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Takeaways from the Chargers preseason opener against the Rams

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Chargers defensive back John Brannon celebrates with cornerback Donte Vaughn and defensive back Kemon Hall.
Chargers defensive back John Brannon (38) celebrates with cornerback Donte Vaughn (39) and defensive back Kemon Hall (37) after he intercepted a pass by Rams quarterback Devlin Hodges late in the game at SoFi Stadium on Saturday in Inglewood.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers opened the preseason with a 13-6 win over the Rams on Saturday at SoFi Stadium.

The Los Angeles Chargers have reported to training camp in Costa Mesa and started workouts July 28.

They will participate in 17 workouts open to the public ahead of the upcoming NFL season.

Check back often for updates throughout training camp.

Takeaways from Chargers’ preseason game against Rams

Rams linebacker Justin Lawler sacks Chargers quarterback Chase Daniel.
Rams linebacker Justin Lawler sacks Chargers quarterback Chase Daniel in the first half at SoFi Stadium on Saturday in Inglewood.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers opened their preseason with a 13-6 victory over the Rams in the first football game played with fans in the history of SoFi Stadium.

Officially, 68,791 tickets were distributed, and the place was pretty full, especially for a Saturday night in L.A. when both teams didn’t play their stars.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley announced Thursday that the majority of his starters wouldn’t participate in any of the three exhibitions scheduled for this month.

Still, there was plenty to observe from this game. Here are some key takeaways:

* With veteran backup Chase Daniel at quarterback, the Chargers produced an almost-ideal version of their offensive operation on the game’s first drive — a 21-play, 73-yard march.

With offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi calling plays, they moved with an uptempo purpose, going briskly in and out of the huddle and with swift changes in personnel.

The idea of the scheme is to put pressure on the defense by operating quickly and with varied looks, all of which can help lead to exploitable match-ups.

“I thought Joe had a lot of pace in his calls,” Staley said, “which allowed our guys to get up to the line of scrimmage and operate, identify the defense and then go play the play.”

The Chargers picked up six first downs en route to moving from their own 25-yard line to inside the Rams’ five. The series consumed nearly 10 minutes.

* That drive, however, was almost ideal. What Daniel and the Chargers didn’t do was reach the end zone. They settled instead for a 21-yard Tristan Vizcaino field goal.

“We gotta finish it with a touchdown,” Staley said. “That’s the takeaway. It’s a long drive and a lot of that’s positive. But we have to score touchdowns in order to beat the best people we face.”

The series stalled after a short run by Justin Jackson and back-to-back incompletions. Daniel was pressured on the first misfire when rookie tight end Tre’ McKitty was unable to hold his block.

* The opening possession featured four backup offensive linemen and rookie starting left tackle Rashawn Slater.

Drafted 13th overall in April, Slater appeared in his first game since Nov. 30, 2019, when he started for Northwestern against Illinois. He sat out last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slater looked impressive. He started off matched up against outside linebacker Chris Garrett, a seventh-round pick out of Concordia-St. Paul.

As the series unfolded, Slater next took on Earnest Brown IV, a rookie defensive lineman the Rams took in the fifth round. That match-up was a familiar one for Slater. He and Brown were teammates at Northwestern.

When the Chargers took over for their second possession, Slater trotted back out on the field before being called back to the sidelines.

“We felt like, ‘Hey, 20-play drive, that’s probably double or triple the amount that we had planned for him,’” Staley said. “We felt that, ‘Hey, that was a really positive drive.’ We got to see a lot of him.”

Slater was replaced by Trey Pipkins. On the first snap of that next series, Pipkins gave up a pressure.

Along with Slater, the rest of the starting offensive line featured Brendan Jaimes (left guard), Scott Quessenberry (center), Tyree St. Louis (right guard) and Storm Norton (right tackle).

Jaimes, a rookie, was a fifth-round pick.

* Inside linebackers Drue Tranquill and Kyzir White and edge rushers Uchenna Nwosu and Kyler Fackrell — all expected to be contributors on defense — started.

Staley said he wanted to see both pairs play together for purposes of evaluation but also to get a sense of how they’d perform when sharing the field.

Cornerback Michael Davis and safety Nasir Adderley — both starters — also played.

That group helped lead an impressive first defensive series. The Chargers rose up to force a punt after the Rams moved past the 50-yard line.

On three successive plays, veteran lineman Christian Covington had a tackle for loss, Tranquill pressured Devlin Hodges into an incompletion with an expertly timed blitz and White had a tackle for loss.

* Rookie wide receiver Josh Palmer, who has been impressive in training camp, continued to shine with six catches for 36 yards, all in the first half.

Palmer, a third-round pick, has emerged as a potential target for quarterback Justin Herbert behind veterans Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

“He played out there tonight exactly how he’s practiced for us…” Staley said. “All of our quarterbacks trust him. We can move him throughout the formation. That gives us a lot of flexibility in how we want to play.”

* Special teams were a major issue for the Chargers in 2020 and there were more problems Saturday.

The punt coverage team gave up two long returns — one of which was called back because of a penalty. Staley said the breakdown on the other return was the result of the gunner falling down.

The Chargers also were penalized for having 12 players on the field for a punt return, gifting the Rams a first down. That miscue happened because of a bit of miscommunication with rookie Chris Rumph II.

He “kind of misinterpreted what we told him,” Staley said, “which is our fault, my fault. We gotta take ownership.”

* Rookie running back Larry Roundtree III finished with 63 yards on eight carries. He had a 25-yard run to convert a fourth down midway through the third quarter.

The Chargers were facing fourth-and-1 at their own 39-yard line in a 6-6 game when Staley, being aggressive, decided to go for it. He said he liked the distance needed and the play that was being called.

“That was a ‘green go’ for us,” Staley explained. “It definitely was practice, but that was a ‘go’ for us all the way.”

The Chargers scored the game-winning touchdown — on a Darius Bradwell one-yard run — four plays after Roundtree’s conversion.

* Along with his touchdown, Bradwell had a notable moment when he hammered Rams kickoff returner Jeremiah Haydel to open the second half.

“That’s my natural special teams abilities,” Bradwell said. “I’m a dog. So just take the leash off me and let me run. I’m gonna hit somebody.”

* Jackson left the game and did not return because of a groin injury. Long snapper Cole Mazza suffered a shoulder injury. Staley said it was too early to know the extent of either ailment.

* Vizcaino had field goals of 21 and 38 yards and Michael Badgley had one extra point in their position battle. Neither missed any kicks. Both kicked off twice and all four attempts reached the end zone.

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Justin Herbert to join most Chargers starters on sideline during preseason games

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws a pass.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws a pass during practice on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers will play the Rams on Saturday night at SoFi Stadium.

Or, at least, some of the Chargers will.

Coach Brandon Staley confirmed Thursday that the majority of the team’s starters — including second-year quarterback Justin Herbert — won’t appear in that game or the two preseason contests that follow.

When Staley was hired in January, he and general manager Tom Telesco began putting together a plan that prioritized getting the Chargers to Week 1 of the regular season as healthy as possible.

They scaled back the offseason program and made adjustments to the training camp schedule designed to keep players fresher.

Sitting the starters in the preseason is another step in that process and also continues a trend that has gained momentum throughout the NFL in recent years.

“Our practices are going to be a lot more like games than these preseason games,” Staley said. “The environment that we create on our practice field is where the real action is in the preseason.”

Last year, there were no NFL exhibition games because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There also were no joint practices, which teams have been using more and more to replace preseason reps.

The Chargers in 2020 also saw firsthand how quickly Herbert blossomed after being forced into the starting lineup in Week 2 without the benefit of any practice games.

“I was in college not too long ago,” Staley said. “They don’t have preseason in college and it seems to work just fine there. Last year, we didn’t have it. Teams did just fine without it.”

