Chargers and Saints joint practices prove to be a study in NFL diplomacy
The Saints fans who remained at Jack Hammett Sports Complex long after practice ended alternated chants of “We want Drew” and “Who ’Dat?” hoping to lure their team’s quarterback over for another round of autographs.
Drew Brees, who had just finished signing for an entire section of other fans, started jogging off the field, but he couldn’t ignore the boisterous section. He winced, knowing he was about to let these people down. He mimed a bench press, said he needed to lift weights, politely apologized and ran toward the bus, leaving a hundred or so people mildly disappointed.
After two days of practices between the Saints and Chargers, this would be as close to “confrontation” as it would get.
While practices between the Chargers and the Rams last week wrote the “Fight for LA” jokes themselves with plenty of swinging and shoving, Thursday and Friday’s work with New Orleans went off without any major scuffles.
“We had another good, clean practice with the Saints,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said, satisfied that no knuckleheaded-ness derailed the teams’ work.
Working out without pads in preparation for Sunday’s game against one another, the Saints and the Chargers grabbed and held but everything remained professional. Wide receiver Keenan Allen did have his white jersey torn, causing it to flap in the wind like a sail, by a New Orleans defensive back but that was about it.
The controlled practices allowed the Chargers and Lynn to learn about the back half of the roster, where much remains unsettled.
Injuries to key defenders such as cornerback Casey Hayward allowed for rookie Desmond King to get first-team reps against Brees and the Saints. And with starting left tackle Russell Okung a very limited participant in Friday’s practice and starting right tackle Joe Barksdale out, the Chargers got to see how their depth up front would hold up against the Saints’ pass rush.
The results were mixed, with Philip Rivers getting “sacked” a few times with Tyreek Burwell manning left tackle and Chris Hairston running with the first team at right tackle. Still, the unit continued to move the ball well, something they’ve done for most of camp.
Okung, who sat out Thursday, dressed and went through the most basic parts of practice while Barksdale was a spectator with his right foot covered by a protective boot.
“If we had a game, those guys would probably be playing,” Lynn said. “But, now’s the time to take care of those guys, let them rest and let them get well and give us an opportunity to evaluate what’s behind them.”
Lynn said rookie Dan Feeney, the team’s third-round pick, has continued to “come along” and impress, though Feeney downplayed any development.
“I did all right,” Feeney said about his debut last Sunday against Seattle. “There’s still a bunch of stuff I have to work on.”
That work will continue even after camp breaks, though the Chargers will have to fight with themselves after New Orleans leaves town. There’ll be no more joint practices, no more practice periods against strange faces and uniform numbers to fuel competition.
“I thought it was a good break for our players,” Lynn said of the work with New Orleans. “…You just get different competition.”
Undrafted running back getting attention
Austin Ekeler, who signed with the Chargers from Western State in Colorado, capped an impressive week with a touchdown catch in a two-minute drill with the second-team offense, causing a massive celebration by the Chargers sidelines.
Ekeler also made an acrobatic touchdown grab Thursday.
“He brings that threat out of the backfield, that ability to get open and catch the ball. He’s got very nice hands,” Lynn said. “… I think he’s learned the system, and now, he looks faster. He’s playing faster. He’s quicker because he knows what he’s doing, and he’s very confident.”
Ekeler could be in line for a bigger role Sunday when the Chargers host the Saints.
Lynn said the first-team offense and defense could possibly play longer in the team’s second preseason game. “If they get in one of those long drives like last week, a 13-play one, then they’ll be done,” Lynn said. … Running back Kenjon Barner is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol and likely won’t play Sunday. …Kicker Josh Lambo was perfect in his field-goal tries while rookie Younghoe Koo pulled a short attempt wide right.
Follow Dan Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports
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