The pads are on at Chargers Training Camp.
The Bolts practiced in full pads for the first time in camp, going for two hours Monday morning at Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
Here are three observations from today's practice:
1. Time to get serious
There was a different vibe in the air Monday.
Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley summed it up best:
"There was a good pace out there. Any time that you put the pads on, you kind of start training camp with the physicality and the blocking and the tackling," Staley said. "That's where it all began, so it was good. A good tempo out there today. I thought it was good start."
Staley noted after practice that he wants tackling to be an emphasis for the Bolts this camp. The focus Monday was on 1-on-1 drills that featured strong battles up and down the roster.
J.C. Jackson and Joshua Palmer split a pair of 1-on-1 reps near the end zone. Palmer scored on their first meeting but Jackson locked up the wide receiver for an incompletion the next time out.
Mike Williams and Quentin Johnston — both big-bodied wide receivers — showed off their athleticism with leaping touchdown catches in the back corner of the end zone in the drill.
Other standouts included Derwin James, Jr., Keenan Allen and Deane Leonard, while Raheem Layne also showed physicality while forcing an incompletion.
The trenches also got their first real evaluation in pads after months in helmets and shorts.
The best battles came with Rashawn Slater matched up against Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa.
Slater and Mack were even on their first rep before the left tackle got the better of the battle in Round 2. Slater then forged a draw against Bosa before the edge rusher won their second rep together.
Another good battle Monday included Sebastian Joseph-Day against Jamaree Salyer, while Zion Johnson won two of his three reps.
Defensively, Nick Williams had a strong day on the interior in 1-on-1 drills.
2. Young DBs show growth
The Bolts have lauded their cornerback depth this offseason, and it was on full display Monday.
Leonard was among Monday's standouts as he flashed nearly every time the ball was thrown his way.
The second-year cornerback forced back-to-back incompletions in the red zone before denying Johnston a deep pass in full-team drills.
He then came back on the final play of practice and denied the offense a touchdown in the end zone.
Staley said Leonard has been making progress defensively after being a special teams ace as a rookie.
"That's an area that we've really focused on. He has really good speed. He has good size," Staley said. "I think playing with his back to the ball and identifying his press fundamentals, because he has a lot of good traits to work with.
"As you guys know, he made a really big impact on our team on special teams. Now, we see him as a guy that, at corner, we can continue to develop," Staley added. 'As you guys see out there, to defend this group of receivers that we have to defend, especially down in the red area, it's going to make everybody better."
A pair of other young defensive backs also fared well on Monday.
Asante Samuel, Jr., had an interception at the goal line while Ja'Sir Taylor forced incompletions on three straight pass plays that came his way in the end zone in full-team drills.
Take a look back at the first week of Chargers Training Camp 2023 in monochrome
3. Plenty of red-zone work
As you probably gleaned from the first two takeaways, the Bolts spent the majority of Monday's session inside the 20-yard line.
That was highlighted by the final period in practice where the offense faced third-down situations inside the 10-yard line, creating scenarios where the team either scored or how to settle for hypothetical field goals.
That's where Taylor shined on three straight plays.
Earlier in practice, the defense showed out in a full-team period.
Sebastian Joseph-Day led the way on a run stop for no gain before the Bolts run defense denied the offense a score on a third-down run inside the 5-yard line.
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