After facing the Rams, the Chargers return to training camp next week in Costa Mesa and conclude with back-to-back joint practices with San Francisco. They will play the 49ers at SoFi Stadium on Aug. 22.

While the majority of the starters will be inactive in preseason, Staley said the Chargers’ rookies, including first-round pick Rashawn Slater, will play. Slater, the starter at left tackle, sat out last season at Northwestern because of the pandemic.

He is part of a rebuilt offensive line that features four new starters. That group will use training camp to find its rhythm.

“That’s why we spend all our time pouring into these practices,” Staley said. “We can create that camaraderie. We can create that cohesion. We can create those game-like situations where those guys can figure things out together.”

Veteran Chase Daniel is scheduled to start at quarterback against the Rams, with Easton Stick to follow.

Highlights and observations from Thursday’s practice:

— Right tackle Bryan Bulaga did not take part in team drills as the Chargers continue to monitor his practice time in an attempt to keep the veteran healthy.

He was replaced by Trey Pipkins. Storm Norton also has taken Bulaga’s spot at times during camp.

Bulaga played only 38% — a career low — of the offensive snaps in 2020 because of multiple injuries, most notably one to his back.

“It was a frustrating year,” he said. “When the back injury happened…it kind of put a big nick in my season.”

Bulaga, 32, said he and coach Brandon Staley talked about tempering his workload leading up to the 2021 season, which will be Bulaga’s 11th.

He explained that his schedule now is similar to the one he was on in 2019, his final year in Green Bay. Bulaga started all 16 games that season and played 83% of the Packers’ offensive snaps.

He praised Staley, who is a rookie head coach, for being willing to work with veterans who might benefit from a dialed-back work schedule.

“Brandon is into that,” Bulaga said. “He’s very aware of it. He’s very aware of the mileage and reps that are put on guys’ bodies throughout practice, and he adjusts things according to that. And that’s important.

“I think what Brandon also does fantastically is he listens to his guys. He understands what guys are telling him. Obviously, he doesn’t always have to act upon…he’s the head football coach. He could do whatever he wants.

“But he takes that input from guys and he puts it in the back of his head and he keeps it there and he thinks about it. Guys respect that…You can tell he follows that stuff and he cares about that stuff.”

Bulaga explained that he never before had experienced an injury to his back. That unfamiliarity made the situation more difficult.

“It took me a long time to recover from it and get my body in a place where I felt it was good enough to perform,” he said. “Then, with that injury, things kept creeping up throughout the season.

“You don’t have the necessary time you would need to let that thing fully recover and let it settle down and truly heal. You’re trying to push back into something when the slightest movements, pressures, certain positions fire it back up or maybe even injure it a little further.”

Bulaga said he spent much of the offseason rehabilitating and attempting to strengthen his core. He said the work continues as he tries to remain available each day.

“So far, my back’s felt really good,” he said. “Backs can pop up on you just like that. It’s something that we’re very aware of and we’re continuing to (work on).”

— Wide receiver Mike Williams (hip flexor), linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. (ankle) and defensive lineman Cortez Broughton (groin) did not practice. Staley said each was held out as a precaution and would be available if this were a regular-season game week.

— Cornerback Brandon Facyson rejoined the team at practice after missing several days because of a family matter.

— Second-year receiver Joe Reed made a pair of nice catches in 7-on-7. Reed, a fifth-round pick in 2020, is fighting for a roster spot after an uneven rookie season.

— In the first 11-on-11 period, linebacker Kyzir White returned an interception for a touchdown against Justin Herbert and the No. 1 offense.

— Rookie safety Mark Webb (hamstring) remains out but is expected to return to practice next week. Cornerback Ryan Smith (core muscle) also remains sidelined.

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Chargers kicker Michael Badgley aims to get fans back on his side

Chargers kicker Michael Badgley waits for practice to begin.
Chargers kicker Michael Badgley waits for practice to begin at the team’s training camp in Costa Mesa on July 28.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The moment Sunday was the most real, most genuine of a practice set up to only simulate an actual game.

En route to Michael Badgley missing half of his six attempts during a field-goal period, Chargers fans serenaded him with a swelling wave of boos.

“Obviously, it’s one of those things where no one wants to hear that,” Badgley said Wednesday. “But they have expectations just like I do, just like our team does. That expectation is that you need to be a championship-caliber player.

“That’s how I feel I am. That’s what I’m working toward everyday, to be that championship kicker and just be there for this team. ... You don’t like hearing it, but it’s part of the game.”

The occasion was an open practice at SoFi Stadium, the Chargers’ first action at the new facility with fans.

Badgley called the return of spectators “awesome” and said he couldn’t “be more excited about it.” But his showing and the crowd’s reaction to it did make for an awkward reunion.

“It tells me that our fanbase is really passionate about the kicking game,” special teams coordinator Derius Swinton II said. “They don’t go to the concession stand when we kick. That let’s me know they’re educated. They want to see us win. They want to see us make kicks.

“I love that. It lets me know that we’re a family. They’re in this with us. The only thing I ask of them is, you know, we’re not going to be with family on Saturday. We’re going to be with the Ram fans. So let’s keep the boo birds down if something goes negative.”

The Chargers and Rams are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at SoFi in the preseason opener for both teams.

Entering his fourth year, Badgley is competing to keep his job after a subpar 2020 in which he struggled to convert from distance. A perfect 14 for 14 from 39 yards and closer, Badgley was only 10 for 19 from 40 yards and beyond.

His issues have extended into training camp as Badgley continues searching for the consistency that marked his first two seasons.

“Kind of moved on to this year,” he said. “New coaching staff. New players. Just feels like new everything. It’s one of those things where you put it in the past and move forward. Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.”

The Chargers have two other kickers in camp, Tristan Vizcaino and Alex Kessman.

Vizcaino has one game of NFL experience and so far has displayed the strongest leg in camp. Kessman played at Pittsburgh and signed as an undrafted free agent in May.

Kicker Tristan Vizcaino practices before a game.
Kicker Tristan Vizcaino practices before a game against the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 29, 2019, in Cincinnati.
(Gary Landers / Associated Press)

“Competition isn’t something you run from,” Badgley said. “It’s something you gotta embrace, especially at a position like this.”

Vizcaino, who played high school football in Chino Hills and collegiately at Washington, signed with Cincinnati in 2019 as an undrafted free agent.

He finally made his NFL debut in Week 17 last season, converting three field goals and two extra points for San Francisco. The Chargers — at Swinton’s urging — signed Vizcaino in March.

“He just has some untapped potential,” Swinton said of Vizcaino during the offseason, adding that the Chargers “targeted” the kicker in free agency.

Based on practice, Vizcaino would seem to have the early edge. But the Chargers’ three preseason games — depending on the number of opportunities that arise — could factor heavily in the final decision.

Badgley emerged as the team’s kicker midway through the 2018 season, his performance settling what had been an unstable position.

He became a favorite among fans and teammates because of his personality and performance. As a rookie, Badgley made a 59-yarder against Cincinnati and five field goals in a playoff victory over Baltimore. Both are franchise records.

For his career, he never has missed a field goal from 39 yards or shorter, going 30 for 30.

But — particularly last season —- Badgley has sputtered beyond that distance. Eight of his nine misses in 2020 came from 46 to 51 yards. The other was a 58-yarder that was blocked by New England at the end of the first half and returned for a touchdown.

Swinton indicated that the Chargers will evaluate all three of their kicker candidates on only this training camp and preseason.

“It’s in the present,” he said. “Yesterday doesn’t matter. It’s just where I am with you now. ... All that stuff doesn’t carry over. We do live in a society where it’s always ‘Throwback Thursday.’ No, it’s today. That’s what we are. That’s what it should be.”

