Welcome to Week 9.
Here are five final thoughts ahead of the Chargers-Falcons matchup:
1. Davis focused on effort in starting role
Michael Davis is no stranger to a starting role, as he has started 51 career games with the Bolts — including two this year when J.C. Jackson was out with an ankle injury.
But with Jackson now out for the season with a knee injury, Davis is poised to resume the starting role he had a year ago when he started 14 games.
"Next-man-up mentality," Davis said. "It doesn't matter who's out there playing, our defense always has to be solid and be compact."
Davis had an up-and-down 2021 season in Staley's first year. But when we chatted Friday in the locker room, he said how he performs has nothing to do with the scheme.
"I guess it helps," Davis said of being in his second year in the system. "But the main thing for me was just the effort from last year to this year.
"This year, I've put in a lot more effort and last year is when I think my effort was down," Davis said. "This year, I'm going back to my effort and I think that's making a difference."
Staley said the Bolts will need Davis' experience and skillset down the stretch.
"Back in the spring time, through training camp, we considered Mike a starting corner. Mike has started for three years here," Staley said. "Counting this year, that's four years as a starter in the NFL, so we have a lot of confidence in him. We've won a lot of games with him, just since I've been here, and then even before.
"You need depth like that in order to sustain an injury like J.C.'s. That way, you feel like, 'Hey, man, you still have a starting secondary out there with Mike [Davis], Bryce [Callahan] and Asante [Samuel Jr.].' He's played well for us," Staley added. "He played well in the last game. I think he's had a really good season for us, and we're going to need him to continue to play even better down the stretch."
Chargers Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill added: "Mike has been strong for us. Obviously, his road has changed from last year to this year, but anytime he has been called on, he's been stepping and has been playing really good football. Now he gets more opportunities here, but he's been doing an outstanding job. I think he is just comfortable in the system now. I think him and Derwin [James, Jr.] have a good connection, too, when they play next to each other. I know that's a guy Derwin trusts. Mike has earned everybody's trust on this defense."
Davis has six career interceptions, including one against Atlanta back in 2020.
2. Battle through it
It will be all hands on deck for the Chargers in Sunday's game in Atlanta.
Yes, the Bolts have been hit hard by injuries this season, and even the bye week wasn't a reprieve.
Keenan Allen and Donald Parham, Jr., both tweaked their hamstring injuries and won't play in Week 9. Jerry Tillery injured his back lifting weights this week and also won't play.
Other such as Mike Williams, Dustin Hopkins and Chris Rumph II are out due to injuries suffered in recent games.
Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley summed up the mindset of his team right now.
"I think it is part of the NFL, part of sports," Staley said. "We're trying to do everything we can to make sure that that doesn't happen, and when it does, take a good look at your program and assess it the best you can.
"Right now, our team is prepared for Atlanta," Staley added. "Those guys that are going to be wearing Chargers shoulder pads and helmets are going to be ready to play that game."
With Allen and Williams out, there is extra focus on the wide receiver group.
Joshua Palmer will play after dealing with a recent concussion, but DeAndre Carter is questionable for Sunday due to an illness.
If Carter doesn't play, that means only one of the five receivers on the Chargers initial 53-man roster (Palmer) will be active Sunday.
"It's a big one. I just want to take advantage of it," Palmer said of the opportunity that awaits him Sunday. "Like I was saying before, just being on the same page with Justin [Herbert], doing what the coaches are asking me to do to the best of my abilities. Just play my game."
The Bolts currently have Jason Moore, Jr. and Michael Bandy on the active roster, with Joe Reed, John Hightower and Keelan Doss on the practice squad.
"It's definitely tough to lose guys like that," Herbert said of Allen and Williams. "We're very aware of how special they are, but we think really highly of the guys behind them.
"They have done a great job stepping up all through camp, all throughout the season. It will be a good challenge for us," Herbert added.
Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi said he expects everyone who is healthy enough to play to be able to chip in.
"I think all of those guys have to be ready," Lombardi said. "We'll see what happens on game day, but like I said before, I think there is enough there to be successful.
"I think everyone who is out there practicing has to be ready. Even if you are the last guy on the practice squad, you have to be ingesting the game plan and be ready," Lombardi added. "Five guys could come up sick on game day, so I think everyone always has to have that mindset to be ready to go."
Staley echoed those thoughts.
"I think [Bandy] has done a really nice job with this opportunity," Staley said. "You guys know Jason Moore, he has been here for a couple years and has been a very dependable player for us. I know that our quarterbacks feel comfortable with both of those guys.
