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5 Takeaways: Bolts Focused on Teachable Moments After 2nd Preseason Contest


The Chargers fell 22-17 to the Saints on Sunday night at SoFi Stadium.

Here are five takeaways from the Bolts second preseason game:

1. Lessons to learn from

The Chargers don't play (most of) their starters in the preseason, and instead use it as a chance to get long looks at young players and those trying to find their way in the NFL.

That sometimes means an inconsistent product on the field but also a chance for said players to learn from their mistakes in postgame film sessions.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said the Bolts 22-17 loss to the Saints in the second preseason game Sunday night will offer plenty of teachable moments in the coming days.

The Bolts turned the ball over three times, converted just three times on 15 third-down chances and also dealt with other sporadic play.

Still, the Bolts trailed by just three at halftime and had a chance to take the lead on a 2-minute drill in the fourth quarter.

"At halftime, we had done all the things that you don't want to do, in terms of winning and losing. Yet, we were right there," Staley said. "Then, at the end of the game, which was still true. I thought we played with more energy in the second half. I thought we competed better in the second half."

Staley noted that most games in the NFL come down to the final few minutes and that Sunday's preseason tilt was no exception.

"Like I told the guys, you gave yourselves an opportunity in 2-minute, and that's how the NFL is," Staley said. "We were able to overcome the turnovers, some of the fourth downs that we didn't get, which are kind of like turnovers. I thought that we were able to hang in there and give ourselves a chance.

"It's going to be good for our guys to see how you can stay alive in a game like that and give yourself a chance," Staley added. "But then it's going to be great for our guys to know why we lost the game, because we lost the major items that you can't lose in this league."

The Bolts converted twice on five fourth-down tries in the game.

Defensively, the Bolts couldn't record a takeaway despite multiple chances.

"There were at least five opportunities for interceptions, that I felt like our guys needed to come down with," Staley said. "My father would say, if you come down with one-third of them, I think we would have been in a lot better shape.

"We didn't capitalize on their mistakes and they capitalized on ours tonight," Staley added.

Perhaps the biggest highlight overall was a Chargers run defense that limited the Saints to just 61 yards on 26 carries, good for only 2.3 yards per carry.

2. Trio of rookie defenders shine

The Chargers spent three of their seven picks in the 2023 NFL Draft on defensive players, all of whom played a good amount Sunday night.

And each of the trio — edge rusher Tuli Tuipulotu, linebacker Daiyan Henley and defensive tackle Scott Matlock — all flashed their potential, too.

Tuipulotu's best sequence came when he swam past Saints tackle Trevor Penning, a 2022 first-round pick, to record a tackle for loss of four yards late in the first quarter. Tuipulotu then made an impact on the next play when a pressure on Jameis Winston forced an incompletion on third-down.

The 20-year-old said postgame that he holds himself to a high standard.

"I feel good. My body feels good. But I feel like I'm always leaving plays out there," Tuipulotu said. "Next week I want to take advantage of the opportunities and make some more plays.

"I know there's plays when I just do my job," Tuipulotu added. "But there's also plays where I can do my job and also make the play, you know? Just go out there and play ball."

Tuipulotu also credited Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack for coaching him up on the sideline in preseason play.

"Every time I run off the field, they are like, 'You have to do this or do this.' Even on that pressure, I came to the sideline and Joey said I could have held that power just a little bit longer. I came off too early. But it's all good, just things to learn from and work on."

Henley, meanwhile, had to play nearly the whole game due to injuries.

"Everything is important and for me to be able to showcase that I can play this game at this level, to my coaches," Henley said. "Any opportunity is a good opportunity. Definitely don't want to see a player go down, so that sucks. Especially in my room so I have to check on my boy.

"But to have the opportunity to get back on the field is something I really wanted because I felt like I left some plays on the field that I really wanted to get back. I think that was good opportunity for me," Henley added.

The third-round pick gave up a 27-yard pass play in coverage in the first half. But he responded by making plays all over the field the rest of the game, finishing with a team-high nine tackles, 0.5 sacks and a quarterback hit.

"I liked the way that Daiyan played. I thought that he was aggressive," Staley said. "I think you see what an outstanding tackler he is. He can really feel the run game. He is physical. He's outstanding in the blitz game. He just needs to keep improving because he'll learn a lot from it. 

"He had the green dot a lot of the night tonight, so I thought he communicated well," Staley added. "Then, he hung in there in the second half, when Blake [Lynch] kind of went out. He stayed there the whole way with Mikel [Jones] and those guys held the rope for us."

Matlock, a 2023 sixth-round pick, also flashed Sunday night. His best play came on the first play of the fourth quarter when he perfectly read a screen pass and stopped it for a 3-yard gain that limited New Orleans to a field goal try.

"That screen play, you want to talk about a big-time play. He has been solid," Staley said. "He has proven himself against the 1s. He's improving and he's the right guy to be coaching."