Highlights and observations from Wednesday’s practice:

— The defense stopped two two-minute drives near the end of practice with interceptions. Michael Davis picked off Justin Herbert after rookie receiver Josh Palmer slipped and fell on his route. Tevaughn Campbell followed by intercepting a Chase Daniel pass that was batted in the air by Joe Gaziano. Palmer returned to practice after being absent Tuesday because of personal reasons.

— Herbert bounced back to the lead the offense to a 19-yard Badgley field goal on the final drive of practice. He finished 9 for 12, converting third downs with completions to Jared Cook, Stephen Anderson and Joshua Kelley.

— Herbert appeared to be stepped on during 11-on-11 but was able to continue practicing.

— Cornerback John Brannon had another interception, continuing his impressive camp.

— Wide receiver Mike Williams did not participate in team drills. He remained on the sideline with a wrap on his upper right leg.

— During their respective field-goal periods, Badgley missed from 33 and 50 yards and finished three for five and Vizcaino went five for five with a long of 50.

— Linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. (ankle) and defensive backs Brandon Facyson (family matter), Ryan Smith (core muscle) and Mark Webb (hamstring) did not practice.

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Chargers adjusting to new defensive scheme under Brandon Staley

Chargers linebacker Joey Bosa runs a drill during practice.
Chargers linebacker Joey Bosa (97) runs a drill during practice at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers are switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive front, to a plan that will feature more man-to-man pass coverage, to a system based on disguises and multiple personnel groupings.

All this transition began shortly after coach Brandon Staley arrived in January, the Chargers hiring away the man who helped build the Rams into last year’s top-ranked defense.

But Staley’s re-education of the Chargers didn’t start with his celebrated X’s and Os. It instead was founded on something much broader.

Defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill on Tuesday explained that Staley first talked about philosophies and principles rather than just spouting scheme. Before the X’s and Os, Staley covered the whys.

“I think we gave them [the players] a clean insight on the way we do things that’s maybe different than a lot of other teams,” Hill said. “Once we got that conception to those guys, then we could install.”

Hill spent a decade as an NFL defensive back and now is in his 10th season of coaching. He characterized Staley’s approach as a career first.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like that before,” Hill said. “It benefitted me and I’m sure some of the other coaches, as well, learning how he wanted to build this from the ground up.”

In training camp, the Chargers’ defense has been dominant at times and, generally speaking, has won more often against the offense than it has lost.

With so much based on communication and understanding, this is a defense that will require 11 minds — not just 11 bodies — working as one.

When in unison, the Chargers should be able to play more aggressively than in recent seasons while attempting to capitalize on confusing the opposition, especially as the ball is being snapped.

“The defense has done a great job of disguising their looks,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “I think that’s one of the great aspects of Coach Staley’s defense is everything looks the same. So they’re able to do so much off of that.”

Both of Staley’s parents — he has called them his “heroes” — started out as school teachers. He often has talked about his love of the teaching aspect of coaching, about sharing as well as gaining knowledge.

Five days before the preseason opener, Staley’s approach to overhauling the defense seems to be working. And everything goes back to how it all started, in the classroom.

“A lot of people make a lot of the scheme that we play,” Staley said. “But it’s really how we play that is the secret sauce. Our guys understand how we play in the run front, how we rush the passer, how we cover, how that all ties together.

“I think that’s been the key for us. It’s our coaches being connected with our players, players to coaches, and then all three layers of your defense. You have to get everybody connected to play team defense. I think that our guys are really invested in that. I’m proud of them.”

Cornerback Michael Davis said he loves the changes Staley has made because he welcomes the challenge of playing more man-to-man. He also explained that the defense will keep quarterbacks on edge and constantly thinking.

Under Gus Bradley, the Chargers’ former defensive coordinator, the team typically stuck to simple, predictable substitution patterns and personnel groupings in order to permit the players to think less and play faster.

“In previous years, people always knew what we were in,” Davis said. “Now, you never know what we’re going to be in, depending upon the fronts, what the safeties are doing and where they’re rotating, stuff like that.”

The Chargers will have two chances to face Bradley’s defense this season. He was hired in January to be Las Vegas’ defensive coordinator.

Along with the schematic changes, Davis also suggested this defense’s attitude is different.

“Just hard and aggressive,” he said. “That’s just how we are. I guess last year we were a little bit more softer. ... Now we’re a little more like punch ’em in the mouth and see what happens.”

Last year’s Chargers did finish 10th in yards allowed. Only eight defenses yielded fewer passing yards.

But they also were 23rd in points surrendered, tied for 22nd in takeaways, tied for 25th in tackles for loss and 25th in sacks.

“You gotta have enough in your pocket in this league,” Hill said when asked about the defense being more aggressive. “It’s easy for teams to scheme against just a few things. We want to be multiple in our scheme and what we do.”

Highlights and observations from Tuesday’s practice:

*The Chargers had one of their briefest and least-intense sessions of training camp, a session that included only one 11-on-11 period. Staley has made player health a priority.

General manager Tom Telesco has indicated that dialing back offseason on-field work and training camp practices were things he and Staley discussed as far back as January. They continue to adhere to that plan.

*The flashiest moment came during 7-on-7 in the red zone when Herbert threaded a touchdown pass between safeties Derwin James and Nasir Adderley to Keenan Allen.

*Rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. nearly had his first interception of camp when he closed on Tyron Johnson in the right flat. But Johnson was able to secure the catch and turn upfield.

Johnson practiced for the first time after missing several days because of a foot/ankle injury.

*Wide receiver Josh Palmer missed practice because of personal reasons. Cornerback Brandon Facyson remains out because of a family matter.

*Linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. (ankle), cornerback Ryan Smith (core muscle) and safety Mark Webb (hamstring) did not practice. Murray was replaced by Kyzir White on the No. 1 defense. Murray’s injury is not thought to be serious.

*All-Pro center Corey Linsley (foot) returned after missing time Sunday.

*The Chargers activated wide receiver John Hurst off the physically unable to perform list. Hurst finished last season on the practice squad.

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Chargers get in a practice game and a festival at SoFi Stadium

Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams tries to haul in a pass during practice at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Justin Herbert hit Keenan Allen for a touchdown, Derwin James had a highlight defensive play and the field goal kicking was unsteady.

Yeah, the Chargers played a football game Sunday and a lot of familiar things happened.

This one, though, was different, the team making its debut in front of spectators at SoFi Stadium.

The open practice was staged in the middle of training camp and billed as a festival for fans, complete with a concert featuring The Offspring.

You get in here for pregame and there are people waiting for you,” coach Brandon Staley said. “That made it feel a lot different for our guys. I think that level of focus, that level of energy, it kind of got our guys going right away.

“I’m so glad that we did this because this is so much different than training camp. It was so different than last year, and I think that adjustment is real.”

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News and notes from Chargers practice on Sunday

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) lines up for a snap during practice at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Other highlights and observations from Sunday’s practice while fans were enjoying the festival atmosphere at SoFi Stadium:

• New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi called plays from the press box for most of the workout. All the signals were relayed to Justin Herbert through the quarterback’s listening device in his helmet. He did not wear a wristband with the plays on it, something he did last season.

“I was able to kind of picture and visualize all the plays today,” Herbert said. “I felt like I had a good understanding of it.”

• Running the two-minute offense, Herbert jump-started a series with a long scramble when he couldn’t find an open receiver. At the end of the run, he slid safety, something that was an issue at times in 2020.

“It’s a learning process,” Herbert said. “I learned that pretty quickly last year not to do that again. I’ve done my best of being aware of my surroundings and seeing defenders and being smart and not taking unnecessary hits.”

• Herbert had an eight-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, who is putting together a solid camp after a slow start. Williams beat Michael Davis later on a back-shoulder throw from Herbert.

• In the on-going kicking battle, Staley said a significant factor will be kickoffs. Tristan Vizcaino has shown a more powerful leg than Michael Badgley and Alex Kessman so far in camp.

