The Chargers have Sunday off from training camp, and will return to work Monday in full pads.
With four days of practice in the books, we got a few of the Chargers' beat writers together to discuss their early impressions of camp.
Here's what Daniel Popper (The Athletic), Jeff Miller (Los Angeles Times), Elliott Teaford (Southern California News Group) and Eric Smith (Chargers.com) had to say:
What were your early overall impressions of the Chargers through four days of camp?
Popper: I have been really surprised by how quickly the defense has jelled despite all the offseason acquisitions. With so many new faces, I expected there to be an acclimation period and perhaps some hiccups early —alignment errors, coverage breakdowns, etc. But we have seen virtually none of that. I think a big reason why is many of these additions — Khalil Mack, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Bryce Callahan, Troy Reeder — have played in this scheme before at some of Brandon Staley's previous stops. Impressive nonetheless. And it is a very positive development for a defensive unit that has to improve in 2022.
Miller: The defense has mostly dominated, which isn't at all surprising at the start of an NFL team's training camp. Most defenses look awesome early on as the offenses search for their timing. But, given how much the Chargers struggled on defense last season, the playmaking through four days was impressive. J.C. Jackson breaking up a pass on his first 11-on-11 rep as a Charger was almost poetic.
Teaford: I'm impressed by the level of optimism so far. If you look around there's lots of depth and lots of skill and some good competition heating up. This is my first camp after moving to the Chargers beat and my first up-close look at Justin Herbert, who is very impressive.
Smith: The energy surrounding this team. Perhaps it's because I'm still a bit new, and the past week was my first time seeing the Bolts in person, but it's hard not to be impressed by the time. Head Coach Brandon Staley sets the tone with his passion and energy, and the have players followed suit. Even though the pads aren't on yet, the first four days weren't boring, to say the least.
Check out some shots of the Bolt Fam packing the Jack Hammett Sports Complex on Back Together Saturday!
Which player caught your eye in non-padded practices?
Popper: The easy answer is some of the star players on defense. Khalil Mack has made some plays in run defense. J.C. Jackson has been excellent in coverage, most notably in some heated battles with Mike Williams. But I would also add some lower-on-the-depth chart guys. Wide receiver Michael Bandy is having an outstanding camp so far. The two Day 3 corners — Ja'Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard — look like they have a chance to be solid players in the league. Second-year safety Mark Webb, who has gotten significant run with Derwin James sitting out, is playing fast.
Miller: We saw very little of Khalil Mack in the offseason program as the Chargers slow-tracked him coming off his foot injury. He has appeared to be explosive and disruptive in the start to his Chargers career. Mack was productive in 2021 before getting hurt. He even pushed through the injury for a while and was still making plays until he no longer to remain on the field. His early showing should be encouraging to the Chargers and their fans.
Teaford: Herbert, of course, really catches your eye. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are impressive. My eyes keep going to Kyle Van Noy and Khalil Mack. I'm eager to see them in pads. Derwin James, too, once his contract extension is complete.
Smith: I was tempted to go with Mack, who has been all over the place, but I'll let Jeff take him. Instead, I'll go with a player Elliott mentioned in Van Noy. He lined up on the outside this spring, but has shifted to the inside linebacker spot in camp. Van Noy can play either role, so he's likely just getting some work in different spots. But the reason I picked him is that he is always chatting with Staley. The two seem to have multiple conversations each day, and Staley has raved about his leadership. Van Noy might not put up eye-popping stats in 2022, but don't underestimate the impact he can have on this defense.
What are you looking forward to tracking when the pads come on next week?
Popper: O line vs. D line one-on-ones. These are going to be high-level battles. Rashawn Slater vs. Joey Bosa and Mack. Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson vs. Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley and Zion Johnson. I am particularly interested to see how Johnson performs in his first real NFL test. Even further, we will get our first looks at how much Trey Pipkins and Storm Norton — the two players fighting for the starting right tackle job — have improved. Same goes for Jerry Tillery, the former first-round pick who is battling for a roster spot.
Miller: I'm very interested in seeing Isaiah Spiller play some real football. Brandon Staley has talked about how difficult it is to evaluate running backs in non-padded practices. That ends Monday. Even with his baby face, Spiller looks like an NFL back, with serious cutting ability. Should be fun watching him try to break tackles and make people miss now.
Teaford: I'm eager to see the battle between the lines when the players start hitting. It'll be a good sign if the defensive line is as improved as the Chargers hope it is. I want to see if Ekeler and Spiller can run against the D-line, too.
Smith: Popper stole my answer here. The battles in the trenches will be appointment viewing if you ask me. But I'll also mention the wide receivers against the secondary. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams have looked solid, as have J.C. Jackson, Asante Samuel, Jr., and others. Staley wants his team to be more physical in 2022, and these two groups should be fun to watch come Monday.
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