We're now a week and change into training camp for the Los Angeles Chargers and for the newest members on the team, this is their first real taste of pro football action.
For one rookie in particular, this moment has been a long time coming.
"It's my first time playing since 2019, really," Rashawn Slater said. "Being able to put the pads back on and knock the rust off has been really good. Especially, going against guys like [OLB] Joey [Bosa], [OLB] Uchenna [Nwosu]. All of those guys. It's definitely been an opportunity to learn really quickly. Just about the different moves, the different techniques at this level. That's been really good."
The tackle opted out of the 2020 season at Northwestern, but it's been full-go since Slater arrived in the late spring.
"It's just that game within the game," head coach Brandon Staley said of Slater's learning curve acclimating to the NFL. "Finding his way. Taking his strengths as a player and being able to apply them. A lot of the technique stuff that he's working on with [Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line] Frank [Smith] and [Assistant Offensive Line] Shaun [Sarrett] after practice, just getting more confidence in his technique. He's been a lot of fun to coach. You can see that he's gaining confidence in the same way that [CB] Asante [Samuel Jr.] is. Going against [OLB] Joey Bosa every day, you know that guy is about as good as it gets, so if you can block him, your chances are pretty good."
Slater said that "game within the game" Staley discussed focuses on the various benchmarks that happen in an offseason. First came learning the playbook and understanding assignments, then comes one-on-one matchups.
It's pretty good, not to mention invaluable, homework for the season when you're a rookie going up against Pro Bowl talent each day in practice.
"It's been good," cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. said of going up against Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. "Those are great receivers. They've been dominating the league for a long time. I just try to get as many reps as I can with them. I know that'll make me better on Sundays going against other guys that aren't as experienced."
"When you go against a guy like Joey [Bosa] — he can do anything," Slater reflected. "He can win with speed, power, inside moves. There's definitely a lot of thought that goes into it."
Odds & Ends
Slater on the offensive linemen: "They've been awesome, especially [T Bryan] Bulaga. I've been talking to him just about techniques. Sometimes, he'll be watching me during team [periods]. Afterwards, he'll pull me aside and be like, 'Hey, you actually think this.' It's just instant feedback from a guy like that who has played so much and knows so much. With [C] Corey [Linsley], it's the same thing. His knowledge of defenses and offenses — he's able to put us all on the same page so effortlessly. That's been a huge help, too."
Staley on what to expect at SoFi Stadium on Sunday: "It's going to be an unscripted format, but we're going to move the ball. It's going to be game-like. We're going to be off of the field and with headsets — our game operation — but we're going to move the ball. We're going to drive it, have several drives. Kicking game, we're going to kick it. Each of our three kickers is going to have an opportunity to compete and kick. Then, we're going to move the ball into the red area. Then, all of our quarterbacks are going to get a two-minute operation. We're going to cover the entire field. Then, we're going to make sure that we get a lot of developmental work for these guys that are new to our team. We're going to make sure that they get their opportunities to get out there, drive the ball and compete. We're looking forward to competing in front of our fans. It's going to be game-like, though, from a pregame operation, then just an on-the-field game operation, halftime, it's going to be our first game-like set-up before we play in the preseason."
Samuel Jr. on Derwin James: "I see a lot of the things that the guys at FSU said about him while they were playing with him. He's very smart, very vocal, a natural-born leader. It's helpful for a young rookie, young corner, young defensive back to go in with somebody like that so that things can flow a little bit easier."
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