“We’re planning on scoring, you know, so our kickoff coverage is a big component of that position,” Staley said. “So we’re at the beginning of that evaluation. The good news is we get three more (preseason) games, to evaluate against other people.”

Punter Ty Long kicked off for the Chargers last season.

• Rookie linebacker Nick Niemann, a sixth-round pick in May, took some of Kenneth Murray Jr.’s snaps with the No. 1 defense after Murray left because of ankle injury.

• Those who did not practice included defensive backs Brandon Facyson (family matter), Ryan Smith (core muscle) and Mark Webb (hamstring); wide receiver Tyron Johnson (foot/ankle); and defensive tackle Christian Covington (undisclosed).

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Chase Daniel aims to heighten game in bid to be Chargers’ backup quarterback

Chargers quarterbacks Justin Herbert (10) and Chase Daniel (7) work on a drill July 31, 2021.
Chargers quarterbacks Justin Herbert (10) and Chase Daniel (7) work on a drill July 31 at training camp in Costa Mesa.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

In a fight to be the Chargers’ backup quarterback, Chase Daniel just heard his offensive coordinator compare him to an actor.

An actor who is 4 feet 10.

Joe Lombardi on Friday joked that, when they stand next to each other, Daniel and starter Justin Herbert look like Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “Twins.”

“Pretty funny,” Daniel said a day later. “Probably some of the younger [media members] didn’t get that reference. He’s showing his age with that one.”

“Twins” was released in 1988, a decade before Herbert was born.

Daniel, to be fair, is 6 feet tall. And Herbert, at 6-6, towers over most quarterbacks.

The two have been spending a lot of time together since Daniel signed as a free agent in March.

Retired star Philip Rivers has not ruled out a return to the NFL, but his family is living large as he coaches high school football in Alabama.

Daniel played four seasons with the New Orleans Saints — Lombardi was his quarterbacks coach — and knows well the offense to which the Chargers are transitioning.

He has been helping Herbert grasp the system while competing with Easton Stick for the No. 2 job. Lombardi has likened Daniel to having another coach on staff.

“The good thing about this offense is it’s all about matchups,” Daniel said. “Having a guy back there who can really sling it is something to be excited about.”

At 34, Daniel is entering his 12th NFL season and playing for his seventh team. But he has started only five games, or one-third as many as Herbert did last year.

Still, the respect Daniel has earned since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2009 is as obvious as this game can be lucrative. And, according to Spotrac, Daniel during his career has earned more than $37 million.

“I’ve made a good living,” Daniel said. “I’m in a really good spot. I’ve been doubted my whole career, so I’m not too worried about it.”

As the Chargers begin training camp for the 2021 season, here are six key questions that they hope will be answered.

Two of Daniel’s starts came against the Chargers, and one remains somewhat famous. On the final weekend of the 2014 season, he directed Kansas City to a 19-7 victory that helped eliminate the Chargers from playoff contention.

When Daniel signed in March, he said general manager Tom Telesco mentioned that game. He said other members of the front office have brought it up since.

“It was a cool experience to understand, ‘Hey, I made an impression on him seven, eight years ago,’ ” Daniel said. “You just never know, right?”

Daniel is trying to impress the Chargers again, even as his offensive coordinator playfully jabs him in public.

“Joe and I go way back,” Daniel said. “He’s not going to say anything to offend me.”

Highlights and observations from Saturday’s practice:

• The defense has bested the offense in terms of highlight plays so far in camp. Edge rusher Joey Bosa even got close enough to Herbert during 11-on-11 to knock the ball out of his hands.

Typically this time of year, quarterbacks are not to be touched. And Herbert and the other quarterbacks wore red jerseys Saturday.

“We got a little close to Justin today,” coach Brandon Staley said, smiling. “We’ll have a couple demerits here in our afternoon meeting.”

But protecting Herbert is no joke. Bosa beat tackle Storm Norton on the play.

“When you win a rush, [you] vacate [yield to] the quarterback,” Staley explained. “That’s something that’s really important, respecting that guy’s space.”

• The No. 1 defense stopped the No. 1 offense during a two-minute drill near the end of practice.

Herbert completed six passes — he had a seventh that was perfectly placed, but tight end Jared Cook couldn’t make the catch — and also scrambled to convert a third and 17. But the offense had a holding penalty and a false start.

• Rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater hustled out to be the lead blocker on a nice run by Austin Ekeler.

• The offense had more success during a period focused on the red zone. Herbert hit Jalen Guyton and Keenan Allen for touchdowns. Allen torched cornerback Michael Davis with one of his routes.

• Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was limited to individual drills as the Chargers continue to monitor the workload for their veterans. Staley said Bulaga will practice Sunday.

• Brandon Facyson was absent for the second consecutive practice. Staley said the cornerback is dealing with a family matter.

• Defensive back Mark Webb (hamstring) and wide receiver Tyron Johnson (foot/ankle) could return to practice next week, Staley said. Cornerback Ryan Smith (core muscle) remains out.

• The Chargers signed defensive lineman Chris Okoye and cornerback KJ Sails.

• The 10th open practice of training camp will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The Chargers are estimating a crowd of 35,000 for the session.

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Chargers running back Joshua Kelley says he is no longer fumbling over mental game

Chargers running back Joshua Kelley carries the football during a camp drill.
Chargers running back Joshua Kelley says he has improved his mental game entering his second NFL season.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

He scored a touchdown in the first NFL game and carried a team-high 23 times in his second.

Soon enough, though, Joshua Kelley’s rookie year went sideways, and he fell so far down the depth chart that he played only nine offensive snaps over the Chargers’ final five games.

Now, Kelley is trying to reestablish himself with a new coaching staff and the same old positive, smiling outlook.

“You really just have to move on,” he said Friday. “Some of the best people in this league who are really good know how to move on fast. … That’s something I’m learning now.”

Kelley is battling Justin Jackson for playing time behind starting running back Austin Ekeler. The Chargers also drafted Larry Roundtree III in the sixth round in May and brought back former undrafted free agent Darius Bradwell.

A fourth-round selection out of UCLA, Kelley emerged quickly before fumbling in consecutive games — Weeks 3 and 4 in losses to Carolina and Tampa Bay. Later in the season, his blown assignment led to a punt being blocked.

Asked what he worked on most in the offseason, Kelley didn’t hesitate before answering “confidence.”

“I feel like a lot of people have the ability,” he explained. “I know I have the ability. It’s just all mental. That was the biggest thing for me. A lot of my teammates told me, ‘It’s just mental for you.’

“So, once I figure out the mental obstacle, I think for me I know I have the potential and ability to play in this league for a long time. That’s been the biggest thing.”

Operating behind an oft-injured and inconsistent line a year ago, Kelley struggled. Of the 51 NFL running backs who carried at least 100 times, his 3.2-yard average per attempt was the lowest.

Rediscovering a ground game in 2021 would be a significant development for an offense designed to feature multiple looks and personnel packages. The ability to effectively use play action could only help quarterback Justin Herbert.

Last season, the Chargers were a top-10 team in rushing attempts but ranked in the bottom half in yardage. Only Atlanta and Pittsburgh averaged fewer yards per carry than the Chargers’ 3.8.

The Chargers finished with just 12 touchdowns on the ground. During his Hall of Fame career, LaDainian Tomlinson accounted for 12 or more rushing touchdowns in a season seven times.

The offensive line has been rebuilt with the free-agent signings of center Corey Linsley and guards Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi. The Chargers used the No. 13 pick in the draft on left tackle Rashawn Slater.

“They’re some dudes,” Kelley said. “We got some dudes … that are just All-Pros and great players. I’m excited.”

Though he explained that he didn’t alter his training regimen entering his second NFL season, Kelley did suggest his diet improved.

“Obviously, you eat better,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “I got a little bit more money, so you can do that.”

Kelley said he’s eating more fish and veggies these days, despite not being a fan of the latter.

