5 takeaways from Chargers’ joint practices with Cowboys

Highlighting what stood out from the Chargers’ joint practices with the Cowboys.

The Chargers and Cowboys held joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday in preparation for their Saturday preseason matchup.

While usually in the news for scuffles they cause, joint practices are another critical opportunity to see how talent stacks up when going against unfamiliar opponents.

Here are my takeaways from this week’s sessions:

Offensive line still a work in progress

All of the Chargers’ starters reportedly gave up a sack in Wednesday’s session, including both Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins. Dallas has a solid defensive line headlined by Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence, but it’s still not an inspiring sign for LA. The AFC West has loaded up on pass rushers this offseason, and the Chargers’ offensive line will have to have better showings in the action that counts if this team is going to make a run. Hopefully, with time comes better performance, as LA is still working rookie Zion Johnson into the fold while determining the right tackle battle. A consistent lineup will only help build the chemistry that offensive lines desperately require.

Michael Davis stepping up

Davis struggled to open camp with a seemingly challenging path to starting reps with J.C. Jackson, Bryce Callahan, and Asante Samuel Jr. taking the majority. But Samuel gave way to Davis as the second corner in the first preseason game against the Rams, and Davis has refused to hand the spot back to him thus far. Working as the boundary corner opposite Jackson, Davis had an interception of Dak Prescott and a fumble recovery across the two sessions. It seems he’s stepped up his game since telling the media last week that off-field distractions led to his poor play last season. Meanwhile, Samuel doesn’t look like he’s taken the leap the coaching staff was hoping for. It’ll be an exciting battle to watch leading up to the regular season.

Run defense improvements

The Chargers’ run defense has reportedly looked strong against a Cowboys team known for its prowess in that area – Dallas was 13th in rush DVOA last season. Sebastian Joseph-Day also got into it on Thursday, throwing the first punch of either session during a scrap with Cowboys tackle Terence Steele. I’m not saying the Chargers should be going out there and starting fights, but to know that the defensive line has more of that edge to them is good news. LA desperately needs to improve upon a league-worst run defense from 2021, and so far, it seems as though they will. 

Offensive chemistry building

On Wednesday, Justin Herbert went 10 of 12 when targeting Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, his top two receivers from last season. Thursday, Allen said after practice that Herbert stays “an hour and a half after practice” to throw with the receivers, a sharp contrast to Philip Rivers, who “never stayed,” according to Allen. That chemistry, and the extra work Herbert is putting in to build it, will be a key factor down the stretch. That’s doubly true if the offensive line continues to struggle, as Herbert has the tools to extend plays. Having a telepathic connection with his receivers when he does so will lead to some highlight outcomes.

Renewed vigor for Khalil Mack

We’ve heard all offseason that Mack is eager to show the NFL that he’s still a top ten pass rusher in the game. These practices with Dallas were his first opportunity to beat up on another team after sitting out the preseason opener against the Rams, and beating up on them, he did. The former Defensive Player of the Year set up camp in the Cowboys’ backfield for most of Wednesday’s practice, logging multiple quick pressures, including a sack and a hurry leading to an interception during Dallas’ two-minute drill. If this is the version of Khalil Mack the Chargers get all season, the offense may not even have to do much work to win games. Mack, Joey Bosa, and Derwin James will do everything themselves.

Highlights from Day 2 of Chargers-Cowboys joint practices

Check out all the best moments from the Los Angeles Chargers second joint practice with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Chargers and Cowboys took the field together again for the second and final day of practice at Jack Hammett Sports Complex ahead of their preseason matchup on Saturday, Aug. 20.

Check out all the best highlights from Thursday’s session in Costa Mesa, CA.

Chargers RB Joshua Kelley ready to show off offseason growth

Chargers RB Joshua Kelley sought a new workout and nutrition program to help his game.

Chargers running back Joshua Kelley has struggled to find his footing since entering the league in 2020.

Kelley’s issues derived from fumbles and lack of execution on special teams in his rookie season. And in his sophomore campaign, he was still unable to produce enough to be a consistent factor.

Kelley amassed 3.2 and 3.1 yards per carry in those two seasons, respectively.

Heading into Year 3, Kelley made some changes that he is hopeful will enhance his game.

Kelley reached out to Chris and Jake Bernard of Overtime Athletes in St. Petersburg, Florida, to build out a new strength and nutrition program.

