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5 Takeaways: Davis, Rookies Star in Bolts 1st Preseason Game

Davis 5T

The Chargers opened preseason play with a 34-17 win over the Rams on Saturday night at SoFi Stadium.

Here are five takeaways from the Bolts preseason opener:

1. Rookies shine in debut

The bright lights were no problem for the Chargers 2023 draft class.

And it was fourth-round rookie Derius Davis who stole the show early with an 81-yard punt return for a score.

Davis, who is in line to be the Bolts punt and kickoff returner, was the 2022 Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year and had six career special teams scores at TCU.

He wasted little time finding the end zone for the first time in the pros when he took a punt a few minutes into the second quarter, danced around a few Rams and bolted to pay dirt.

"We called a left return but I saw too many people on the left side," Davis said. "I kind of slowed down a little bit to make them all gravitate toward the left."

Davis' TCU teammate, first-round wide receiver Quentin Johnston, also found the end zone on an 8-yard touchdown catch late in the first half.

Johnston was targeted early Saturday but couldn't hang onto a pair of passes, including one deep down the right sideline, but he rallied with a score that came when his right shoe was actually untied.

"It was alright," Johnston said of his debut. "Not the best start, it was kind of rough but I bounced back with it at the end with the touchdown.

"At the end of the day, I'm not satisfied," Johnston added. "Hopefully I'll come back next week and do better."

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley added: "I love the way he got open on the long one. He really showed his separation and that was a tough one that didn't go down. But for him top bounce back at the end of the half … get that matchup in the slot … he can make that guy miss and create separation and has got that backline target zone we can really feature down there."

Besides Johnston and Davis, a handful of other Bolts draft picks also fared well.

Second-rounder Tuli Tuipulotu looked sharp early and third-round linebacker Daiyan Henley had a pass breakup.

Jordan McFadden had some key blocks up front and Max Duggan helped lead a pair of scoring drives in the second half.

It was Davis though who provided the first jolt with his electric punt return.

"It felt like we were back in college," Johnston said. "I wasn't really surprised on the sideline."

Browse through live action photos of the Bolts Preseason Week 1 matchup against the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

2. Stick takes command

Earlier in the week, Staley laid out what he wanted to see from Easton Stick.

The quarterback has been around a few years and has plenty of preseason experience, meaning he was a key figure the Bolts would rely on for leadership around a plethora of rookies.

Stick looked and acted the part, completing 14 of 21 passes in the first half for 109 yards and a touchdown. His numbers might have been better, too, if not for a few dropped passes.

Staley was especially pleased with Stick's work late in the first half when he led a 75-yard touchdown drive with under two minutes to play.

"He showed a lot of poise, great command. We were able to use the timeouts wisely," Staley said. "He was able to use his legs for a couple of big first downs. Then, he was able to find Q there at the end. It was really well-managed.

"[Offensive Coordinator] Kellen [Moore], I thought, called a great two-minute, and then Easton made it happen for us," Staley added.

Sticked said he's gained confidence each year he's been with the Bolts.

"I obviously haven't played a ton," Stick said. "But just the experiences you have being around, being in the meeting rooms, watching Justin [Herbert] play … it's my fifth year here so I think my confidence has certainly grown in that time."

Duggan played the second half for the Bolts, completing two of three passes for 19 yards and also adding a 19-yard run.

3. Young edge rushers flash

There was no reason for Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa to play Saturday night.

That gave young edge rushers such as Chris Rumph II, Tuli Tuipulotu and others a chance to make their mark.

The duo did just that in the first half as Rumph recorded a sack while Tuipulotu tallied a handful of pressures against the Rams.

"Chris' rush early on was big, it was powerful," Staley said. "Good get off, and to collapse the pocket that was a good win for him.

"Those two guys really played well," Staley added.

Andrew Farmer also showed something with an 11-yard sack as he read a play fake before bursting into the backfield to corral the quarterback.

4. Run game thrives

Much of the focus in training camp has been on the Chargers passing attack, as it's tough to gauge running plays due to the lack of live tackling.

But given a chance to show their stuff in the preseason opener, the Bolts ground game thrived in game action, especially in the first half.

Joshua Kelley had 54 yards on nine carries while Isaiah Spiller added 27 yards on five attempts. At one point in the first half, the duo combined to run the ball on seven straight plays for 49 combined yards.

It was the Elijah Dotson show in the second half as the undrafted rookie free agent tallied 92 yards on just six carries, including touchdown runs of 37 and 40 yards.

"The offensive unit came to play," Staley said. "The O-line, tight ends and receivers really blocked.

"And I thought our running backs did a nice job of making one cut and being decisive," Staley added.

Add it all up and the Bolts ran for 214 yards, but the damage could have been more if a 71-yard touchdown run from Spiller wasn't called back due to holding.

"If that had counted, it would have been an even bigger night," Staley said. "It was a good start for us."

5. Areas to improve

Overall, Staley said he was pleased with how his defense played in the opener.

But he noted there will also be some teaching points, too.

The most glaring was a second-quarter drive that saw the Chargers drop two interceptions and commit a pair of penalties, all of which led to a Rams touchdown.

"It was a learning experience for everyone who was on the field," Staley said. "We had the two penalties that kept that drive alive, one was the illegal contact and the other was the personal foul.

"We dropped two interceptions on that drive, one that probably would have gone for a touchdown," Staley added. "Those are the things in the NFL, if you make mistakes against a good team they are going to capitalize."

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