“I don’t really have a big appetite for vegetables,” he said. “But it’s a necessary evil, and you just gotta eat it.”

Highlights and observations from Friday’s practice:

—The Chargers were in pads for the second time, meaning Slater had another round of one-on-one work against the defensive line. He starred in his first session, particularly against three-time Pro Bowl selection Joey Bosa.

This time, Slater struggled to start, getting beat first by Kyler Fackrell and then by Bosa. But he rallied to best Uchenna Nwosu on three consecutive reps and then took Fackrell to the ground on his final snap.

—Veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga returned and was a full participant. He had his right hand heavily wrapped after his most recent practice Tuesday.

—Cornerback Brandon Facyson, who has been starting on the outside when Chris Harris Jr. moves inside, wasn’t present at practice for undisclosed reasons.

With Facyson absent, Asante Samuel Jr. and Tevaughn Campbell were given more time with the first team.

—Michael Badgley and Tristan Vizcaino both finished four for five on field-goal attempts. Badgley had a long of 50 yards and Vizcaino a long of 45.

—The defensive high points included sacks for Bosa, Jerry Tillery and Cortez Broughton and a pass breakup at the goal line by safety Alohi Gilman.

—Receiver Austin Proehl continued his impressive camp with a catch in traffic on a pass from Easton Stick. Proehl’s father, Ricky, played in the NFL for 16 years.

“You can tell he comes from a football family,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “He’s a smart and savvy player, always seems to get open. Just a reliable guy.”

—Wide receivers Tyron Johnson (foot/ankle) and Jalen Guyton (undisclosed) and cornerback Ryan Smith (leg) did not practice.

—Defensive tackle Jared Goldwire told the Chargers he is retiring. He signed in May as an undrafted rookie out of Louisville.

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Alohi Gilman says ‘aloha’ to new Chargers coaches with play at safety

Chargers safety Alohi Gilman runs during camp.
Chargers safety Alohi Gilman has made his presence felt during training camp.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Three plays into an 11-on-11 period Wednesday Justin Herbert fired in the direction of Jared Cook only to have a fast-closing defensive back diagnose and disrupt the play.

The pass breakup marked just the latest sign of improvement for Alohi Gilman.

Entering his second season, the Chargers safety has emerged early in camp as a potential contributor after an underwhelming rookie season.

“It only gets better when the pads come on with Alohi,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “He’s a physical safety, really good hips, really quick in and out of his breaks. He brings a huge element to our defense and our special teams.”

Gilman and Tranquill were teammates at Notre Dame in 2018. The Chargers drafted Gilman in the sixth round in 2020, one year after taking Tranquill in the fourth round.

As a rookie, Gilman played mostly special teams. He was on the field for only 71 defensive snaps, all but three of which came in the final two games.

Philip Rivers, now a high school football coach in Alabama, has not ruled out coming back to the NFL.

Through seven training camp practices, Gilman has been playing with the No. 1 defense in certain packages that feature extra defensive backs. He typically has been on the field with fellow safeties Derwin James and Nasir Adderley.

“Alohi’s got toughness,” coach Brandon Staley said. “He can see in the deep part of the field, which is something we value. He can think. He’s a guy you can trust with adjustments. He’s a guy that can tackle. He can do a little bit of everything.”

Defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill said he likes Gilman’s “calmness,” noting that he seems to be grasping a complicated defense well to this point.

“He has control back there,” Hill said. “He’s communicating well with those guys. Those guys feel comfortable with him right now.”

Highlights and observations from Wednesday’s practice:

—Michael Badgley finished a pair of drives during a two-minute-offense period with field goals, one from 43 yards and the other from 45.

“To see those guys in live fire, as it’s unfolding, that’s important,” Staley said.

Trying to hold on to his job, Badgley made three of five kicks during another session. He missed from 42 yards and 54 yards but did convert a 50-yarder.

Rookie Alex Kessman went five for five Wednesday with two came from 50 and 54 yards.

Tristan Vizcaino is the third kicker in camp. All three have been receiving opportunities in practice.

—Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was absent a day after leaving the field with his right hand heavily wrapped.

Staley said Bulaga was given the day off as a long-time NFL veteran. He said he was not concerned about Bulaga’s health, calling the result of what happened Tuesday in practice “just typical O-line stuff.”

Bulaga spent time with a trainer following a successful two-minute drill that concluded the workout for the starters.

Staley added that Bulaga should return to practice when the Chargers reconvene on the field Friday. The players are off Thursday.

Entering his 11th season, Bulaga, 32, signed with the Chargers as a free agent in 2020. He was limited to 10 games and 38% of the offensive snaps a year ago because of injuries.

In Bulaga’s absence, Trey Pipkins started with the first team.

—With Pipkins moved up to starting right tackle, undrafted rookie Darius Harper replaced him on the second team.

—Cornerback Michael Davis had an impressive pass breakup along the sideline defending Mike Williams.

—John Brannon intercepted a Chase Daniel pass that deflected off the hands of running back Larry Roundtree III. Brannon, who had two interceptions Wednesday, spent most of last season on the practice squad. Roundtree was a sixth-round pick in May.

—Wide receivers Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton and cornerback Ryan Smith did not practice. Johnson is dealing with a foot/ankle injury and Smith has a leg issue. Guyton’s injury is unspecified.

—Rookie safety Mark Webb, who has been having an impressive camp, left practice because of a leg issue and did not return.

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Chargers’ season-ticket sales already exceed numbers from San Diego days

How SoFi Stadium will look for Chargers home games.
The Chargers say they already have exceeded expectations for season-tickets sales for the 2021 season.
(Jeff Miller / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers have exceeded 45,000 in season ticket sales for their first season in SoFi Stadium with fans.

They have “blown past” 45,611, according to a team spokesman. That was the franchise’s annual average during its final 20 seasons in San Diego. The Chargers moved to Los Angeles in 2017.

They are sharing SoFi with the Rams. Both teams played there last season without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chargers’ profile received a boost in 2020 with the performance of quarterback Justin Herbert, whom the Associated Press named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.

Fred Maas, the team’s chief of staff, attributed the ticket sales numbers to the return to normalcy from the pandemic, the excitement around the team and the desire to see SoFi Stadium firsthand.

“The synergy of all those things came together,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”

Since December, Maas said, the franchise has experienced its “most robust months” of ticket sales over the past two decades.

There also is added anticipation with the Chargers since the hiring of Brandon Staley as head coach. Staley joined the team in January after serving as the Rams’ defensive coordinator.

The Chargers and Rams will play each other in a preseason game at SoFi on Aug. 14. The Chargers’ home opener is set for Sept. 19 against Dallas.

The Chargers will stage an open practice and Fanfest beginning at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at SoFi.

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Chargers aiming to kick up special teams a notch or two or three or ...

Chargers kicker Michael Badgley stretches and relaxes during camp.
The Chargers have brought in training camp competition for kicker Michael Badgley.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The Chargers have a talented young quarterback in Justin Herbert and a dynamic young safety in Derwin James.

They are so interesting this season that even the Chargers’ training camp special teams periods are must-see — but for an entirely different reason.

In 2020, the Chargers had perhaps the least-special of all NFL’s special teams. Their kicker struggled from distance. Their punt coverage had the lowest net average. Their punt return was fifth-worst overall.

Over the course of an otherwise up-and-down 7-9 finish, the one consistency was poor play in the kicking game.

The performance led to multiple in-season coaching changes, with former head coach Anthony Lynn eventually taking over. Lynn and most of his staff are now gone.

New head coach Brandon Staley hired Derius Swinton II to be his special teams coordinator.

“There’s no pressure,” Swinton said when asked about the absolute need for the kicking game to improve. “You just try to do your job every day. You try to hold the guys accountable. They hold you accountable.”

