Below are three takeaways from the third day of Chargers Training Camp.
Austin Ekeler talked the higher intensity and about his value on offense
Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley ramped up the intensity for Day 3 of Chargers Training Camp, providing a showcase of talent for the strong showing of fans that packed the Jack Hammett Sports Complex on Friday.
With an emphasis on third downs and three separate 11-on-11 live team drills, there was plenty of action to recap from Friday.
"We're starting to pick up our intensity as we're getting more familiar and getting back into the rhythm of football," running back Austin Ekeler said after Friday's practice . "Just getting back on our feet takes a little bit. The intensity today was the highest that it's been, so that's good. That means people are starting to understand, people are starting to feel like themselves again, and so the competition is rising before we get into pads."
Ekeler's journey in the NFL has taken him all the way from an undrafted rookie free agent contributing on special teams, to a 20-touchdown season a year ago. With plenty of competition to find a second running back to complement him, Ekeler and Staley explained they don't expect a big change in his role for 2022. Ekeler talked about his mindset when it comes to his value as the Bolts lead back.
"It's my job to add as much value as I can. Not only in the running back spot, but out in the slot and kind of all over the field. I think that's where I have a lot of value in my game is you can pretty much put me wherever and I'll have some type of value on the runs deep down the field, speed, whether you want me running across the middle or whether you want to hand the ball to me, throw the ball to me, have me as a decoy going one way for a screen type of thing. I'm going to be efficient wherever you put me."
As the veteran within the running back group the last two seasons, Ekeler has taken on the role of a mentor to the young rookies and second-year running backs. As someone who has first-hand experience of climbing an NFL depth chart, Ekeler explained what advice he has for players like rookie running back Isaiah Spiller and younger players like Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III.
"Obviously, continuing to progress in the offense, but then it's going to come down to special teams as well," Ekeler said. "I remember that being a big part of the reason why I made the team and was able to stay on the team in my younger years was my value on special teams. It's the more you can bring to the table as far as you as a player, not only on offense, but mainly on special teams, especially if you are in that third spot. That's going to make the difference."
Staley feeling 'more confidence' and excitement entering second year as head coach
Throughout Organized Team Activities and minicamp back in June, one of the main topics discussed was the growing comfortability the team felt across the board. That message continued Friday when Staley returned to the podium after speaking on Day 1 of camp. As Staley heads into his second season as the Bolts' head coach, he gave insight into how he's feeling going in to his second training camp with the Chargers.
"There's just so much more confidence when you come to the practice field," Staley said. "I know who I'm working with — and it's not just the players and coaches, it's our entire sports performance team.
"I think that you have that full confidence when you come to the field and I think that allows you to be your best," Staley added. "It allows you to figure things out a lot better because there is so much to figure out. I'm excited about where we are and I expect us to continue to improve."
While Staley handles both the expectations set by himself and those around the league, quarterback Justin Herbert has high expectations of his own to meet following a record-breaking sophomore year in the NFL. As the head coach and quarterback duo of Staley and Herbert head into their second year together, Staley explained why he's so confident in Herbert's ability to handle the high expectations that lay ahead in 2022.
"He's just so steady," Staley said. "He's handling it like he did the first time I met him. He's a fierce competitor. His intangibles are by far his best quality, the head that he has on his shoulders. There is nobody's standards that will ever, ever meet his own. That's what makes him such a good player and such a good teammate. He knows how important it is to be one of the guys. I think that's why his teammates and his coaches appreciate him so much because it's never about him. He wants it to be about our team, our unit on offense, our fans. When you have a humble superstar like him, it sure helps."
Austin Johnson talks expectations for new-look defensive line unit
Over the first two days of camp a lot of eyes have been on the Chargers' new outside linebacker duo of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. On Wednesday some of the focus on defense was shifted to the interior defensive line when defensive lineman Austin Johnson took to the podium.
On Friday, Johnson talked about his transition to the Chargers and how the first couple of days of camp have gone from his perspective.
"It's been great," Johnson said. "Very smooth transition. Very good group with the defense and D-line. It's been awesome."
Johnson is set to pair up with fellow new defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day next to him as key members of the Chargers' new-look defense in 2022. Johnson explained what working with his new teammates like Joseph-Day has been like and what he expects from the defensive line unit as a whole this season.
"I think we expect everybody to bring their best every day and get better every day. Fix the little things so that we can be a great front, great defense, everything."
A season ago Joseph-Day won a Super Bowl as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Staley talked about what it means to have new additions on the defense who have won have been key parts of championship teams in the NFL.
'When you're on a Super-Bowl championship team, you're playing a premium schedule," Staley said. "You know week-in and week-out in the NFL, it's not just about that last game, it's about the entire journey to get there. Those guys know about the journey to get there, what it takes on a day-to-day basis, and that mindset that you need to have every single day in order to do that."
The Chargers continue their first week of training camp at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Gates to the Jack Hammett Sports Complex open in Costa Mesa at 8 a.m., with Saturday also marking 'Back Together Saturday,' a league-wide event to celebrate the return of football.
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