“My whole goal this offseason was to become the best football player I could possibly be. It wasn’t to relax, to wind down, to do all sorts of business activities, vacation, it was to become the best player I could be for this year,” Kelley said.

“I evaluated myself. I looked at my strengths and weaknesses. I felt like I could put on some more muscle and some more explosiveness, so I took the program I had seriously and just attacked it.”

The offseason regime has seemed to be beneficial to Kelley’s game as he has looked great in training camp.

Kelley has looked more physical, elusive and decisive as a runner, breaking through tackles and making defenders miss. In the passing game, he has caught the ball well and improved in pass protection, an area Kelley struggled with early on in his career.

Kelley’s coaches and teammates have heaped high praise on him.

Kelley enters preseason play in a three-person battle for the second running back spot, competing alongside rookie Isaiah Spiller and second-year Larry Rountree II.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s three or four reps, 50 reps,” Kelley said. “I’m excited about it! It’s an opportunity. You gotta take advantage.”

Chargers expecting good things from rookie CB Ja’Sir Taylor

Chargers rookie cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor is making his case to make the 53-man roster.

The battle in the back end of the cornerback continues to heat up as the Chargers are in the thick of training camp.

Raising plenty of eyebrows as of late is sixth-round pick, Ja’Sir Taylor.

On Tuesday, during the team’s two-minute drill, Taylor was tasked with covering star wide receiver Keenan Allen. Allen ran an out-route, Taylor read the route perfectly, and secured an interception for a touchdown off quarterback Justin Herbert.

“You see a lot of growth with him, sitting right next to Bryce Callahan picking his brain every day in meetings,” defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said on Taylor. “His growth potential is really high right now. We expect good things from him once those bright lights come on.”

Taylor has primarily been working in the slot with the second team, but he saw extensive time with the first team during this session. He has also been playing gunner with the punt team on special teams.

Head coach Brandon Staley talked about how important it was to add cornerback depth this offseason, which he accomplished with Taylor and another summer standout, seventh-rounder Deane Leonard.

This will be one of the most monitored competitions heading into preseason play. Leonard and Taylor will be vying for one or maybe two final spots with returners Tevaughn Campbell and Kemon Hall.

At Wake Forest, Taylor logged 184 tackles, six interceptions, 24 passes defended, one sack, one forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries in 62 career games.

Taylor also returned kicks in his final season, averaging 26.3 yards per attempt, including one touchdown, on eight attempts.

11 Chargers players who have stood out from first 11 days of training camp

Highlighting the Chargers players who have shined at training camp up to this point.

Now eleven practices in, the Chargers will begin to ramp things up even further when preseason play begins this weekend against the Rams.

As we approach the first of three games, now is a good time to highlight the players who have shined at training camp up to this point.

Chargers’ pre-preseason 53-man roster projection

Following the first two weeks of training camp, here are our predictions for the Chargers’ 53-man roster.

The Chargers have gone through 10 days of practices and will kick off their preseason this weekend against the Rams.

So it feels like a good time for another 53-man roster projection.

Los Angeles has 90 players on its roster. They must be down to 85 players by Aug. 16, to 80 players by Aug. 23, and 53 by Aug. 30.

Here’s our latest projection:

Quarterbacks (3): Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick

In a perfect world, the Chargers keep two quarterbacks and save one of those roster spots for another position group. But in reality, I believe they elect to keep three for the sake of continuity, and they could envision Stick being Herbert’s backup once Daniel retires.

Running backs (4): Austin Ekeler, Isaiah Spiller, Joshua Kelley, Larry Rountree III

There has not been much to suggest who has the leg up on the battle to become Ekeler’s backup. But once preseason play begins, we will have a larger sample size to gauge. In my initial projections, I had Kevin Marks Jr. making the team, but he nor the other undrafted free agent, Leddie Brown, have generated any buzz. That could change in the coming weeks.

Fullbacks (1): Zander Horvath

The fullbacks haven’t gotten many opportunities to shine in camp up to this point, but Horvath has stood out more as a pass-catcher.

Wide receivers (5): Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Josh Palmer, DeAndre Carter, Jalen Guyton

No changes here except for where the receivers should sit on the depth chart. Palmer has played his way into the third wide receiver role, standing out with his ability to get consistently open and catch everything. Carter, who was seen as just a return man, has surpassed Guyton, given he has looked sharp catching the football and has scored more touchdowns than any pass-catcher during team period drills. Guyton has not been given many opportunities, but he has still flashed his speed.