Michael Badgley has been the Chargers’ kicker when healthy since midway through the 2018 season. But last year he missed nine of 19 attempts from 40 yards and beyond.

The team brought in Tristan Vizcaino and Alex Kessman to compete with Badgley and each has been given opportunities.

On Tuesday, Vizcaino and Kessman both made four of five field goal tries with a long of 51 yards. Vizcaino and Badgley went five for five apiece Monday, with Vizcaino converting from 52 yards and Badgley from 55.

“We can’t live in yesterday,” Swinton said in reference to Badgley’s 2020 showing. “I wasn’t here. I don’t know what was going on. Did he wear the wrong socks? I can’t really worry about last year. We worry about today.”

The Chargers also signed a second punter (Lachlan Edwards) to compete with Ty Long and a second long snapper (Ryan Langan) to battle Cole Mazza.

The emphasis on special teams has been more obvious in this camp than in previous seasons under Lynn. Swinton’s energy is palpable and his organization and attention to detail — two things Staley values — couldn’t be clearer.

The Chargers typically have staged two special teams periods wrapped around 11-on-11 drills in an attempt to better simulate a game environment.

“If you have something good or bad happen offensively in a period, ‘Hey, there’s a consequence…’ ” Staley said. “Now we gotta go play teams no matter what. [We’re] getting them used to operating in that rhythm, which is important to me.”

As for practice observations ...

—Right tackle Bryan Bulaga finished practice being attended to by a trainer. His right hand could be seen heavily taped as he walked off the field.

Bulaga apparently hurt himself during a successful two-minute drill that concluded the workout for the starters.

In his 11th season, Bulaga signed with the Chargers as a free agent in 2020. He was limited to 10 games and 38% of the offensive snaps a year ago because of injuries.

Behind Bulaga, the Chargers have Trey Pipkins and Storm Norton, among others. Left guard Matt Feiler also has played right tackle during his career and could be an option if necessary.

—The defense had another dominating day. The highlights included sacks by Jerry Tillery and Joey Bosa, batted-down passes by Joe Gaziano and Emeke Egbule, and pass breakups by Brandon Facyson and Derwin James. The one by James came against Mike Williams in the end zone.

The starting offense finally struck with its scoring drive during a two-minute drill in 11-on-11.

Quarterback Justin Herbert completed seven passes, including a 21-yarder to rookie Josh Palmer, to set up the offense at the four-yard line with 10 seconds remaining.

Herbert then found Williams for the touchdown despite cornerback Tevaughn Campbell holding Williams and drawing a penalty flag.

—Among the players who have been returning kicks: Nasir Adderley, KJ Hill Jr., Joe Reed and Austin Proehl.

Swinton said he has a shared nickname for Adderley and Campbell.

“I call ’em ‘Teslas,’ ” he explained. “Because Teslas, you don’t hear them coming. They just go fast by ya’.”

—Wide receiver Jalen Guyton left practice early on and spent most of the session in a tent that serves as the training room. Tyron Johnson also remained out while dealing with a foot/ankle issue. Guyton and Johnson both emerged last season as speedy options on the outside.

—Cornerback Ryan Smith did not practice because of a leg injury suffered Monday. A free-agent addition, Smith is expected to be a main special teams contributor.

—The Chargers moved the start times of two of their open practices, Aug. 16 and 17, to 2 p.m.

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Rashawn Slater pads Chargers’ high expectations for rookie left tackle

Chargers' first-round draft pick Rashawn Slater has looked good at left tackle during camp.
Chargers’ first-round draft pick Rashawn Slater has looked good at left tackle during camp.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

On a day when the defense stood out, the Chargers finally got their first look at first-round pick Rashawn Slater in a padded practice.

The reviews? Thumbs up.

The left tackle matched up well in individual drills against a few of the team’s edge rushers, most notably Joey Bosa.

“You want to measure yourself against the best,” coach Brandon Staley said afterward, “and Joey’s one of the premium players in the league.”

The offense did struggle during 11-on-11. Justin Herbert had passes intercepted twice (by Alohi Gilman and Kemon Hall) and Chase Daniel once (by Mark Webb Jr.).

But Slater, taken 13th overall and starting from Day 1 of camp, impressed with his physicality, strength and ability to move.

“I think he can handle it mentally, the way we want to play,” Staley said. “From a mental standpoint, this guy’s about as sharp as you could hope for on the offensive line.

“Now he has to translate his game to blocking Joey Bosa and understand there’s a big game within a game in blocking different players and understanding how to use your skill-set against somebody else and how to work with your teammates.”

General manager Tom Telesco rebuilt the offensive line in the offseason, with only right tackle Bryan Bulaga returning from 2020.

Telesco signed center Corey Linsley and guards Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi in free agency. Then he drafted Slater out of Northwestern.

“I’m excited to see how the rookie’s going to do,” Bosa said last week. “We’ve got to beat him into the ground a little bit so he’ll be ready for Week 1.”

Observations and highlights from practice Monday:

—A total of 240 players were drafted before the Chargers took Webb in the seventh round on May 1. Five days into training camp, he hasn’t performed like a late-rounder.

His interception came when he waited in the deep part of the field and easily snagged the ball as the intended receiver, tight end Donald Parham, failed to turn his head to the quarterback.

“I’m encouraged by his performance,” Staley said. “Not satisfied yet. I think he’s flashed that he belongs on the NFL field. If you just look at him, he looks like he belongs on the NFL field.”

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Webb began his career at Georgia as a wide receiver before switching to the secondary during his freshman year.

Running with the second team, he has been playing safety in camp, along with the designated money and star positions when the Chargers go with five or six defensive backs.

“He’s handled it mentally,” Staley said. “We’re putting a lot on him because we expect a lot from him. It’s not easy, but he’s shown the aptitude to handle it, athletically and mentally.

“He’s going to have to be a big factor for us on special teams. On defense, we’re hoping to have that versatility be a strength of his so we can put him where we need him.”

— Midway through practice, the players removed their pads at the direction of the NFL. Telesco explained that the Chargers were not supposed to be in pads Monday under the league’s guidelines. He took responsibility for the mix up.

Telesco suggested the team could be docked a padded practice as a result.

— The Chargers will have a legitimate kicker competition this month. Michael Badgley and Tristan Vizcaino both went five for five in their first head-to-head match-up. Each made three attempts from 45 yards and beyond.

When healthy, Badgley has been the team’s kicker since midway through the 2018 season. But he struggled last year, going 10 of 19 from attempts of 40 yards or more.

Alex Kessman, a rookie out of Pittsburgh, also is in camp but wasn’t given a chance to kick Monday.

— Biggest hit of the day was no surprise. Safety Derwin James popped running back Justin Jackson after a short run.

— New tight end Jared Cook on the offense’s issues: “We had a couple turnovers today, held on to the ball quite a bit, a couple drops, just trouble identifying defenses as a whole. We’ve got to do a better job clicking. We got to do better communicating.”

Also from Cook: “I could sit here and say, ‘It’s defensive scheme. It’s defensive scheme.’ But, in reality, it’s on us to be able to go out there and execute and be able to have that timing. No matter what the defense gives you, you always have something.”

— Bosa and defensive tackle Justin Jones would have had a sack of Herbert in a live game during a two-minute offense session.

— The final play of 11-on-11 was a touchdown pass from Daniel to rookie receiver Josh Palmer, who continues to have a solid camp.

— Wide receiver Tyron Johnson did not practice because of an issue with his foot/ankle, Staley said, adding that the Chargers don’t believe the injury to be anything serious.

— Cornerback Ryan Smith hobbled off the field with two members of the training staff following a play during one-on-one drills.

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Chargers sign K.J. Costello, adding a fourth quarterback to training camp roster

The Chargers signed K.J. Costello on Sunday, bringing in a fourth quarterback on the eve of their first padded practice of training camp.

Costello, who grew up in Orange County and attended Santa Margarita Catholic High School, participated in the Chargers’ rookie minicamp.

