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Five Takeaways from Chargers Camp 8/4: Fast, Physical Linebackers

Fifteen-year veteran linebacker Thomas Davis has made an early impact on his new team.
Fifteen-year veteran linebacker Thomas Davis has made an early impact on his new team.

Below are five takeaways from Sunday's training camp practice at Jack Hammett Sports Complex:

Tillery takes the field for team drills – First-round draft pick Jerry Tillery participated in team drills Sunday. The Chargers practiced in shells, but it was another step for the rookie defensive tackle.

"Really, what we're going off of is what we see in individual," defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. "[We've seen] his hands – the strength of his hands – some of his early pass-rush moves. So you can kind of get a feel, but you're still waiting until he gets out there into a team situation.

"But what he can do, and just talking with [defensive line coach] Giff [Smith], he's been pretty impressed with him. So, we kind of want to see it on tape now and see when he comes back and gets that opportunity."

Second-year defensive tackle Justin Jones was in Tillery's shoes at this time last year. Jones' advice to the rookie has been to get up to speed as fast as possible mentally.

"Jerry's a smart player, and he's picking up things really, really quick," Jones said. "The biggest thing I told him, I was like, 'The faster you learn the playbook and the faster it becomes second nature, the better player you'll be.'"

Bradley said he and his staff haven't discussed whether Tillery will play in the preseason opener Thursday night in Arizona.

Browse through photos from Sunday's camp practice, as the Bolts get ready to kick off preseason.

High praise for Mebane – After Saturday's practice against the Rams, 13-year defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said Jones has the potential to be a Pro Bowl defensive tackle.

On Sunday, Jones explained that it's vets like Mebane who have helped him realize what his potential can be.

"Bane has taught me a lot, man," Jones said. "Tough love, all that. He's a great guy and just having him in the room another year, who knows the kind of player I'll be in year three?

"With him, I take it day by day. Whatever he says, I'll listen to because obviously I'm trying to be where he's at."

Jones discussed his offseason diet and more on last week's episode of Chargers Weekly. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Whiz talks wide receivers – Artavis Scott, Geremy Davis and Andre Patton are among those competing for roster spots in a talented wide receivers room. While all three have had their moments during camp, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said the exhibition games will add more clarity to the competition.

"The preseason games [are] going to be a real test," he said. "In practice, a lot of times you can get information, get corrections while it's going on because everybody's around or the people are yelling at you. But when you go out there in the preseason game and you're out there by yourself, that's a whole different animal – and that's the real test."

Whisenhunt explained that the wide receivers who know their assignments and can separate on their routes – starting on Thursday night against the Cardinals – will be the ones who close in on making the team.

On Thursday's episode of Chargers Weekly, Scott said the wide receivers remind each other each practice to "keep going." Whether it's a drop or a catch for a big gain, move on to the next play.

"We know what's at stake, but the biggest thing for us is just going out and having fun," Scott said. "Control what we can control and that's just making plays and doing what we're asked of from the coaches and the rest will take care of itself."

Fast, physical linebackers – In seven months, the Chargers have gone from playing mostly seven defensive backs in the playoffs to having several linebackers worthy of being on the field come September.

After Sunday's practice, Bradley was asked about what excites him most about the Chargers' bolstered LB unit.

"We're trying to be a faster [and] physical group," Bradley said. "I think that's important and I think the physicality, you're starting to see it with some of those guys – playing with their hands, the ability to strike and shed – what linebackers look like when you watch them, and the speed."

Bradley praised 15-year veteran Thomas Davis for his performance in Saturday's joint practice against the Rams. Davis flashed his speed, staying stride-for-stride with wide receiver Cooper Kupp on more than one occasion.

"He just brings so much to our group – the leadership, the presence that he has," Bradley said. "The more he understands the package, I imagine we're going to even feel him more. But where he's at right now, man, what a great acquisition for us."

Culkin a "pleasant surprise" – Entering his third NFL season, tight end Sean Culkin has caught the eye of his offensive coordinator.

"Culkin's done a really nice job," Whisenhunt said. "I think that's one of the things that's been a pleasant surprise. He's been in the system for a couple of years and he's done really well. [We'll] see if he can continue with that."

The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Culkin made 10 starts in 13 games played last season. With Hunter Henry missing the 2018 regular season due to injury, Culkin stepped in as one of the team's primary tight ends.

Whisenhunt said some of the team's younger tight ends have flashed in practice, but it's early.

"Probably after the first couple of games, we'll have a better feel for that," he said.

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