Below are three takeaways from Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, quarterback Justin Herbert, safety Derwin James, Jr., and wide receiver Keenan Allen following their media availability on Thursday:
Allen nears 10K milestone
One of Keenan Allen's earliest football memories came in 1998 when Cris Carter hit 10,000 career receiving yards.
Allen was just a 6-year-old growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina back then.
But there's a very real chance that the Chargers wide receiving joins that exclusive list Monday night when the Bolts play in primetime.
Allen is just 70 yards shy of the milestone, meaning he could hit the mark on national television.
"10,000 is big," Allen said Thursday in the Bolts locker room. "I remember seeing Cris Carter get 10,000 yards growing up watching the Vikings play.
"It was a big deal then, I think it's still a big deal now," Allen added.
Once Allen presumably hits the mark, he will become just the 54th all-time player to reach 10,000 yards. He currently sits sixth among active players with 9,930 yards.
How has the 2013 third-round pick managed to put together such an illustrious career?
"Just sticking to the process," Allen said. "Just being able to work hard in the offseason and training camp ready to go and just going through the season trying to be on the field."
Those who have gotten to watch Allen up close in recent seasons, especially as he passed his age 30 season, marvel at the impact he's made.
Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley spent nearly half of his Thursday press conference praising Allen for his longevity and production.
"I think he's evolved. I think he's stayed consistent in performance because of how committed he is to his craft," Staley said. "He really plays the receiver position as an art form, and I think when you play it like him, what makes Keenan special ages well. The older you get, his physical gifts aren't what makes him special, it's how he plays receiver.
"That consistency that he's played with his whole career is because of that commitment to playing that receiver position at the highest level," Staley continued. "I think he can do things that are tough for receivers. He can play outside, he can play inside, he can read coverages, he can get to places that others can't get to because of his feel.
"He's such a smart player you can do so much with him. That's why you see the production," Staley added. "One of the top receivers in the game and I think he's a receiver that everybody is trying to model their after. I know me being here for three years, I think I've had a deeper appreciation for him every year I've been the coach."
Justin Herbert said: "He's a pro. He's done such a great job watching film, taking care of his body and being available. He's as good as it gets talent-wise, but he's a professional as well the way he treats people, the way he leads our team. We're not surprised at al by all the success he's had."
Allen said Thursday that he still remembers his first NFL catch in Week 2 of his rookie season in Philadelphia.
"First catch was in Philly, first third-down [conversion]," Allen said. "Backside in-route."
Along the way, Allen has racked up 850 catches and 56 touchdowns to go with his yardage total.
Allen ranks second in franchise history in yards and receptions, and is fourth in touchdown catches.
He spoke Thursday about how he's progressed as player since his rookie season.
"I think just being two different football players. I was a rookie, didn't really know the game that much, just was running around trying to be in the right spot for Phil [Rivers]," Allen said. "But now, I know the offense, what's going on, I know what the defense is doing and you just understand the game a little more."
Staley said he conversations with Allen these days are on the "deepest level of football" you can imagine.
"He can see it as a coach. He's seen all the looks," Staley said. "The thing about Keenan is he's been seeing the double coverage for the last eight years of his career.
"It's been some type of double to Keenan on third down, whether it's a man-to-man double, zone double, he's seen it all. He's one of those guys that can pick up on all those tactical clues," Staley added. "In football, there's 22 guys out there and 80,000 people at the stadium and he can pick up on the little things that will allow him to separate and be open for the quarterback. That's why you see the production year in and year out."
Allen, who is halfway through Year 11, said Thursday that he always envisioned playing this long. Even if it does take him a bit longer to get going early in practice.
"I think I feel the same as when we first moved up here, practicing on this field," Allen said. "I still get the same soreness, I don't really get different soreness.
"It takes a little bit longer to warm up these days, but…," Allen added with a smile and a shrug.
With so many accomplishments on his resumé — and big one potentially coming Monday night — what does Allen have left to personally achieve?
"Catch Antonio Gates," Allen said of the legendary tight end who holds franchise records for catches (955) and yards (11,841). (Gates' 116 touchdowns might be safe).
"I think I've always been a guy who's been kind of productive, counted on for teams I've played on," Allen said. "So, once I can't be that guy, I'd probably shut it down."
Allen currently ranks eighth in the NFL with 643 yards and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Monday night's potential milestone will simply be another accolade on an illustrious career.
"Longevity," Derwin James, Jr. said of Allen. "That's my guy, he's a baller. And he works hard. He practices harder than any guy that you know. For him to be able to do what he's done … he's going to go down as one of the greats and get that gold jacket someday for sure."