He played collegiately at Stanford and Mississippi State, throwing for 7,434 yards 55 touchdowns.

Behind starter Justin Herbert, the Chargers have Chase Daniel and Easton Stick battling to be the backup.

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Kenneth Murray Jr. declares himself 1,000% ready

Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray stands on the field.
Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray, shown during a workout last season, says of his play in camp: “I’m probably moving the fastest I’ve ever moved.”
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

He pronounced himself to be “1,000%” healthy and “way stronger” than he was before having offseason shoulder surgery.

“I’m probably moving the fastest I’ve ever moved,” Kenneth Murray Jr. continued. “I feel like I’m flying around.”

The assessment is impressive and encouraging, given how well the Chargers linebacker moved around last season, setting a franchise rookie record with 107 tackles.

Coach Brandon Staley, in a video circulated by the team’s social media department, said Murray added weight since last year but dropped his body fat from 13% to 8%.

Murray explained that his body fat typically has been in single digits, before adding that he always has been an active defender.

“But being able to run around for four quarters and being able to run around for two quarters are completely different things,” he said. “I definitely feel like I could do a good eight quarters right now, at the bare minimum.” Murray and Drue Tranquill opened training camp as the starters at inside linebacker, with Kyzir White also rotating in with the first team. All three are expected to play key roles in 2021.

As a first-round pick, Murray emerged quickly last year despite the practice limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. He started all 16 games and called the defensive signals for much of the season.

In Staley’s new 3-4 scheme, safety Derwin James will be the primary signal caller, though Murray and Tranquill also are being trained in the event James is unavailable.

The additional changes on defense will free up Murray to rush the passer and attack the line of scrimmage more often, taking advantage of one of his primary talents.

“You hit somebody, I want people to feel it,” Murray said. “I want my teammates to be able to feel me. I want them to be able to feel my passion, be able to feel that, you don’t want to say ‘anger,’ but that anger, you know, when you hit somebody.”

After opening training camp in Costa Mesa with four workouts in shorts and T-shirts, the Chargers are off Sunday before their first padded practice Monday.

Murray said he’s eager.

“That’s really football,” he said. “Point blank, period. I’ve been waiting for this. To me, to be honest, it’s kind of hard for me to practice without pads on because I’m such a physical, aggressive guy. I always want to put my hands on somebody. I always want to hit somebody .… Now, I can just cut it loose.”

Highlights and observations from Day 4 of training camp:

• Wide receiver Mike Williams continued his uneven start Saturday when he dropped a pass from Justin Herbert on the opening play of seven-on-seven. He also had a drop Friday.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Williams is facing a pivotal season. He said he is unconcerned about the business side of his future for now, suggesting that a solid 2021 would answer any questions.

Williams does have a starkly new look, having recently shaved off his long dreadlocks. He said he hadn’t had a haircut since the summer of his freshman year at Clemson.

The change — which was prompted by Williams’ mother not believing her son would, in fact, cut his hair — led to Keenan Allen giving Williams a new nickname, one he does not endorse.

“‘Peanut,’” Williams said. “Don’t start that. Don’t start calling me that. I don’t like it.”

• Particularly in the secondary, the coaching staff continues to employ various personnel packages, trying to find the best combinations while evaluating each player’s skill-set.

Defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill explained that, for now, the coaches are working off a rep chart rather than a depth chart.

“We’re going to let those guys go fight it out,” he said. “The best thing about this defense is we play so many multiple packages that we’re going to need every last one of those guys.”

The coaches’ daily evaluations include a category called “I see you,” a reference to snaps on which players stand out. Hill said James is an “I see you” star.

“Every time I look up ‘I see you’ on the sheet,” he said, “Derwin’s probably got seven or eight of them throughout the practice.”

• Wide receiver Tyron Johnson had a good day, burning cornerback Brandon Facyson on a long touchdown reception from Justin Herbert and later catching a scoring pass from Chase Daniel.

• In 11-on-11, Herbert connected for a long gain with rookie Josh Palmer, a third-round pick from Tennessee. Palmer had his most productive practice yet.

• Cornerback Ryan Smith joined practice after missing time because of a minor leg issue.

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Chargers’ Chris Harris Jr. will corner market for playing multiple spots on defense

Chargers cornerback Chris Harris looks over during practice at training camp.
Slot corner might be Chris Harris’ best position, but the Chargers aim to play the talented defender in multiple spots.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The Chargers’ intended deception on defense is such that even their players can’t be certain where they’ll line up one snap to the next.

Over the first three days of training camp, career cornerback Chris Harris Jr. also has spent time at safety, a position he said he most recently played as an undrafted rookie in 2011.

“It’s going to be hard for teams to identify what we’re doing,” Harris said. “…You never know where I’m going to be at.”

Entering his 11th season, Harris became an All-Pro in Denver as a slot corner. “His premium position,” new Chargers coach Brandon Staley called it.

But with an emphasis on flexibility and disguises, this defense will feature many moving pieces, especially in the secondary.

Harris should see plenty of time at inside cornerback, but said he expects to be shifted around within a group that also features the multiple-dimensional Derwin James.

“You never know where Derwin’s going to be at,” Harris said. “He might be at safety. He might be deep. He might be blitzing. He might be at D-end. He might be at middle linebacker.”

On Friday, the Chargers unveiled a previously unseen set that included three safeties, with second-year pro Alohi Gilman sharing the field with James and Nasir Adderley.

Rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., a second-round pick, also has been playing inside as well as outside.

“We’re trying to cross train him inside so that you’re putting your best combination out there,” Staley said. “The fact that Asante has that type of skill-set just increases our ability to be flexible, multiple.”

Fourth-year veteran Brandon Facyson has been receiving the snaps at outside cornerback when Harris moves inside. Facyson and Samuel are battling for that spot.

Though the roles could become more exact as the regular season approaches, the coaching staff is intent on trying to maximize versatility while also evaluating each player’s capabilities.

Observations and highlights from Day 3 of training camp:

—Staley indicated James likely would be the defensive signal-caller during the season, but linebackers Drue Tranquill, Kenneth Murray Jr., Cole Christiansen and Amen Ogbongbemiga also are being trained for the role.

“You just never know what it’s going to be like, you know, if you lose a guy to injury,” Staley said. “We want to make sure we have guys trained.”

Tranquill and Murray are the starters inside. Christiansen spent most of last season on the practice squad. Ogbongbemiga is an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State.

Staley will call the defensive plays. He has been doing so in training camp via walkie-talkie.

—As with most NFL fans, those who follow the Chargers are annually frustrated by injuries. Folks, you are not alone. Harris explained that Chargers owner Dean Spanos “said he wants to make sure we’re 100% healthy” for the start of the season.

Since the end of last year and the hiring of Staley, the team has instituted several initiatives designed to keep the players fresher. Those include an extended warmup period each day and a group cool-down following practice.

Along with extensive turnover on the coaching staff, the Chargers also brought in a sports performance director in Anthony Lomando, who previously worked in Denver.

—Linebacker Kyzir White returned an interception of Easton Stick for a touchdown during 11-on-11. White has been solid this camp and will be part of the rotation inside.

—Stick and Chase Daniel, competing for the backup quarterback job, have been splitting time with the No. 2 offense.

—James, Tranquill and Uchenna Nwosu all would have had sacks Friday if this had been a live game. There also were at least six blatant drops by receivers, including one in the end zone by Donald Parham.

—Veteran cornerback Ryan Smith is expected to be out through the weekend because of a leg issue. Staley called the situation “nothing of concern” and said the hope is that Smith can return Monday for the Chargers’ first practice in pads. Smith is expected to be a key special teams contributor.

—Rookie edge rusher Chris Rumph II, a fourth-round pick, spent part of the offseason working out with Chicago’s Khalil Mack, a three-time All-Pro. Rumph’s father, also named Chris, is an assistant coach for the Bears.

