The wait is over for Chargers football.
The Bolts open the preseason slate Saturday night against the Rams at SoFi Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. (PT).
We chatted with Jourdan Rodrigue, who covers the Rams for The Athletic, to get a preview of the preseason opener.
Are you fired up for some preseason football?! What's the general vibe around the Rams six months after their Super Bowl win?
JR: "Fired-up" is an understatement - this is the best time of year. Every team is good! Every season holds so much promise! Each year, we're all brimming with energy and somehow we all (players and coaches included) forget what it feels like to be in the November-December grind or the fragility of January. To be clear, even at that time it's still a blessing to be a part of the sport — but I always hope fans remember what it really takes for a team to make it through a single football season.
That said, what the hell? What summer? Six months...? Lies. It's been about a minute since the 2021 regular-season, according to my math. It all went by so fast. By "all", I mean "the offseason." But frankly, even though we've seen the videos and pictures of this Rams team celebrating their championship, I'll be honest: For many of them, I don't think it ever sank in that they actually won the whole thing. That might actually be helpful when the season begins, because they're in their window and doing everything they can to stay contenders. Feeling like they haven't accomplished anything (even though they have) might help them approach this season like a competitive blank slate and stave off complacency.
How is Sean McVay approaching this game in terms of playing time? Will the big-name guys play? Or is it a chance for younger players to shine?
JR: Sean made headlines back in 2017 when he mandated that his starters and key role-players do not play in the preseason, no matter what. That hasn't changed. But the Rams always like to ask their young players to do more earlier on in their careers, so a few guys will get a lot of shine. Players I'm watching: Quarterback Bryce Perkins, cornerbacks Derion Kendrick and Decobie Durant (and - if they don't play, it says a lot considering both had strong camps), safety Russ Yeast, right tackle AJ Arcuri, running back Jake Funk, I'd hope receiver Tutu Atwell gets some live minutes against actual contact unlike in camp, and ... yes ... the punters.
Is there a player you'll be keeping a close eye on Saturday night?
JR: I think it's important that Atwell, who is working to find a real role on this roster after missing most of his rookie 2021 season, gets snaps against a smart, physical Chargers defense. He has had some really promising reps in camp and is seeing more time with WR3 Van Jefferson rehabbing from knee surgery, but camp reps aren't game reps. I'd also love to see some real development from left tackle AJ Jackson and rookie right tackle Arcuri. Both look the part.
Which position battle could be impacted by this early preseason game?
JR: I actually think I'll learn a lot by seeing who _doesn't _play. It's not just that Sean rests starters; he rests key role-players too. If he's trying to test a couple of guys, that'll happen in the first half. I think the cornerback and safety depth will clarify in this time, and I'm always watching the linebackers, too. Rookies Daniel Hardy and Benton Whitley should get a lot of run, and their speed is intriguing.
You know Brandon Staley well from covering him when he was with the Rams. What's your view on him as he heads into Year 2?
JR: First and foremost, I want to be very clear: I believe in Brandon Staley. I covered him essentially since the day he set foot on the Rams' campus and even then, the work he did behind the scenes was different from most who have ever held his position. I think his brain and his love for football are frightening, and I mean that in a nice way.
I say this with a ton of respect to everyone's journey, but, I don't think he had the right personnel to truly run his defense the way it's supposed to fully express itself in 2021. And that's OK! That happens to a new head coach — most of the time — when taking on a new role. It takes a minute to, along with the GM, bring in the system fits and establish the new culture. It's clear he and Tom Telesco have committed to being flexible and agile in establishing their modern direction. I really liked how they brought in Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson (ironically, I covered both players at previous stops and Chargers fans will love them). I liked the Khalil Mack move, especially in tandem with Joey Bosa. One thing Brandon understands after his time with the Rams: Players who need a fresh environment and can thrive there. Remember, he's the one who pushed for Leonard Floyd in 2020. Floyd is now probably one of the most underrated pass-rushers in the league after leaving Chicago and pairing with a Rams group who helped him become the best version of himself. Brandon was a big part of that.
I think that overall ethos - believing in players, letting them be themselves - is something he can really harness and apply if he's given the time and resources to do it. Plus, he understands the offense and has, frankly, one of the most exciting young quarterbacks we've seen in a long time in Justin Herbert. I'm rambling at this point, yeah. One thing about Brandon that I don't know that many are prepared for: This dude learns from every experience and throws himself fully into whatever it takes to reach the next step. He and Sean are similar in that they wear their hearts on their sleeves in how they plan games, design tactics and call plays. I think you'll see that from the Chargers in 2022.
Bolt Up for 2022!
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