Perhaps no position has been under a microscope more this summer than the tight ends. That shouldn't come as a surprise, considering Virgil Green is the only active player at the position with an NFL catch to his name following Hunter Henry's ACL injury during OTAs.
However, as Sean Culkin astutely points out, every single player at one point in time was in his position as an unproven player in the NFL. Culkin is aware that there is talk on the outside from those questioning the Bolts' inexperienced tight end corps.
Still, he pays it no mind.
"Everyone has been in this position at some point," he said with a shrug. "I get it. You have to earn the fans' trust. Fans from the outside looking in, you're going to see a young group, for sure. We're unproven guys, other than Virgil, and guys who haven't done much. Our job now is just take it to the field, show up and play well."
Culkin did exactly that with an impressive preseason debut against the Arizona Cardinals. The tight end caught two passes for 24 yards while proving strong at the point of attack as a blocker.
Overall, it was a performance that caught his coaches' eyes.
"It's nice to see him play the way that he did last week," said Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. "He made a couple of tough catches."
But what really caught Whiz's attention is how Culkin began taking his game to new heights during the second week of training camp.
"Where it really started was late in the week last week," he continued. "There were some plays blocking on defensive ends where it kind of started to show, and you were like, 'Wow, okay. That's good, Sean.' Now, if he can continue to build off that that, the big test would be to carry it over into a game and be productive — and he did that. That's exciting to see. I think the challenge for him is to continue with that. That's the big thing. We need some consistency from that position. He's a young player that hasn't played a lot. It was good to see him have some production last week."
Culkin agrees with that assessment, largely crediting his improved play to the techniques being taught by new tight ends coach, Rip Scherer.
"Coaches are going to teach you a technique," he explained. "Coach (Anthony) Lynn always preaches that even if you struggle with it at first, trust them and trust the process. Try to practice what they're teaching you. Even when it didn't stick, I was still working on that technique, and I still am. But I think this last week it has started to click for me, and the technique that they were teaching me really helped it pay off."
Even though he caught 24 passes for 282 yards as a senior at Missouri, Culkin was primarily known for his blocking prowess when he signed with the Bolts as an undrafted free agent a year ago. However, he proved a capable target in the passing game during the preseason, even though he openly admitted a need to still improve in that area.
Culkin parlayed an impressive 2017 preseason into a spot on the team's 53-man roster. However, he was active only twice during the year, in the season opener and finale. His goal now is to cement himself as a regular cog in the rotation.
Culkin believes the key to accomplishing that is improving his technique, which is why he's constantly in the coaches' ears.
To that end, Culkin is often one of the last players off the field after practice. Even after his strong game against the Cardinals, the tight end was the last one on the JUGS machine, still working on his hands over a half hour after practice ended.
"(A strong) work ethic was instilled in me from my dad, my brother, and my family my whole life," he said. "I've always been a hard worker, so after practice I'll do some ball drills and some other things. And practice today was fun. Getting better in the days at practice leading up to that game, and then taking it to the game when it's live against other people, and seeing the work on your technique and everything pay off, that makes it all fun. And then when it's done, after practice, I'll get some extra work in with ball drills."
It's easy to see why the Chargers are enamored with Culkin.
If you were to imagine the perfect tight end's build, odds are he would look like the chiseled 6-5, 255-pounder with flowing blond hair who's been given the nickname "Thor". However, while he may look the part, Culkin knows all that matters is whether he produces on game day.
Fortunately, the tight end believes he's ready to do just that as he's more comfortable, and confident, in year two.
"This offense is so educated that it's fun to be tight end," he said with a smile. "There's a lot of different moving parts and variables that once you truly learn it, and see the whole big picture, it slows down for you. And that's happening for me now. I can start to focus more on making plays and taking it to the next level in the passing game. Getting open, especially in play-action and also the run game, and trusting my technique. Confidence is everything at this level. A lot of the guys physically are very similar. It's the next step that's going to take you to the next level from good to great. I think it's the mindset for sure, and that's where I'm trying to get."
Check out the best action shots from Day 14 of Chargers Camp, as the Bolts prep for the Seahawks.