Below are three takeaways from podium sessions on the ninth day of Chargers Training Camp:
Rookie mentorship at training camp
With one week until the Chargers preseason opener at SoFi Stadium, the pads were put back on for the team's ninth practice of training camp. Full pads back on meant the Bolts cranked up the intensity and physicality Saturday during the 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice.
After practice, a pair of Chargers rookies — first-rounder Zion Johnson and fourth-rounder Isaiah Spiller — spoke to the media about how their first training camp in the NFL has gone so far.
"I've been learning a lot," Johnson said. "My goal has been to get better every day. I feel like I've done that. It's been good to build chemistry with the other offensive linemen, with our quarterback, with all of the other guys on the offense. I just love to get better every single day."
The rookie guard's performance at camp has caught the attention of the Bolts coaches and veteran offensive linemen. Center Corey Linsley, fellow guard Matt Feiler and left tackle Rashawn Slater all have complemented Johnson's abilities during their respective times at the podium at camp.
Johnson talked about the type of mentor Linsley has been and how beneficial it has been to have the guidance of Linsley and his fellow lineman.
"He's been very valuable," Johnson said. "He's played a lot of football at a high level and he's a guy that I can bounce things off of, ask questions, and he helps me become a better player. Him, along with Matt and Rashawn, and even [tackle] Storm [Norton] and [tackle] Trey [Pipkins III], all of those guys have had some experience playing at a high level. They've helped me a lot."
As for the compliments he's received from the established veteran linemen, Johnson explained the confidence boost it has given him as he prepares to start at right guard for the Bolts this season. Slater, who started in the Pro Bowl after his rookie season, is another fellow linemen that has given Johnson advice about preparing to start as a rookie.
"He's talked to me a lot about game day, just the feelings, the emotions, the hype behind it," Johnson said of the advice he's received from Slater. "He's another person I talk to and helps me. He gives me little tips and things to stay calm, to really focus on my job. He's just a great resource for me."
Spiller, who's currently competing for the second spot on the running back depth chart, explained how starting running back Austin Ekeler has been a "big help" since he joined the team. Despite the fierce competition at running back for reps behind Ekeler, Spiller talked about getting help from the entire running back room.
"Austin, J.K. [RB Joshua Kelley], [RB] Larry [Rountree III], all of those guys who have been here before me," Spiller said. "Just soaking it up, being the sponge, listen to what they have to say. It's been great."
Update on the competition at right tackle
One of the storylines of camp has been the competition between Pipkins III and Norton as the team decides who will earn the starting right tackle spot.
After Saturday's practice, Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi gave an update on the competition after three padded practices. Lombardi also explained what he feels will help the most in terms of evaluating the two tackles.
"I'm really pleased with both of them right now," Lombardi said. "We'll see how it falls out. The preseason games and the practices against the Cowboys, and as we get more consistently into pads here, that will define itself a little bit more. Maybe [Baseball Hall of Fame inductee] Yogi Berra said it, 'Our depth is deep.' [Laughter] But, I do feel really good about our depth up there."
Lombardi went into more depth when asked about Pipkins and why he Pipkins' game is at a much different spot than it was a season ago.
"I feel like there's confidence.," Lombardi said. "More consistency, understanding that you have to come out every day and be ready to go. I haven't seen some of the dips, maybe, that we saw last year in his performance. A lot of consistency. He's a talented guy. He's been playing more like what you would expect from him so far in camp. I just see more confidence and consistency."
As for the rest of the offense, Lombardi gave his assessment on where he feels that unit is at as they prepare for the first intrasquad scrimmage of camp on Sunday evening.
"We're kind of getting to the end of the bulk of the install," Lombardi said. "Hopefully, from here on, we can start polishing and cleaning up some of the alignments and details on the splits and some of ort protection adjustments versus the different looks that the defense is starting to give us. A lot of little things to clean up, but I think that there are a lot of good players out here that are performing well, so excited about that."
Johnson on his attention to detail, love for the game
As Johnson prepares for his first season in the NFL, he described the biggest challenge when it comes to adjusting to the style of play at the highest level of football.
"I would say just the attention to detail at all times," Johnson said. "In college, you can sometimes get away with things better than others. But, in the NFL, you have to be detailed and specific on everything at all times. That's something that's a bit of an adjustment, but I feel like I've been kind of taking the initiative in that adjustment and doing well with that."
Lombardi continued the compliments the rookie has received since joining the Bolts and his excitement for not only Johnson, but fellow rookie guard Jamaree Salyer.
"A real mature player. Strong. Really excited about both of these rookie guards —Jamaree, as well — both are incredibly strong. The pocket is very firm in there and they can get movement in the run game."
"Both of those rookies, our defense does have some challenging line stunts, so, right now, that's their biggest challenge; the set patterns and recognizing when those things are coming and reacting to them. I think there is a lot of upside with both of those guys."
Johnson's maturity as a young professional athlete shows on the field, but also in the way he talks about handling the pressure of starting as a rookie in the NFL.
"At the end of the day, I'm playing football and I love the game," Johnson said. "I want to win. I want to be here. I want to win games. I don't feel the pressure. There may be some, but at the end of the day, I'm just playing the game with my teammates."
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