What can we expect from Easton Stick against the Raiders? (Nick via email)
Easton Stick has waited nearly five seasons for Thursday night, as the Chargers quarterback will make his first NFL start in Week 15 against the Raiders.
The 28-year-old will get a chance to shine in primetime after Justin Herbert was placed on Injured Reserve after having surgery on his fractured right index finger.
Did Stick want to make his first start earlier? Of course.
He was also a realist as shared a quarterback room with Philip Rivers, and later Herbert, since being drafted in the fifth round in 2019.
"I've been here and watched Justin, watched Philip … that's the standard," Stick said. "The quarterback play here has been really good so I'm just trying to do my best.
Stick later added: "You're a competitor and you want to be out there. But you understand the dynamics of this league. Let's be honest, it's hard to sit in that meeting room and watch Philip Rivers and Justin Herbert and say, 'I should be out there.' There's some reality to that, sure."
Now that Stick's moment is here, he's flying by the seat of his pants a bit given that the Chargers have just four days between games in Weeks 14 and 15.
"You ignore it as much as you can," Stick said of the buildup around his first start. "Luckily this week you can do that because there's no time.
"As soon as we were done on Sunday, guys were already doing stuff to get ready for Thursday," Stick added. "There's a lot of work to be done and we're kind of sprinting through the week. I think that's a good thing."
But those who have seen up close in recent seasons believe his is ready for his chance.
Left tackle Rashawn Slater said Stick displayed a calmness at quarterback when he came in Sunday against the Broncos.
"We see him every day in practice, we know what he's about. It wasn't like any panic or anything like that," Slater said.
And, while Stick certainly is not Herbert, Slater said the two do share some similar qualities.
"A lot of the same toughness, the same focus, attention to detail. That's something I've always noticed with him, he's just as detailed. That's always stood out to me," Slater said of Stick.
Stick said Tuesday that he has a strong understanding of the playbook and has worked tirelessly on his mechanics and footwork since entering the league.
But his drive and competitiveness haven't waned over the years.
Remember, this is a guy who he had the best college career in terms of FCS wins, finishing his career with a 49-3 record as a starter at North Dakota State.
Stick is North Dakota State's all-time leader in passing yards (8,693) and passing touchdowns (88), and was a part of four FCS National Title teams with the Bison, including two as the starter. He also holds the school record for most total touchdowns (129) and the Missouri Valley Football Conference record for rushing yards (2,523) and rushing touchdowns (41) by a quarterback.
"I understand that North Dakota State is not the National Football League," Stick said. "But I'm used to winning. I only know one way. This is a production business and I understand that. Just going to go out there and try to play my best."
Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said: "He's a winner. You take a look at his track record at North Dakota State, that's all he's ever done is win. He knows how to run a team, lead a team. He's been great for our team since I've been here and we're excited for him."
Stick said Tuesday that he doesn't have any pregame speech planned and hopes to let the game flow come to him in terms of getting in a rhythm.
"No nerves. Maybe on Thursday but that's kind of standard for everybody before you go out there," Stick said. "Obviously, this isn't how I envisioned it when they selected me five years ago. But this is what you want as a kid, an opportunity to go play, so I'm excited for that.
Stick later added: "There's not much difference other than the fact that there's some certainty behind it. You know at least the first snap you'll be out there. You have to prepare like you're the guy every week."
In roughly 48 hours, it will be Stick's time to shine.
No, I think both of those players will be fine in the long term at their current spots.
Keep in mind that there was bound to be some shuffling of the Chargers offensive line heading into this season.
With Slater returning from injury, Trey Pipkins III coming back in free agency and Corey Linsley still at center, three of the positions were pretty set in stone.
Salyer was super impressive at left tackle as a rookie but a move to right guard made sense because he had experience playing there in college.
Ditto for Johnson, who was one of college football's best left guards in 2021 on the way to being a first-round pick.
Have both of those players exceeded expectations so far? Perhaps not.
If we look at the 52 guards who have played at least 500 snaps this season, Johnson ranks 38th while Salyer is 44th in terms of Pro Football Focus grades.
But I'd argue that the entire offensive line — not just those two players — hasn't met preseason expectations, something Staley echoed last week.
"I think that it's been inconsistent. I think we've been good in spurts, and I think that we've shown quality run and pass, but it's been inconsistent," Staley said. "But, it's a good group of guys. They're working hard. I think that it's fair to say that our best football is in front of us."
Johnson and Salyer are still young players who will only be in their third seasons in 2024. I expect them to be key parts of the Bolts offense going forward so don't give up on them now.
There's no singular answer here.
As we head into Week 15, the Bolts offense ranks 15th in EPA per play.
But the offense was ranked seventh in that metric just three games ago before tough outings against the Ravens, Patriots and Broncos. The Chargers managed just 17 combined points in those three games.
If we look at the bigger picture, inconsistent performances across the board has played a part.
Other factors that come to mind include a disappointing run game, dropped passes and up-and-down play up front.
Injuries and the loss of certain players also added up, whether it's been the loss of Corey Linsley, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler or Joshua Palmer.
At full strength, the Chargers should have one of the league's top offenses. Unfortunately, they haven't had their full complement of skill players outside of Week 1.
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