Below are three takeaways from Chargers media availability with Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi, Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill and Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken before Thursday's practice:
Tranquill, Murray, Jr., making early impression
Four weeks into the season, Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill leads the team with 22 solo tackles and 33 combined tackles. Tranquill's Week 1 interception against the Las Vegas Raiders also him tied with three other Chargers defenders for the second-most interceptions on the team.
Tranquill's performance through Week 4 has caught the eye of Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, who said on Monday that the fourth-year linebacker is playing at a "very high level" four games into the season.
Chargers Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill has also taken notice of Tranquill's play thus far and talked about what he and fellow linebacker Kenneth Murray, Jr., mean to the Bolts defense.
"Drue has been steady," Hill said. "Every practice, I feel like he's gaining more and more confidence, along with Kenneth Murray.
"I think that the combination of having both of them out there for this amount of time — there have been spurts where you have Drue at one point, Kenneth at one — but they've been healthy," Hill added.
Murray ranks fourth in tackles on defense with 16 combined tackles (nine solo). Hill explained why the extra reps the linebackers have had at practice and on gamedays is showing up in the way the are preforming together this season.
"I think that it just helps them build confidence," Hill said. "I think the more reps that you get at that position, and the more and more they see how people are trying to attack them, and knowing the defense, being in Year 2, I just think that it is gaining those guys more and more confidence.
They're playing fast," Hill added. "They're playing lights out. They're making all of the adjustments fast and quick, and that's what you want those guys behind the ball to do."
Just like every week in the NFL, a new week means a new opponent and a new challenge. This weekend in Cleveland, Tranquill and Murray now prepare to slow down the running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Browns average a 187.3 yards on the ground, the second-most in the NFL.
Ficken gives update on Chargers kickers
Staley explained Wednesday that kicker Dustin Hopkins would be added to the Injury Report after dealing with tightness in his right quadricep.
"He kind of felt something the other day," Staley said on Wednesday. "Unrelated to the game. Just some tightness."
Hopkins was in fact added to the Injury Report after Wednesday's practice, and was listed as a limited participant on both days so far this week.
On Thursday, Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken talked about Hopkins injury and what plans they have on special teams if the injury holds Hopkins out of their Week 5 matchup against the Browns.
The Bolts on Thursday signed veteran kicker Taylor Bertolet to the practice squad in case Hopkins is unable to suit up Sunday.
"We're expecting [Hopkins] to be ready to go on Sunday and if he's not, we have a backup plan," Ficken said. "We're ready to go ahead and work with that, and work through it and also have a contingency plan."
Ficken has confidence in Bertolet, who has spent time with six different NFL teams prior to joining the Bolts since entering the league in 2016, if Hopkins is unable to play in Cleveland.
"He's a veteran kicker," Ficken said. "I know he hasn't had much game experience in the regular season but we like his ball strike, he's got really good leg strength and he's a pro.
"The way he approaches the game, he knows about the kicking game," Ficken added. "He had a nice little workout yesterday, so it'll be exciting to go into it with what he can do if we end up going that route."
Sicken said he has confidence in whichever kicker suits up Sunday.
"My expectations is whoever is up and ready to go, that's who we're going to be playing with until they tell me otherwise. That's our plan," Ficken said.
Check out the best photos of the Chargers Wednesday practice at Hoag Performance Center
Chemistry growing between Pipkins, Johnson
Rookie right guard Zion Johnson and fourth-year right tackle Trey Pipkins III have provided a clean pocket for quarterback Justin Herbert as the two start alongside each other.
According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, Pipkins (244 offensive snaps) and Johnson (273 snaps) have allowed zero sacks and just two quarterback hits through four games. On Thursday, Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi gave his overall assessment of how Pipkins has performed since winning the starting right tackle job in training camp.
"He's been playing really well," Lombardi said. "We kind of made a decision that we're going to give this guy every chance to win that job and had pretty high expectations after really sitting down and just iso-ing his reps at tackle in preseason in those two games.
"I think we had high expectations, but you never know. I think he's met them," Lombardi.
The chemistry between the guard and tackle will have arguably its biggest test of the season in Week 5 as they prepare to face defensive linemen Myles Garrett and Jadaveon Clowney.
"I think they are on the right track," Lombardi said. "We said it before that position you can evaluate each individual, but how we work together with the guys next to them, that's something that takes time and I think the more they play, the better that'll get."
Clowney and Garrett both missed the Browns Week 4 game in Atlanta due to injuries, but Lombardi is preparing the offense for the pass rushing duo to both be back in the lineup on Sunday.
"I think it starts with their defensive ends," Lombardi said. "They are a significant problem. I kind of envy the Falcons that they didn't have to play either of them last week.
"I'm not expecting that we're going to get so lucky. I think it starts with them," Lombardi added. "They are really game-wreckers, both of them."
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