Below are three takeaways from Monday's press conference with head coach Brandon Staley, Derwin James Jr., and Chris Harris Jr.
Great communication and 'toughness' on the offensive line
A big emphasis in the offseason for the Chargers was to improve the offensive line. Now five games into the 2021 season, the group comprised of veterans, free agent signings and a first round draft pick has put together a nice body of work.
Head coach Brandon Staley talked about what the offensive line has done for the Bolts this year.
"We have toughness in that group," Staley said. "They're giving us a real chance to be successful. I'm really proud of that. We have to continue on that track because it doesn't get any easier as we go on. We're playing Baltimore this week, and they're an outstanding defense, too. You need that in the NFL up front. You need to have a tough group that plays together. Cleveland is as good a defense as we're going to play from a personnel standpoint."
Austin Ekeler called rookie tackle Rashawn Slater 'a beast' after Sunday's win, explaining that Slater told him to not help 'chip' the Cleveland edge rushers and would rather take the man-to-man battle.
Staley explained that Slater displayed great communication and confidence by letting his teammates know what he needed in the heat of the moment.
"I think what you're seeing is a player that is earning the confidence to say that because he has a lot of belief in his game," he said. "He has a really good plan of attack versus this pass rusher. We all know [Browns DE] Myles [Garrett] is a defensive player of the year candidate, one of the top rushers in the league, one of the top defensive players in the league. Those are all encouraging signs, to me, both of those things."
Unfortunately, Monday brought tough news for the Chargers as Staley explained that guard Oday Aboushi suffered an ACL tear that will require surgery. The plan according to Staley is to have G/T Michael Schofield III starting at right guard with G/T Brenden Jaimes backing him up.
Staley talked about Schofield's performance after his number was called to fill in for Aboushi who left the game in the first quarter.
"I thought Scho did a really good job," he said. "I felt like he battled in there, and I really felt like gave us exactly what we kind of hoped when we brought him here, just that steady veteran presence. You can't minimize that experience of what he gives you. I think that him being able to work on that side of the ball with [T] Storm [Norton], just giving us that experience over there, I think that that was really big for us. I'm really proud of the way he played."
'No matter what, we were winning the game'
While Sunday's victory over the Browns turned into a 'track meet' game where both offenses scored over 40 points, a key player on defense proved once again the special talent that he is. Safety Derwin James recorded 14 tackles in the first half alone for the Bolts, the most tackles in the first half of any NFL game in the last 15 seasons.
Veteran cornerback Chris Harris Jr. talked about James' big game on Sunday, as James ended the game with 17 total tackles and one sack, the most tackles in a game for a Chargers player since 2006.
"He was huge, he had a big-time game all over the field," Harris Jr. said. "He was the one guy that did make a lot of great tackles and didn't miss too many. That was big for us, hopefully we don't need him to have 17 tackles every game. We have a long, long season and we want to keep him healthy and not run down early in the season before we get to the big-time games at the end of the year. We definitely don't want him to have 17 tackles again."
In an offensive shootout, it all came down to the Bolts defense getting the final stop when the team needed it most. James talked the defense's ability to forget about the past and live in the moment of the final drive.
"That last drive, once we got the key stops that we needed to get off the field, we felt that no matter what happened at the beginning of the game, we still got the opportunity," James said. "Our offense is still keeping us in it to win the game. We just had to control the moment. Whatever happened before didn't matter, because we knew in our minds that we were going to win the game. No matter what, we were winning the game."
Chris Harris Jr. felt '100 percent' in return
Harris Jr., who returned to action on Sunday for the first time since Week 1, talked about how he felt out on the field.
He explained he was originally supposed to miss six weeks with a shoulder injury but was able to bounce back quickly.
"Now I feel 100 percent, I feel good," Harris Jr. said. "I just had a freak accident, I keep having freak accidents, friendly fires. But I'm good, and I'm ready to finish the season strong…I felt fine hitting and getting off blocks. I feel back to 100 percent, and now it's just getting back in the fold and seeing where I can make plays."
Staley talked about having Harris Jr. back out on the field once again along with cornerback Ryan Smith who was activated last Saturday.
"I thought Chris coming back, he gives us a calm presence there," Staley said. "He's a guy who can do a lot of different jobs…when you get into those end-of-game, end-of-half situations, he's been through so many of those that you can't minimize the experience that he brings. It allows [S] Derwin [James Jr.] to kind of tone down his job description, too, which is good. Looking forward to continuing down the road with [Harris and CB Ryan Smith] because they allow us to kind of have the full depth of the secondary that we're looking for."
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