making sure there's consistent ball flight," Ficken said. "It's easy to chart the made kicks — good and no good kicks. The consistency with that.

"I know you want to have the leg strength, that's all part of it, obviously, but that's not the end all be all. We're looking for a complete kicker that can handle all mid-range," Ficken continued. "The majority of the field goals are coming inside of 50 yards to begin with. We have to make sure we're consistent and we can go ahead and make those kicks.

"Then have the ability if need be to do 50-plus yarders, to go ahead and connect on those as well," Ficken added. "We're looking for that consistent kicker."

Overall, the Bolts are in a good spot with two solid kickers on their roster. We'll soon find out which one the team decides to keep.

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