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Chargers Camp Report: Bolts Run Defense Stout Against Cowboys


That's a wrap on joint practices between the Chargers and Cowboys.

The teams completed the second of two sessions Thursday afternoon at Jack Hammett Sports Complex, practicing for over two hours.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said the Bolts got exactly what they wanted out of the practices.

"I thought these last two days of work were just incredible for both teams. I think the quality of coaching, the quality of play just made both teams better," Staley said. 'I just really appreciate [Cowboys Head Coach] Mike [McCarthy] and the Jones family and all of the players for Dallas. Just a lot of respect for them.

"I thought it was two great days of work," Staley added. "I know that we really improved as a football team."

Here are five observations from the 16th day of camp:

1. A menacing run defense

The Cowboys rushing attack offered perhaps the best preseason test the Chargers could ask for, as Dallas routinely ranks among the league's top teams on the ground.

But the Bolts passed that test with flying colors Thursday, shutting down the Dallas running game with help from everyone on the field.

The success began early, when Austin Johnson stuffed Tony Pollard for a short gain on the third play of a team drill. Sebastian Joseph-Day showed up on the very next play, getting into the backfield to stop Ezekiel Elliott for a tackle for loss.

Two plays later, it was Troy Reeder who held up Elliott at the line of scrimmage. Pollard was denied any room to run by Amen Ogbongbemiga on the ensuing play.

That team period ended in style, too, with Breiden Fehoko and Christian Covington teaming up for a tackle for loss that sent Dallas two yards backwards.

The menacing run defense only continued after that, as Drue Tranquill, Jamal Davis II, Raheem Layne and Morgan Fox each made plays behind or near the line of scrimmage against the Cowboys rushing attack.

"Today was a good measuring stick, these last two days were good measuring sticks, against a really quality running football team, two really quality backs," Staley said. "It takes all 11 guys to play good run defense, you guys have heard me say it.

"It's not just the interior players that you guys know about, it's everybody that's improving. It's been a point of emphasis, for sure," Staley added. "Definitely was a weakness — the weakness — of us last year, and we're working hard to improve it."

2. The offense shows resolve

Chargers players and coaches realized the benefit of joint practices against the Cowboys right away.

After all, going up against the likes of edge rushers Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and others will give any offense a headache.

After an up-and-down showing Wednesday by the Bolts offense, Staley said he was proud of how that group responded in the final joint practice.

"It's a competitive group over there for Dallas. They have a lot of really good rushers, a lot of good rushers," Staley said. "The style of play is very different than what they see from us every day, in terms of the quickness, and there's a lot of smaller guys that are really, really twitchy, really athletic.

"There are a lot of new rush packages that you're having to figure it out on the fly. I think it was good for our team to have to block a different style because there are a lot of teams in the NFL that play that style," Staley added. "In the first day, offensively, on both sides of the ball, they have to get used to a new style because the way we play on defense is completely different than their group."

Check out the best photos from the Bolts hosting the Dallas Cowboys on the fifteenth day of Training Camp 2022 at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa!

3. Hopkins perfect on the day

Both teams let their kickers get some work in on Thursday. For the Chargers, that meant a superb day for Dustin Hopkins.

The veteran nailed all eight of his field goal attempts, which ranged from 33 to 53 yards.

Hopkins actually hit his longest kick right away, making it from 53 yards out before hitting from 48, 43 and 40 yards as he moved in.

James McCourt then stepped in for four kicks of his own before Hopkins went back out for four more kicks.

Hopkins started off with a success from 46 yards out before being true from 42, 36 and 33 yards away.

McCourt had an uneven day, missing his first three tries before making one from 40 yards out. He then missed his next two attempts, including one from 42 yards out that hit the left upright, before his final kick from 36 yards out was good.

4. Tillery flashes in 1-on-1 drills

Unlike Wednesday's practice, the teams didn't hold 1-on-1 drill with pass catchers and defensive backs, nor running backs and linebackers.

But the trenches did go up against each other again, as I watched the Chargers defense against the Cowboys offense this time.

A player that stood out? Jerry Tillery, who won both of his reps against center Braylon Jones. Tillery went with a power move on the first rep to move Jones into the backfield, and came back with a finesse move the next time to win that rep.

Tillery, by the way, later flashed in team drills with a sack that was counted.

That juiciest matchup was between Joey Bosa and Tyron Smith on the edge, but the Cowboys left tackle — who is likely headed to the Hall of Fame one day — won both of those matchups.

Chris Rumph II, Fehoko, Johnson, Fox and Carlo Kemp each had had wins on the day.

5. Mixed results in 2-minute drill for starters

The teams ended Thursday's session with a 2-minute situation.

For the Bolts, that meant mixed results for their starters.

For context, each team's offense started at their own 46-yard line down by five points with 48 seconds left.

Offensively, an interception that ended the Bolts drive after just one play.

Defensively, however, the Chargers first-team defense ended on a high note.

Khalil Mack pressured Dak Prescott on the first play as the quarterback threw the ball away. And although the Cowboys eventually moved the ball into Chargers territory, the drive soon stalled.

J.C. Jackson had airtight coverage for force an incompletion before Prescott completed a pass down to the 25-yard line, but the clock expired as the Bolts defense secured the situational win.

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