Tight ends (3): Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Tre’ McKitty

No changes here. However, Hunter Kampmoyer has made his case to the team to keep four tight ends. Kampmoyer has gotten reps with the first team offense and has worked as Drue Tranquill’s replacement on special teams.

Offensive line (9): Rashawn Slater, Matt Feiler, Corey Linsley, Zion Johnson, Trey Pipkins III, Storm Norton, Jamaree Salyer, Brenden Jaimes, Will Clapp

No changes here.

Defensive line (6): Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Morgan Fox, Otito Ogbonnia, Breiden Fehoko, Jerry Tillery

Joseph-Day, Johnson, and Fox are pretty much set as the starters. The real battle here is on the back end, where I’m leaving Christian Covington off the projection this time around. Fehoko has had a very strong training camp and brings more as a run defender than Covington or Tillery. In addition, the quotes about Tillery have seemed increasingly pessimistic, which could lead to Covington snagging that spot instead.

Edge rusher (4): Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Chris Rumph II, Jamal Davis II

Bosa, Mack, and Rumph are secure. But with Kyle Van Noy primarily working at linebacker, a fourth spot is up for grabs between Davis, Ty Shelby, and Emeke Ebgule. I lean Davis because he’s been the most consistently solid throughout camp. Brandon Staley has emphasized consistency as one of the team’s main evaluation criteria this offseason.

Linebacker (5): Kyle Van Noy, Drue Tranquill, Kenneth Murray Jr., Troy Reeder, Nick Niemann

Amen Ogbongbemiga and Damon Lloyd both have compelling cases here, but it’s hard to find a spot for them unless the Chargers are carrying six linebackers, possibly at the expense of a sixth defensive lineman. Van Noy, Tranquill, Murray, and Reeder will all see extensive time. Niemann is the best special teamer of the remaining trio, which gives him the edge.

Cornerback (5): JC Jackson, Asante Samuel Jr., Bryce Callahan, Michael Davis, Deane Leonard

I could see the Chargers keep six corners, as both Tevaughn Campbell and Ja’Sir Taylor are tough cuts here. Davis has struggled in camp, but the financial investment the team has made in him makes me think he’s still a lock for the roster. Leonard has been the star of training camp, even working with the first team defense in stretches. Campbell and Taylor have been a bit more up and down, but Campbell has veteran knowledge of the system and Taylor has been receiving one-on-one coaching from Brandon Staley.

Safety (5): Derwin James Jr., Nasir Adderley, JT Woods, Mark Webb Jr., Alohi Gilman

I’m confident in five safeties making the team. The battle is for playing time – James and Adderley are the clear starters, but James also moves around a ton. Woods is the favorite to take over the two high roles when James moves down into the box, but Webb has been getting first-team reps while James continues negotiating his contract extension. Gilman has been quieter but did get first-team reps to open camp. I still think recent camp standout Raheem Layne is more likely to end up as a premium practice squad addition, but a strong showing in the preseason could push Webb and Gilman.

Specialists (3): K Dustin Hopkins, P J.K. Scott, LS Josh Harris

No changes made here.

7 takeaways from Chargers’ intrasquad scrimmage

Highlighting the notables of the Chargers’ simulation of a game-like atmosphere in the form of a practice on Sunday evening.

Day 10 of Chargers training camp was conducted as an intrasquad scrimmage at Jack Hammett Sports Complex.

Here are my takeaways from Sunday evening:

Chargers HC Brandon Staley on intrasquad scrimmage: “Clean operation”

Chargers HC Brandon Staley liked what he saw from the team’s intrasquad scrimmage.

With preseason not set to start until Aug. 13th, Sunday’s intrasquad scrimmage was the best chance for Chargers fans to see how the team is coming together. And according to head coach Brandon Staley, it went about as well as possible.

“I felt like it was a clean operation. I think everybody around the Chargers did a really good job making this clean for our fans. I love the transitions and the flow of the scrimmage. We came out of it really healthy, and we came out of it a better football team, for sure.”