"Then, what you have to be able to do is spread the distribution in other areas to where you're strong — tight end group, running back group — and then come together and put a great plan together," Staley added.
The Bolts sit at 4-3 with 10 games left, and will have to dig deep as they start the second part of their season.
3. Harris' homecoming & kicker No. 3
The Bolts will be on their third kicker of the season against the Falcons.
With Dustin Hopkins out with a hamstring, Taylor Bertolet has been filling in of late. But Bertolet injured his quad in Wednesday's practice and won't play Sunday.
So, meet Cameron Dicker, who played at Texas and recently spent time with the Rams. Dicker made three extra points against the Chargers in the preseason, and also averaged 52.7 yards on three punts.
Bolts long snapper Josh Harris said he and holder JK Scott are doing their best to get Dicker up to speed.
"The week leading up, or the days leading up like today, he'll be out there and we'll get as many reps in as we can just to get out timing down," Harris said Thursday. "At the end of the day, JK and I just have to continue to do our part and make whoever is back there is comfortable and allow them to do their job at the highest level.
"As long as we do our part, then that will make it hopefully easier for them. We always kind of laugh and say that our job is just to make their job as easy as possible," Harris added. "So, take advantage of all the reps that we can get today and tomorrow, talk through any situation that may come up, so that we'll be ready to go."
Harris, meanwhile, will likely be full of emotions Sunday in Atlanta. He spent the first 10 years of his career with the Falcons, playing in 156 games for the franchise and earning one Pro Bowl honor.
"I'm looking forward to it. I've got a lot of really good friends, a lot of family still in the area," Harris said. "A lot of family is going to be coming to the game, so I know they're excited about it too. But, being out here now, not being able to get a chance to go to as many of the games anymore, I know they're really excited to see us come back.
"My wife and kids, they're going to get to spend a bit of extra time [in Atlanta]," Harris added. "They're leaving [Friday] to go out there, they're going to stay back for about a week to visit everybody, so it'll be good."
4. The Oregon connection
Let's just call it 'The Oregon Bowl.'
Sunday will feature a pair of starting quarterbacks —Herbert and Marcus Mariota — who both played for the University of Oregon and went on to be first-round picks.
It will be a rare matchup, too, as Sunday will mark just the second time since 1950 that a set of quarterbacks from Oregon started against each other in an NFL game.
Mariota, of course, helped set the standard for the Ducks from 2012-2014 when he went 36-5 and won the Heisman Trophy as a junior. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Herbert, who hails from Eugene, followed Mariota's college career closely. And although the pair weren't in the program at the same time, Herbert said he's learned a lot from Mariota.
"He's a special competitor and he's a special player," Herbert said. "I witnessed that first-hand for many years. It's always a great opportunity and a great challenge to go up against a player like that, and so I wish him nothing but the best. It will be fun to watch him."
Herbert took over as Oregon's starting quarterback in 2016, throwing for 10,000-plus yards and was eventually drafted sixth overall by the Bolts in 2020.
5. Watch for the fake
If the Bolts defense knows one thing, it's that the Falcons will run the ball Sunday.
After all, Atlanta ranks third with 268 rushing attempts this season.
"They are making sure that they are sticking to their foundation, and their foundation, right now, is running the ball. It has been effective for them," Hill said. "You can see some games, they may be down three scores, but they are going to stick to it.
"That's the one thing you can see, on tape, that they are holding on to, is that they are going to be a running football team and, regardless of how many scores they are down, they are going to continue to run the rock," Hill added.
But the Falcons also use the threat of the run to set up the pass, as Atlanta leads the league with a play-action pass rate of 49.1 percent.
That means half of Mariota's pass attempts come after he's faked a handoff, which will put pressure on the Bolts secondary to stay disciplined.
"It's all set up by what they do on early downs, of being able to be effective in the running game. That's going to allow for those defenses to creep up," Hill said. "The vision is out there once you have guys committed to the run. It definitely creates the explosive [plays].
"We talk about air yards, but even on their early downs, they are running the ball so effectively. They are hitting 75-yarders, 39-yarders, 50-yarders down the field, all set up by the run game," Hill added. "That's where it can get taxing because you see guys creep up, creep up, and the next thing you know, on early downs, that ball is over your head."
Chargers defensive lineman Morgan Fox hosted a group from the Wounded Warrior Project after Thursday's practice! During the visit Morgan was nominated as the the team's NFL Salute to Service Award candidate!
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