The second week of Chargers Training Camp is in the rearview mirror, as the Bolts are now halfway through camp.
The team held a scrimmage Sunday night and are off Monday before more practices later in the week. The Chargers are at the Rams in the first preseason game Saturday evening at SoFi Stadium.
Here are five takeaways from the second week of camp:
1. The competition has been elite
You want to know the sign of a good team?
It's when both sides of the ball repeatedly make plays and neither unit is able to dominate for a long stretch in camp.
That's been the exact recipe so far in camp, as the Bolts offense will shine one day before the defense responds and is the winner at the next practice.
"We are where we expect to be, which is that we want that practice field to be alive, we want there to be the consistency of the playmaking and the competition, overall execution," Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said. "I think we're developing the depth in special teams, which is so important to your club. We've been able to get a lot of good evaluation out there.
"With some of these linemen being out on both sides, we've been able to really evaluate them against good people. The preseason is about finding out who that best 53 is, but I like the way this team is coming together," Staley added. "This team cares about each other, you can see it. We're competing the right ways. There are a lot of special players out there. I just think both sides of the ball are making each other better, and that's what I expect."
The Chargers ended almost every practice this week with a 2-minute drill as both units had their share of big plays.
The Bolts red-zone defense denied the offense a score Thursday, only to have the offense fire back Friday when Justin Herbert hit Joshua Palmer for a 30-yard touchdown in the final minute.
Then it was the defense who shut the door on a 2-minute drive Saturday when Kenneth Murray, Jr., and Alohi Gilman put a stop to a pair of end-of-half scenarios with interceptions.
And although the defense had the upper hand early in Sunday night's scrimmage, the offense rallied back late for end the session on a strong note.
All in all, both sides have had their ups and downs in camp, and it's simply because the competition level is at an all-time high.
"Whether it's 1-on-1s, 7-on-7, team periods, these guys have been getting after it," said quarterback Justin Herbert. "I think that's great because we're pushing each other.
"As long as the offense is pushing the defense and vice-versa, we're going to get better," Herbert added. "It might not always go our way, but to have those guys push us, I think that's been big this year."
2. Samuel turning heads in the secondary
Asante Samuel, Jr., has brought it every day of camp thus far.
And whether it's denying touchdowns in the end zone or swatting away passes in 1-on-1 drills, the third-year cornerback has been among the most impressive players at Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
"I'm just trying to get better and make plays for this team," Samuel said following Wednesday's practice.
"I'm feeling good. I feel like our team is getting better each and every day," Samuel later added. "We're just competing really hard. We're making each other better."
Samuel has made 27 starts in his first two seasons in the league and also proved he's a big-game performer with three interceptions in his lone playoff game.
With cornerback J.C. Jackson still working back to full health after a serious knee injury, Samuel's versatility allows the Chargers to line him up in multiple spots in the secondary.
And he's certainly earning playing time with the way he's performed so far in camp.
"Going into this training camp, we've been able to see the versatility that we know that he has, but because of our depth and quality, we feel like we can put him in there more," Staley said. "He's really improved inside because it's a position that's difficult to master, especially the way we play. We put a lot on that position. It's not an easy position to play for us. It's a feature position in our defense.
"He's playing, from a technique standpoint, a lot better because he's in there a lot more. I think you've seen, throughout these practices, him making plays outside and inside," Staley added. "He has to cover the tough guys in both places. He's also done a good job in run support. He just needs to keep improving."
Check out the best shots of the Bolt Fam getting together at Jack Hammett Sports Complex for the second weekend of Chargers Training Camp 2023!
3. Hightower standing out
John Hightower has 10 receptions for 167 yards in his NFL career.
And although there aren't many official stats in camp, he's likely surpassed those numbers in the first nine practices.
Hightower continued to stand out this past week, showcasing a connection with Justin Herbert despite the Chargers already employing the likes of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer and Quentin Johnston as their top receivers.
Palmer has worked with both Herbert and Easton Stick, and has made enough plays that he was brought up in Staley's press conference earlier this week.
"He came in last year and did a really good job of fitting in. I think he got better as he went, got more and more comfortable," Staley said of Hightower. "Through the springtime, I think he really established a good rapport with the quarterbacks and a good foundation in the offense. [Wide Receivers Coach] Chris Beatty, who — as you guys, the people that cover the team — he's one of the top coaches in the NFL. He's done a really good job with him early in camp.
"I think you're seeing John and his playmaking ability because he has real speed, real speed, and he has setup, and he has enough size that gives the quarterback a lot of things to throw to. He's off to a good start to camp," Staley added. "I think we're much deeper at the receiver position, just in general. When you onboard Q and Derius [Davis], and then you got Keelan [Doss] and Hightower and Jalen [Guyton] coming here sometime in the future. We just like the depth of that room right now."
Herbert said Sunday that the Chargers will likely need to rely on their wide receiver depth at some point in 2023.
"To have guys be able to step up and get timing with them, I think that's huge because they're going to have to play in the one and two spot, eventually. That's part of football — adversity and injuries," Herbert said. "When their name is called, they'll be ready."
4. The run game(s) are a work in progress
The pads have been on for only a week, so it's a little early to fully evaluate the run game on both sides of the ball.
That doesn't mean there have been flashy plays, however, whether it was Sebastian Joseph-Day making his presence felt on a pair of run stuffs, of a 15-yard touchdown run from Joshua Kelley in the scrimmage.
Overall, center Corey Linsley said the offense is hammering away at making sure that area of the offense continues to improve.
"I think that we're talking about it a lot. We're putting a lot of emphasis," Linsley said. "Again, only speaking about what's going on right now. I feel like our emphasis on it, the things that we've worked on from [Offensive Coordinator] Kellen [Moore], to [Brendan] Nuge [Nugent], to [Assistant Offensive Line Coach] Shaun [Sarrett], [Offensive Assistant] Phil [Serchia], down to us.
"It's all been relayed. It's all been focused on, worked on. We just have to keep that up," Linsley added. "We can't have a few good days and then back off, do you know what I mean? We just have to keep it rolling."
Defensively, stopping the run might be the main point of emphasis given the inconsistency at it from a year ago.
"That is the enemy of run defense, space," said Joseph-Day. "Closing it down. Closing it down fast and being able to react fast and play fast.
"Just play rugged. That's what I feel like we're harping on this camp. It's been very physical. It's been very fun. We're getting better," Joseph-Day added.
5. An update on special teams
There was a bit more clarity on the Chargers kicking situation Sunday night.
Staley said that Dustin Hopkins is dealing is something physically, which explains why Cameron Dicker has been taking all the reps of late.
"He's just working his way back into practice. He's been doing a lot of work on the side," Staley said of Hopkins.
Dicker has been strong while getting plenty of work this past week as he's now made 39 of 43 total kicks in camp, good for a 90.7-percent success rate.
The youngster was on fire in the night scrimmage as he hit all nine kicks he attempted, five of which came from 33 yards out, the same distance as an extra point.
Punter JK Scott also got his first extended work in Sunday and looked solid in terms of both hang time and distance.
Davis continues to get the first crack at both punt and kickoff return duties.
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