James laughed when it was brought up how close Allen is to 10,000 yards.
"Like I said," James quipped, "get his jacket ready."
Bolts wary of Sauce
The Chargers offense heads into Monday Night Football prepared to face one of the toughest defenses yet.
Specifically in the passing game, New York has been able to minimize some of the league's best quarterbacks so far in the season and made it difficult for offenses to get a lot going through the air.
Entering Week 9, the Jets defense ranks fifth with 184.4 passing yards allowed per game.
One of the reasons? Cornerback Sauce Gardner.
The 2022 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Gardner has quickly become one of the best cornerbacks in the league in just his second season.
After an impressive rookie season that saw him also earn First-Team All-Pro honors and lead the league in passes defensed (20), Gardner has picked up right where he's left off, taking the task of some of the toughest receivers in the league.
"He's got a lot of confidence," Staley said about Gardner. "He's got a lot of tools to work with, real size and length. For someone that's tall like Sauce is, he's got really good change of direction and lower-body movement. He's not a just a big guy that can run, he's got real movement skills which I think makes you a more complete cover guy.
"Got good instincts, good balls skills … that's how it was at [the University of] Cincinnati," Staley added. "He's established himself as one of the top corners ones in the game."
And what makes Gardner such a challenge as a corner is his build, as he is one of the few cornerbacks in the league that is not only be fast, but also has the length to bother opposing offenses.
"He's really good," Herbert said. "Long and able to cover down the field, intermediate, short routes. He's done a great job and has had a lot of success over the past few years. Not surprised, we know how talented he is. Definitely one of those guys you have to be aware of."
Wide receiver Keenan Allen added: "Long, he can run."
Gardner ranks fifth in PFF's coverage grade among cornerbacks with at least 100 snaps with an 82.5 grade.
Vannett ready to help run game
The Chargers on Wednesday signed tight end Nick Vannett to the active roster. In a corresponding move, the team waived tight end Tre' McKitty on Tuesday.
Staley spoke Thursday about what ultimately went into the decision to waive McKitty.
"Just performance," Staley said. "Felt like we needed to upgrade at that position."
Staley added: "All aspects of the tight end position. Felt like we needed to upgrade."
And with new tight end in Vannett, Staley believes in what he brings to the table, as he adds some veteran experience to the tight end room.
"Nick has experience in the league, he's got the size," Staley said about Vannett. "Balance, body control, has played in really good systems.
"Just feel like he'll give us that experience and consistency at the point of attack that we're looking for," Staley added.
Vannett, who is in his eighth NFL season, was a third-round pick by the Seahawks in the 2016 NFL Draft and was signed to the Bolts practice squad in late August after spending training camp in Houston with the Texans.
The veteran tight end has seized the new opportunity since his arrival, as he's excited to contribute in whatever area is necessary for the offense.
"I'm extremely thrilled for the opportunity," Vannett said Thursday. "I don't take it lightly, you know? It's my eighth year and I came here on the practice squad just trying to focus on giving the defense good looks and trying to improve my skills a little bit.
"Just trusting that my opportunity would come eventually," Vannett said. "Just excited to be able to help contribute on offense. I think I can add an element to the run game and help out in that area."
The veteran tight end was a member of the Giants playoff team just a season ago, and has played in 86 regular season games throughout his career. Vannett's eight years of NFL experience puts him tied for fifth-most on the team alongside outside linebacker Joey Bosa and defensive lineman Austin Johnson.
And because of this bevy of experience, Vannett knew coming in what it would take to get acclimated — which is exactly what he's done in a little over two months in the powder blues.
"It's definitely not my first rodeo. I've had to pick up offenses quickly and in a timely manner," Vannett said. "When I came here, there was a lot of carryover from when I was in New Orleans. A couple new things but I feel like I picked it up quickly.
"I feel really good. But at the end of the day, it's football," Vannett added. "You line up and see a lot of the same defensive fronts you've seen before. It all comes down to preparation and knowing your opponent and having a good plan for it. That's what I've done for eight years and is probably why I'm still here."
Perhaps the biggest area where Vannett could help make an impact in right away is on the ground, where the Bolts look to get back on track and find some consistency.
It takes everyone on the field — offensive line, wide receivers, tight ends and running backs — to make the run game work, and Vannett hopes to add some of that energy to a running game that will be key for the offense as they approach the midpoint of the season.
"I think you can call it that. Some grit, really just energy," Vannett said. "At the end of the day, it's just how much fight you have. You have to get gritty in the trenches and that's obviously my strength, to be able to block in the run game.
Vannett added: "I think I can help out and I'm excited to bring that."
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