Below are three takeaways from Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, outside linebacker Khalil Mack and wide receiver Quentin Johnston's media availability on Monday:
Bolts kick-off padded practices
The pads were on Monday in Costa Mesa.
The Chargers practiced for almost two hours with live contact for the first time during training camp — sending the intensity up another level. The Bolts' day consisted of some 1-on-1's and team drills in addition to tackling and blocking drills.
Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley was pleased with the first padded practice and noted the importance of the pads coming on at this point of the year as well what areas the team really focuses on as they begin to experience the live contact.
"There was a good pace out there," Staley said. "Any time that you put the pads on, you kind of start training camp with the physicality and the blocking and the tackling. That's where it all began, so it was good.
"A good tempo out there today," Staley added. "I thought it was good start."
For veterans, like outside linebacker Khalil Mack, the first day of pads is something he looks forward to for himself and also to get a better understanding of his teammates.
"It's always fun putting on the pads," Mack said. "It's where you get to do the real assessment of all the players, know your game and still be getting better every day."
The start of padded practices serve as a launch point to continue and work on the tackling drills specifically — an area of the game that can't be completely replicated without contact.
And it's an area that can affect the entire defense.
Staley spoke about the tackling aspect now that the pads are on and emphasized it as something that will surely be worked on as camp progresses.
"It's the No. 1 fundamental for defense," Staley said. "What it leads to is, if you're a quality tackling team, you're going to limit all the big plays, the explosions.
"The way the NFL calendar is now, you don't get pads in the springtime, so you don't get to practice it nearly enough as you need to be good at it," Staley added. "What we want to make sure that we do, and it's just a big emphasis in this camp, is to tackle as much as we can — not live to the ground, but we want there to be as much contact as possible.
Staley continued: "Explosive plays, we gave up far too many last season, and tackling was a big part of it. That had a big factor in our run defense, as well. Tackling leads to your special teams and your defense, and it's so fundamental to your team. We're going to make sure that we spend a lot of time on it."
The first day of pads continued the high level of competition that's been displayed for the first couple practices of camp.
There's a long way to go, but it's a good start that the Bolts can continue to build on, according to Staley.
"We're going to continue to make each other better because there's a lot of good competition on both sides of the ball up front," Staley said. "It's going to bring out the best in everybody. This is the first day, we're going to look at this film and say, 'Hey, our pad level wasn't good enough and, hey, our angles weren't good enough, we didn't fit our hands right.' That's where you got to start.
"You got to have a starting point. We're just going to keep getting better as we go," Staley added. "Like you saw today, there were a lot of runs out there, and that was by design. We want to see these guys fit their pads and be able to feel what you need to in order to be good in the run game."
Johnston's 1st NFL Camp
Quentin Johnston has only experienced a few NFL training camp practices, but he sure has made some plays.
The Chargers' 2023 first-round pick has flashed his ability and speed during the start of camp including a highlight grab in the end zone during Monday's practice.
Johnston has now been in the building for a couple of months now as he gears up for his rookie campaign. The start of camp and everything in between has been something the first round pick has enjoyed, with every day being a learning experience.
"It's very fast paced," Johnston said. "It has its ups and downs, a big learning curve for me.
"At the same time, I'm getting ahold of everything pretty quickly, so it's been fun for me," Johnston added.
Johnston's development from the moment he arrived to training camp has been clear, but as is with all rookies, there is always a learning curve as you continue along.
But Staley believes that Johnston will only continue to get better, especially with the level of talent he has to lean on in his own position group.
"He cares a lot about his game. He works really hard. He can make big plays," Staley said. "He's still a work-in-progress, in terms of learning what to do and how to do it, but he can do it.
"Like I told you guys, he doesn't have the pressure on him right away to go out there and have to do everything, he can learn from these three guys, who are all feature receivers in the league," Staley added. "Josh Palmer had 70-plus catches last year and he was our No. 1 and led us to the playoffs. These three guys are as good as it gets. He can learn how to play receiver and we can find a role for him where he's impactful. He's doing a good job on special teams, too."
Having Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Palmer in the room is something that is immensely valuable for a rookie wide receiver like Johnston.
Johnston has spoken glowingly about having the level of receivers to learn from and it has continued into camp, as the rookie continues to try and learn as much as he can from the vets.
"I said when I was first drafted the unit has been a blessing," Johnston said. "Being under those guys, especially as a new guy coming in; learning from those multi-time Pro Bowlers.
"It's good for me to sit back and listen to what they have to say, take some of their game and apply it to my game and make myself better," Johnston added.
Mack's second year with Bolts
This time a year ago, outside linebacker Khalil Mack was going through his highly anticipated first year with the Chargers — and getting to know his new coaches and teammates.
Fast forward to today, the veteran now has a season in the powder blues under his belt and is feeling more comfortable and familiar with everything than he was just a year ago.
"Absolutely, especially getting to know everybody, having a relationship with coaches and the players," Mack said. "It's a lot more fun this year."
Mack enters his second year with the Bolts coming off of a Pro Bowl season where he played all 17 games, finishing with 8.0 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
Now entering his second season with the Chargers, Mack hopes that this one can feature more alongside fellow outside linebacker Joey Bosa, who he says he's grown closer with over the last year.
"Oh yeah, man," Mack said about Bosa. "Just getting to know him, putting the time in on and off the field. It's continued to grow.
"We're trying to put something together on the field for y'all for 17 games, at least," Mack said.
Mack made his presence felt on the field and as a leader in just his first season with the Bolts, being named team captain and hosting team dinners.
And even though Herbert mentioned last week that he would now pay for some team dinners, Mack says that he still wants to take care of the team in that department.
"Nah, I told him, 'You have money, but I still have the dinner.' It's all good. I'll take it," Mack said. "He might try to beat me to it. He's a humble guy.
"He might not let me pay for it and we might have to fight it out a couple of times, but it is what it is," Mack added with a laugh.
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