Below are three takeaways from Chargers left tackle Rashawn Slater's end of season press conference as he reflected on his All-Pro and Pro Bowl rookie season.
Slater shines in year one
When Rashawn Slater's name was called at the 2021 NFL Draft, Chargers fans hoped he would be able to step up to the big task of protecting Justin Herbert's blind side on game days. Slater not only stepped up to the challenge of protecting the franchise quarterback, he put together an All-Star rookie season for the Bolts and emerged as the one of the league's best left tackles.
In Slater's 16 games played in 2021, he was on the field for 100 percent of the team's offensive snaps. In 1,116 snaps played, Slater allowed just four sacks, 26 QB pressures and was one of four tackles in the NFL with an 80.0 Pro Football Focus grade as both a run and pass blocker. Slater was also honored as a Pro Bowl AFC starter alongside center Corey Linsley and was later named a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
Despite all the accolades Slater achieved during his rookie season, the Bolts left tackle explained he is far from satisfied.
"Overall, I think it had its highs and lows," Slater said of his rookie season. "I always look at it as the team goes as far as the line goes. There were moments where I could have been better to help the O-line and help the offense. For me it's always about looking for improvement and that's what I'm going to be doing."
Just like Herbert, Slater posses that cool, calm and humble demeanor that allowed him to keep composure to make plays against even the league's top pass rushers like Chase Young and Myles Garrett. Slater talked about what it was like playing alongside the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year.
"[Herbert's] everything I thought he would be and more," Slater said. "You see it like [against the Raiders]. Are you kidding me? The things he's able to do is just unbelievable. There is never a situation were in where we feel like were out. [In Week 18], I don't think anyone for a second lost hope just because we know who we have. We know, as the O-line, if we give him time, or even if we don't give him time, he's going to do some freakish things. It's awesome to be able to play with a guy like that who competes hard every week. It's such a huge blessing, honestly."
Making the jump from college to the pros
No matter the talent level, all rookies have that 'welcome to the NFL moment' where they realize their days of college ball are in the rear-view mirror and they've made it to the big league. Slater's jump from college to pros had an added layer of difficulty as he decided to opt out of the 2020 season at Northwestern due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Having gone through his first season in the NFL, he reflected on what that transition was like.
"Some of it comes from not playing my last year in college," Slater said. "Some of it was my technique. For any rookie, I feel like there's a huge jump that gets talked about all the time, but the level of competition is like you're playing the best team every week. Everyone was the best in college and now they are competing at a really high level no matter who you're going against."
With a lot of opportunity to learn and grow as a group and as an individual, Slater talked about what stood out to him the most this season.
"My biggest takeaway is the small margin of error," Slater said. "How many games this season that came down to like three, four, or five plays? Every single game can be like that when everyone is competing at the level they are. For me, its knowing that's what separates good from great is those four plays a game. It really does come down to the wire like that. You have to have that edge. You have to be prepared and precise in your execution and preparation."
Slater, along with the rest of the Bolts offensive line, battled adversity throughout the season as right tackle Bryan Bulaga and right guard Oday Aboushi's seasons were ended due to injury, both by Week 5. Despite the injuries to the offensive line, Slater said he felt the unit 'came together' as the season progressed and pointed out how the Bolts coaching staff and veteran offensive linemen like Linsley and guard Matt Feiler helped him find his way in such a competitive league.
"Ever since OTAs is when they started being mentors and teaching me the way things go," he said. "I think that was huge. [Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Frank Smith and Assistant Offensive Line Coach Shaun Sarrett] were, too, as far as simplifying things and helping me build confidence in my technique. Those guys are very helpful to me."
Eyes on the Pro Bowl and the future
This weekend, Slater is representing the Bolts at the 2022 Pro Bowl in Las Vegas. He does so as the first Chargers rookie to make the game since Derwin James in 2018 and the first rookie tackle voted in since Minnesota's Matt Kalil in 2012. With a game that features the NFL's top talent, he's using the Pro Bowl as an opportunity to pick up tips from those who play their positions best.
"[I] think it'll be a really cool experience," Slater said. "I'm always huge on picking the brains of other guys so to be around some of the guys there will be beneficial to me. Just learning how they approach the game, some things about their technique, and seeing how they prepare and stuff like that. It'll be a really cool experience, which I'm looking forward to."
As for what's next? Slater talked about what he'll glean from 2021, and where he can take his game.
"[I can be] as good as I want to be," Slater said of his game, "I feel like, the biggest limitation is always competing against yourself. I feel like I can build a lot off of this season and that's going to be my challenge. If you rest on what happened in the past, then you're doomed to fail. This season is out the window and I'm going to be searching for ways that I can get better and I know there are a lot of ways I can. I'll just be taking it one step at a time."
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