Overall, Staley said the early signs from the trio of rookie defenders is encouraging.

"These young guys that we drafted, the three defenders that we drafted, I think the most exciting thing is how instinctive they are and how physical they are," Staley said. "They're instinctive and they're physical. They've proven that they can hold up against our best group and their best group on that team that we just played."

3. Stick's up-and-down outing

Easton Stick summed up his outing by saying it was an "up-and-down" performance.

Staley said the same, noting it was an "uneven" showing from the Bolts backup quarterback.

Stick played the entire game Sunday, completing 21 of 41 passes for 233 yards and no touchdowns. He also had a pair of interceptions on the night, including one in each half, and also lost a fumble on a sack.

"Up and down, to say the least," Stick said. "The two turnovers in the first half just can't happen, it put the defense in a really tough spot.

"The defense played great all night, kept us in it and gave us a chance there at the end. We just weren't able to finish it," Stick added.

Staley said the Bolts entire offense could have been better around the quarterback, noting it wasn't just Stick's fault the offense had five three-and-outs on 13 total drives.

"I think that it was an uneven performance in the passing game for us," Staley said. "We didn't protect the passer very well. I didn't think that we threw it with accuracy.

"I just thought that it was inconsistent throughout the night," Staley added. "Certainly, the three turnovers, that really told the story tonight."

Stick's best moment came when he led the Chargers on a game-tying, 74-yard scoring drive in six plays in the final two minutes of the first half.

Stick hit Stone Smartt for 19 yards before finding John Hightower for 10 yards. Stick then scrambled for 21 yards before Isaiah Spiller ripped off an 18-yard run.

Stick then capped off the drive by keeping a zone-read play and darting into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.

"It was big," Stick said of the 2-minute drive. "The defense played really well and gave us a chance the whole night. We had a bunch of three-and-outs in there.

"To move the ball like that and finish, it was huge. A bunch of guys had catches, a bunch of guys stepped up," Stick added. "The O-line battled, those guys played really hard. It was great to get close there and the defense gave us a chance. We weren't able to finish."

4. Johnston shows consistency

Chargers first-round rookie Quentin Johnston didn't have a heavy workload Sunday night as he played just the first quarter or so.

But the wide receiver showed progress and consistency with three catches on all three of his targets for 37 yards.

That's a step in the right direction for Johnston, who tallied three catches for 10 yards and a score last week but also had a pair of drops.

Both Stick and Staley said they were impressed by how Johnston looked against the Saints.

"He had a good night. That's what you're going to see," Stick said. "Playing in this league is really difficult. Being a rookie, he's learning a ton.

"He's had a really great camp," Stick added. "He's going to be a really good player and I think tonight was a good step for him."

Staley added: "It was a good day for Q."

5. Staley pleased with special teams

It was a big day for the Chargers special teams unit — in all phases.

The Bolts got to evaluate both kickers on Sunday, as Cameron Dicker and Dustin Hopkins got their chance to take the field.

Dicker did not attempt a field goal but was successful in his lone extra point try. Hopkins, who did not kick during last week's preseason opener, was true from 25 yards in his only field goal attempt, and also converted his extra point try.

"Yes, that was the plan, to get both of those guys an opportunity," Staley said.

JK Scott shined in the punting game, looking as sharp as he has all training camp.

Scott punted five times, including one inside the 20-yard line, for an average of 50.8 yards with great hang time.

But another area in the punt game that complimented Scott was in punt coverage, which allowed just 30 yards of returns in four punts and forcing a fair catch on the other.

"Our punt team was a real bright spot for us because we punted a lot tonight," Staley said. "Our punt team was a real bright spot. JK, his hang time was excellent.

"Our coverage was excellent, made a lot of big plays," Staley added. "Our protection was solid. I think that the whole operation is improving. Our gunner play, like I've been telling you, I think we're a lot deeper team. I liked the way that group competed tonight."

On the return side, Derius Davis continued to showcase his speed on kickoff returns, returning three for 70 yards, highlighted by a long of 29 up the middle that set up the Bolts at their own 33.

But it was in the punt return game where Davis saw his first learning experience of the preseason.

On a punt return in the middle of the second quarter, Davis muffed a punt that eventually rolled out of bounds.

And although the muffed punt didn't end up in a turnover, Staley hopes that this can be a building block as Davis continues to grow as a returner.

"Just have to trust his fundamentals," Staley said about Davis. "I think a learning experience for him, on a kick that's kind of sidelining over there, is just really making sure that we track it.

"I think his punt fundamentals are where, I think, he has the most room to grow," Staley added. "That was an instance of it. When he was returning the football tonight, I liked his ball security."

Browse through live action photos of the Bolts Preseason Week 2 matchup against the Saints at SoFi Stadium.

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