The key word there is healthy. Despite missing ten players for the scrimmage, none appear to be out for extended periods. Among those, we know Derwin James is healthy but waiting for a contract extension. Kyle Van Noy and Drue Tranquill have been participating in individual work off to the side and seem ready to return soon. Donald Parham is out for about a week with a hamstring injury. Kenneth Murray remains on the PUP list but should return at some point in camp.

For a Chargers squad that seems to always be snakebitten by injuries at the worst possible times, it’s refreshing to hear that the team is coming out of the scrimmage with no major injuries. Staley alluded to as much when asked about pass rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, saying that “with both guys, you’re trying to build for a long season…We’re really trying to be purposeful in how we build both of those guys up this training camp.”

Purposefulness has been a theme under Staley, with extra emphasis on preventing as many injuries as possible. The team stretching routine has expanded, and veterans get more days off from practice to heal up. LA has followed the rest of the league in sitting their key players for the preseason, with Staley saying that if “we don’t need to evaluate you, then you’re probably not going to play in the preseason.”

Keeping the operation clean all season will be a tough task. Injuries do happen, no matter how much stretching you do or the rest you give veterans. Overcoming those obstacles is what separates a talented team from a good one. On Sunday, with a glimpse of what a fully loaded Chargers roster will look like, we saw that the team is plenty talented. How they handle the inevitable muddying of their operation as the season churns on will show us whether they’re built to last.

Chargers UDFA Raheem Layne making case for roster spot

Meet the undrafted free agent who’s been flashing at Chargers training camp.

The Chargers are well-known for developing undrafted free agents.

From 1997 to 2020, at least one rookie free agent made the opening day roster. Antonio Gates, Kassim Osgood, Wes Welker, and Austin Ekeler are among the most notable names, but team staples like Stephen Cooper and Mike Tolbert have also found their way onto the squad.

On Saturday, undrafted safety Raheem Layne made his case that he should be the next in that long line of success.

With Derwin James still sitting out while the team negotiates a contract extension and Mark Webb out with an injury, opportunity has been more available at safety. The free agent from Indiana started his day with a pass breakup down the sideline against speedster DeAndre Carter in 1v1s, then perfectly mirrored starting tight end Gerald Everett for another pass deflection. In team period, Layne erased an end around to Carter and held his own in coverage against Jalen Guyton and Donald Parham.

There’s not a lot of room in the secondary, but Layne could be playing his way into making it a difficult decision. Webb has now missed time in both of his pro seasons; as talented as he is, at some point, he has to stay on the field to be fairly evaluated. Alohi Gilman has been a bit of a quieter performer in camp and is no guarantee to make the team despite opening camp with the first teamers.

Is Layne likely to unseat the young veterans for a spot on the 53? Not really. But he could be a valuable practice squad player for a Chargers squad that had to dip into that depth frequently a season ago with a myriad of injuries at safety. So now, there’s reason to be optimistic that Layne could fill in at roughly a replacement level if called upon.

Addition of CB Bryce Callahan showing to pay dividends in Chargers training camp

Chargers cornerback Bryce Callahan is having a great training camp.

Adding more talent in the cornerback room was a priority for head coach Brandon Staley this offseason.

Staley hit a home run with the addition of All-Pro J.C. Jackson. However, the work was not done, as Staley went out and signed veteran Bryce Callahan, a player he was familiar with during his time as the outside linebackers coach with the Broncos.

Up to this point in training camp, Callahan is proving to be worth the investment. He has broken up multiple passes since the start and, most recently on Friday, on a throw intended for Keenen Allen over the middle.

Callahan was acquired to start right away in the slot, a position formerly held by Chris Harris Jr.

“That’s home for Bryce,” defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said of Callahan playing inside. “He’s done it since he came into the national football league.

He also has a great ability to play outside. But we know his strong suit is playing inside. He’s calm in there. He’s seen a lot. And he has the quickness and speed to guard pretty much anybody that goes in that slot.”

Callahan also has experience as a boundary corner, but those starting spots will be locked down by Jackson and second-year Asante Samuel Jr.

Staying healthy is key for Callahan, who has played very well when he’s seen the field. He’s landed on injured reserve with an array of lower-body injuries in the past three seasons, including last season when a knee injury robbed him of six games.

In Callahan’s six-year career with the Bears and Broncos, he’s accrued 194 tackles, 29 passes defended, and six interceptions across 66 total games and 45 starts.