The whistles and air horns sounded at the same moment Monday morning in Costa Mesa, signaling a new set of drills and causing linebacker Denzel Perryman to howl.
The Chargers were about to begin their first “real” football drill in nearly eight months — 11 offensive players on one side of the ball, Perryman and 10 other defenders on the other, dressed for contact in full pads.
“Yeeahh!” Perryman screamed.
Football was back — kind of.
Real games don’t come until early September. Preseason games are still a couple of weeks away. It wasn’t even a multiteam workout, which will happen with New Orleans later in training camp.
But the first day in pads, which happened Monday at Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa, is probably the next best thing for thumpers such as Perryman, defensive tackle Damion Square and offensive guard Dan Feeney.
“Things are more realistic. Especially as a nose [tackle], you get a chance to get physical with the guards and centers and really feel the bumps,” Square said. “I get double-teamed every play. You can’t get a realistic look without those pads on.”
That doesn’t mean there’s no on-field work in the offseason. Technique, footwork, hand placement … all those things are drilled and drilled and drilled while receivers run routes against the secondary and catch passes from quarterbacks.
That work matters, but it’s a very incomplete recipe.
“You’ve got to add force to it,” Square said.
It’s how you can tell if your work is paying off, Feeney said.
“It’s more realistic football for sure. When you’re going out there in [offseason practices], it’s only helmets. You’re working on technique mostly,” he said. “But it’s hard to see those little improvements. Obviously, a part of the game of football is physicality — hitting and moving.
The Chargers finally were able to fully practice run plays, something that doesn’t happen much in the offseason. Coach Anthony Lynn said the defense did a good job bottling up Melvin Gordon, but that’s to be expected early in camp.
“I was pleased with the run defense today,” Lynn said. “Our run defense … is always ahead of the offense because you go all offseason passing the ball. You never get a chance running the ball until you get to training camp, so offense has some catching up to do.”
Still, second-year running back Austin Ekeler had one of the day’s biggest highlights, bursting through the line for what would’ve surely been at least a 60-yard touchdown run.
Big plays, big stops, techniques in action — it all was good viewing on the first day in pads. But the better news for the Chargers?
“I don’t think we had any injuries on the field,” Lynn said. “We cut back just a little bit. Guys haven’t been in pads since December 31st I believe, so we cut back a little bit, and I think it paid off.
“Guys looked pretty sharp, and like I said, no injuries. That’s always a plus.”
Can they kick it?
The Chargers kicked field goals for the first time in training camp Monday, and as three of the 10 attempts sailed outside of the goalposts the fans groaned.
A season ago, the team ran through four kickers, none of whom worked out. That made for a lot of groaning.
In free agency, the team signed Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo in an attempt to solve the problem, but Saturday Sturgis missed twice inside of 40 yards and Aguayo missed once. Aguayo did makes kicks from 45 and 50 yards, though.
Still, Lynn said the team signed Sturgis to be the answer.
“We brought him in to be our kicker,” Lynn said. “We also brought Roberto in to compete with him, and you never know how that’s going to turn out. Roberto has been kicking outstanding this whole offseason, but we’ll see.”
Lynn said rookie Derwin James is expected back on the practice field within the next week. The team has been cautious with him over the first three days of training camp while he nurses a hamstring injury. … Wide receiver Travis Benjamin was a limited participant Monday with a sore shoulder. … Second-year cornerback Desmond King intercepted Geno Smith in seven-on-seven drills.