Training camp will have a different vibe for the Los Angeles Chargers this year.
This time last year, the big story was new Chargers coach Brandon Staley and whether quarterback Justin Herbert could fulfill the promise he showed as a rookie.
Now, the Chargers are one of the trendy picks in the NFL.
Herbert is coming off a year where he threw for 5,014 yards and 38 touchdowns. The team was active in free agency – real active – showing that the front office believes a championship window may be opening.
NFL insiders love the Chargers’ potential. They have a bonafide star at quarterback, a rising young coach, and should be motivated after last season’s disappointment of losing to the Raiders in overtime in Week 17.
Still, there is a long way to go for a franchise that has won only two playoff games since 2010. These are six players to focus on in training camp that will determine whether LA is a primetime player.
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It’s a quarterback league and a quarterback game these days, so why wouldn’t we start with Herbert?
Entering his third year, Herbert possesses all the physical skills you need to win in today’s NFL. But what can he do better? First, he can cut down on the interceptions. Last year he had 15, which was tied for third-most in the league.
And this is probably a nitpick, but Herbert can’t wait until the team is down two touchdowns to get going. He needs to be more consistent. People remember the fourth down conversions against the Raiders, but it was a loss. And really, the game that torpedoed the Chargers’ playoff hopes was the Week 15 loss to the Texans. Herbert can’t let that happen again.
Los Angeles made a deal with the Bears to pick up an elite pass rusher and former Defensive Player of the Year, sending Chicago a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 sixth-round choice.
Mack was a stud with the Raiders in his first four years, but his production in Chicago leveled off.
Mack had 12.5 sacks his first year with the Bears and helped them reach the playoffs, only for them to lose on the infamous ‘Double Doink‘ missed field goal.
Last year he played in only seven games and had six sacks, and then had surgery on his foot.
Staley said Mack was good to go at OTA’s in May, but he’s worth watching in camp to see if his explosiveness and ability to get around offensive tackles is still there.
Everett is a combo tight end, a blocker and an adequate pass catcher who spent last year with Seattle where he caught 48 balls and four touchdowns.
He’s expected to be the Chargers top tight end. His production is solid. He’s averaged just under 40 catches over the last four years. It will be interesting to see how he is utilized in the Chargers passing game.
That’s right, the Chargers first round pick out of Boston College will be one to watch in camp. It’s hard for fans to really know what to look for on young offensive linemen.
Here are two important things, if the Chargers keep moving him around on the offensive line, that’s not necessarily a good sign because it shows he may not be strong enough to play guard and not athletic enough to play tackle.
Johnson projects as a guard, so the other thing to watch is how he matches up against interior tackles. If he’s bull-rushed easily, that’s a bad sign.
Jackson was the Chargers’ other big free agency signing, getting him from the Patriots on a five-year $82.5 million deal. Any time you get a player from the Patriots, you have to wonder, was it the player or was it the scheme that made him a star?
Malcolm Butler is a Patriots legend, but a flop everywhere else. Jackson led the league with 23 passes defended and made the Pro Bowl last year. You can never have enough good coverage guys in the NFL, but why did New England let him go?
Asante Samuel Jr.
He was the Chargers’ second round selection in 2021 and played in 12 games last year with two interceptions. He missed four games with a concussion and that’s a bad injury for a defensive back to have, because they must initiate a lot of contact.
Samuel Jr. has shown good ball skills as a pro and he’s fearless. The Chargers must hope that his injuries don’t become a chronic thing.