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Final Thoughts: Why Quentin Johnston is Ready for Bigger Role in Bolts Offense

5Takes Quentin

The Chargers are back home Sunday against the Raiders in the Bolts first AFC West game of 2023.

Kickoff is at 1:05 p.m. (PT) from SoFi Stadium.

Here are five final thoughts ahead of Week 4:

1. An update on Corey Linsley

Chargers center Corey Linsley did not practice all week and was ruled out for Sunday's game with an illness.

Linsley will be placed on the Non-Football Illness List on Saturday with a "non-emergent heart-related medical issue."

He will continue working with doctors and specialists in the days ahead but is said to be in good spirits.

A player who is placed in Injured Reserve must miss at least four games.

Will Clapp will start in place of Linsley on Sunday against the Raiders and in future games.

2. Johnston ready for larger role

Quentin Johnston is ready for his moment.

The Chargers rookie wide receiver is expected to take on a larger role in the Chargers offense — both Sunday and beyond — after Mike Williams was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

The Bolts 2023 first-round pick said this week that he's learned plenty so far from Keenan Allen, Williams and Joshua Palmer. But now it's time for him to shine in bigger moments.

"I'm ready for it. I feel like I came into a great situation in the first place, coming behind guys like Mike, Keenan and Josh," Johnston said. "Just watching them all the time and taking what they know from past experiences and applying it to my game, it's been good."

Allen offered some advice to his fellow wide receiver this week.

"We're going to need him to be him. Be the guy that we drafted," Allen said. "We don't need no more or no less. When you get drafted [as a] first-round talent, we need first-round talent."

The Bolts will surely miss Williams' big-play ability, both on vertical routes and contested catches.

Johnston has somewhat of a similar skillset to Williams and said this week he's simply going to be himself starting Sunday.

"We're keeping everything how it was," Johnston said. "Just putting me in more of a position to go out there in certain sets and get more playing time."

Johnston said this week that he hopes to catch a couple passes early to "get in a good flow" against the Raiders.

Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore echoed that sentiment.

"I think like any young guy, it's just going through the process," Moore said. "Training camp, you introduced a lot of different language, concepts and all of that sort of stuff. I thought he did a good job of just continuing to build, continuing to grow each week.

"You're at point where he's got a few games underneath his belt. His rep count will certainly go higher and higher," Moore added. "I think he just needs that moment where he'll go catch a couple of balls in this game and go from there."

The Bolts initial plan was to bring Johnston along at his own pace as a rookie but Williams' injury changed that timeline a bit.

The Chargers are now excited to see what they have in their first-rounder.

"His role will adjust. The volume will certainly increase," Moore said. "We're excited about it. He'll do a phenomenal job."

3. Safeties shuffle, Kendricks set to return

The Bolts received good news and bad news Friday.

We'll begin with the latter piece of information: starting safety Derwin James, Jr. is doubtful to play Sunday with a hamstring injury. And fellow starter Alohi Gilman is questionable with a heel injury.

"He was out there today," Staley said of Gilman, who was a limited participant Friday. "We'll see how he kind of progresses between now and the game, but his status is to be determined."

Furthermore, JT Woods — who is the Chargers No. 3 safety — is out with an illness.

That could leave second-year safety Raheem Layne as a starter along with Dean Marlowe, who has made 18 starts on various teams in his NFL career.

"Yeah, you said it … we'll have to go with Dean, Raheem," Staley said. "Those guys will be ready to play."

The positive news was that linebacker Eric Kendricks and Kenneth Murray, Jr. both practiced in full and do not have an injury designation for the game.

Staley said he's excited for Kendricks to return to action and also praised the play of Murray and Niemann over the past two games.

"It's been good to have him back," Staley said of Kendricks. "He's fit right in but again, with him our of the lineup we've been able to really learn a lot about Nick Niemann and gained so much confidence in him.

"And then, we've learned about Kenneth Murray. We've learned a lot about him," Staley added. "That's what we expect on our team, is when we do have injuries, and it doesn't matter to whom, especially n important player, a captain, that you have your depth emerge and I think those are two good examples of it. But Eric's worked really hard to get back and it'll be good for us to have him back out there for us."

Murray has worn the green dot and relayed defensive calls the past two weeks, a role he will continue in Sunday, according to Staley. Kendricks, who wore the green dot before his injury, is expected to be on a limited snap count.

"I think it's fair to say Kenneth will have the green dot because again, we're still going to be smart with Eric, it's not like he's going to play 65 snaps in the game," Staley said. "Going to make sure that we're mindful of him in his return to play. He's ready, but we're going to make sure that we're smart with him."

Kendricks, who joined the Bolts as a free agent this offseason, said he's excited about two things: getting back on the field and how Murray has played of late.

"These boys have embraced me here. I love playing football, I'm excited to go out there and play," Kendricks said.

He later added on Murray: "[He's played] outstanding. I feel like he's definitely picked it up. He's a beast, let's see where he goes from here. Sky is the limit."

Staley also noted that rookie linebacker Daiyan Henley will most like play only on special teams in his second game back from his own hamstring injury.

4. An eye on the penalties

The Bolts defense has shown signs of progress in certain areas the past few weeks.

One aspect they're especially focused on in Week 4 against the Raiders?

Eliminating defensive penalties, especially on third downs.

The Chargers have been flagged 10 different times on defensive third downs so far this season, with only one penalty being declined.

"When it's time to play winning football, we have to be on all cylinders," said outside linebacker Khalil Mack. "Penalties hurt us again, third week in a row, on third downs especially. Just constantly learning from mistakes you make on the field, whether you win or lose."

"It's concerning but it was also the third game of the year. Guys are still learning how to play together," Mack later added. "No worries, but there's a level of detail we need to bring to the game that starts on the practice field."

Of the nine penalties that were accepted, five led to touchdowns by the opposing offense. (A pair of penalties on the same drive led to a Tennessee score in Week 2).

The other infractions led to a field goal, punt, turnover on downs and an interception.

Ansley and Staley said they have highlighted third-down penalties against the Raiders, who have been flagged 23 total times in 2023.

"Rightfully so. We have a lot of those penalties, and some of those penalties have led to points," Ansley said. "We have to coach better. We have to coach them cleaner. We have to hold them to a higher standard in practice of not tugging, playing with the proper leverage. We just have to do a really good job of putting them in the right positions to make those plays."

Staley added: "I think that each penalty has a different story. What you're trying to do is get people to play with the right technique, play with the right leverage. I think each penalty is different, whether it was an actual penalty or not, what you're trying to do is educate why, maybe, that flag was thrown. There are some that we don't agree with, and there are some that we do. The ones that we can learn from, that's what you're after, to play penalty-free. I know how much we emphasize it every day around here. It's a big part of our blueprint. It's why we have officials at every practice that we have — OTAs, training camp and during the regular season. Our guys have to continue to learn and play the right technique so that they can avoid some of those penalties."

Check out the best photos from the Bolts practice on Thursday at Hoag Performance Center.

5. Hello, old friend

Chargers Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken helped change the culture in that phase when he arrived on scene in the spring of 2022.

Ficken had some help, of course, including from DeAndre Carter, who was the Bolts kickoff and punt returner a year ago.

The Chargers will now see Carter on the opposing sideline Sunday as he signed with the Raiders this offseason.

Ficken knows firsthand the challenges created by Carter, who ranked third in the NFL by averaging 11.7 yards per punt return last season.

"He presents a lot of challenges," Ficken said. "This guy, obviously we know, he was third in punt return last year in the NFL and he's a dynamic returner. He does a great job because he's a veteran.

"He's savvy as a returner, so he has a lot of confidence with that. He's a violent runner, he can break tackles," Ficken added. "He's got that acceleration and speed so he's a very dangerous returner and he's definitely got our full attention. We've got to do a great job covering him."

Carter is averaging 8.8 yards per punt return on five attempts so far in 2023.

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