—All-Pro center Corey Linsley (illness) returned to practice as a full participant.

—Each day at training camp, the Chargers appoint a different position group to sign autographs and throw mini footballs into the stands after practice. Nevertheless, quarterback Justin Herbert has participated all three days.

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Joey Bosa has a new edge as a pass rusher in Chargers revamped defense

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97) stretches during a workout at training camp.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

One year ago this week, the Chargers signed Joey Bosa to a five-year extension worth up to $135 million — a record $102 million of which was guaranteed — because of his ability to sack quarterbacks.

In practice Thursday, Bosa said he rushed the passer once.

Yes, things will look different this season in Brandon Staley’s new defense.

Not that the idea is to use Bosa in any outrageous ways.

“When it’s time to make money,” he said, “I’m going to have my hand in the dirt and I’m going to be flying off the ball, definitely.”

But Bosa on occasion will be asked to drop in pass coverage, something he never has done. That’s one of the adjustments necessitated by the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 front.

Labeled a defensive end over his first five NFL seasons, Bosa is now identified as an edge rusher — or outside linebacker — in the scheme Staley employed last year to help make the Rams the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense.

Bosa said he has been able to put aside his history and 47.5 career sacks for the betterment of the team because he trusts Staley and what the coach has accomplished.

Decorated pass rushers Von Miller and Khalil Mack are among the players who have excelled in this system, and under Staley during his time as an NFL assistant.

“Coach Staley is going to put me in the best position to succeed,” Bosa said. “I’m not going to be dropping every single play. But, if I get in that situation, I better know what I’m doing.”

After years of lining up in a three-point stance, Bosa is learning how to start from a standing position. He also now will have to read the entire offense and react accordingly — before and after the ball is snapped.

“Down the road, if I’m seeing, ‘Wow, this isn’t working for me’ I’m going to speak up,” he said. “But I don’t really see that coming at all. I think they have a great plan in mind. Right now, I’m going to try to put my ego aside and do the best I can to be a good team player and learn it the best I can.”

Observations and highlights from Day 2 of training camp:

—Staley’s offseason promise that his defense will feature disguised looks and multiple moving pieces continues to come to life. Attempting to dissect what the Chargers are doing is a challenge, which is precisely the idea.

A perfect example is Chris Harris Jr., a career cornerback who sometimes has been lining up as the deepest defender. Harris is scheduled to speak to the media Friday and no doubt will be asked about his role.

—All-Pro center Corey Linsley, the Chargers’ No. 1 free-agent addition, did not participate in a portion of practice. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said Linsley wasn’t feel well. Veteran reserve Scott Quessenberry replaced Linsley.

—One of the brightest moments for the offense came when Herbert hooked up with new tight end Jared Cook for what would have been about a 55-yard touchdown.

Cook, entering his 13th season, released up the seam and caught Herbert’s dart in stride. He signed with the Chargers in March to help replace Hunter Henry, who left for New England as a free agent.

Cook and Herbert already are building chemistry that’s quite obvious.

“Jared’s a very easy player to throw to,” Lombardi said. “He’s long. He runs well, runs very precise routes. … I’ve got a lot of experience with him, so I’m not surprised at all that they’ve made a couple of connections.”

—Rookie defensive back Mark Webb, a seventh-round pick, intercepted Easton Stick during seven-on-seven drills and ran it back for a touchdown. Stick later hit K.J. Hill for a long gain in 11-on-11.

—On the opening play of 11-on-11, cornerback Brandon Facyson intercepted Herbert on a tipped ball. Entering his fourth season, Facyson has looked sharp to start camp.

—Linebacker Drue Tranquill or safety Derwin James have been calling the signals for the No. 1 defense.

—Veteran edge rusher Kyler Fackrell, who had 10.5 sacks in 2018 for Green Bay, got some time with the No. 1 defense. He started nine games for the New York Giants last year and finished with four sacks and an interception.

—Running back Justin Jackson joined practice after missing Day 1 because he was on the COVID-19 reserve list.

—Hill and safety Nasir Adderley are among the players who have been returning kickoffs.

—New special teams coordinator Derius Swinton II runs an energetic program that includes several players working on both ends of the field simultaneously. The Chargers’ special teams last season were among the worst in the NFL.

—Asked to compare himself skill-wise to an artist, wide receiver Keenan Allen said: “Picasso, the best of the best, Michelangelo. Them boys. Sistine Chapel, stuff like that.”

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Justin Herbert gets hands dirty with fans at first day of Chargers camp, but will wash them

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert high fives fans after the first day of training camp.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert high fives fans after the first day of training camp.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

Justin Herbert touched Chargers fans plenty during 2020 with his stellar, offensive rookie of the year performance.

He touched them again Wednesday on the opening day of training camp, running along a fence post-practice to share high-fives and fist bumps.

During these COVID-19 times, the NFL is encouraging players to socially distance from fans.

Herbert apparently simply got caught up in the moment following his first NFL practice that included spectators.

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Chargers’ practice observations from Day 1 of camp: Herbert connects, James on move

Safety Derwin James gestures during a news conference after practice Chargers' first day in training camp.
Derwin James said to expect the Chargers safety to be employed all over the field this season.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The Chargers opened Brandon Staley’s first training camp as a head coach Wednesday with a 75-minute practice that appeared crisp and well organized.

Afterward, Staley confirmed as much, calling the session “kind of surgical” in its precision.

The schedule released last week by the Chargers allotted two hours for each of the team’s 17 training camp practices. Day 1 went shorter by design.

“I wanted our guys to kind of get to the end of practice and say, ‘Hey, I could have gone longer than that,’ ” Staley said. “We’re trying to phase this in properly.”

Opening day observations:

Justin Herbert twice hooked up with Keenan Allen for nice gains during 11-on-11 with safety Derwin James closing. James will be moved around a lot in the Chargers’ new 3-4 defense. “You’re going to see me everywhere,” he said afterward.

One of the longest offensive plays of the day came when Easton Stick connected with Joe Reed down the left sideline. Stick is battling veteran Chase Daniel for the backup job behind Herbert. Reed is trying to carve out a spot for himself after an underwhelming rookie season.

Cornerback Michael Davis had a nice pass breakup early in practice.

Tyron Johnson made a diving catch along the right sideline from Herbert.

Defensive tackle Cortez Broughton, edge rusher Joey Bosa and linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga each deflected a pass.

Fullback Gabe Nabers was utilized extensively throughout the practice. By employing two-back sets, the Chargers would be able to better incorporate play action and bootleg opportunities for Herbert.

Cornerback Brandon Facyson and inside linebacker Kyzir White were given multiple opportunities by the new coaching staff.

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. dissected a toss sweep to Joshua Kelley and was in position to tackle Kelley for a significant loss.

The Chargers will practice the next three days in shorts and T-shirts before taking Sunday off. Their first padded practice is set for Monday.

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Chargers’ back Justin Jackson put on COVID list; receiver John Hurst on PUP list

Justin Jackson, in helmet and T-shirt, with no pads, holds the ball as he runs.
Running back Justin Jackson was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list by the Chargers on Tuesday.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

The Chargers placed running back Justin Jackson on the COVID-19 reserve list Tuesday.

They also put wide receiver John Hurst on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list on the eve of training camp opening.

Jackson is entering his fourth season and still trying to prove he can stay healthy and available. He has appeared in only 16 games over the past two seasons and will be fighting for a roster spot.

Hurst, 24, played collegiately at West Georgia and has yet to appear in an NFL game. He also has spent time with Tampa Bay.

The Chargers will open camp with 86 players on their roster.

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Chargers report to camp, will begin workouts Wednesday

Justin Herbert during a lineup.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert lines up against the Las Vegas Raiders on Dec. 17.
(David Becker / Associated Press)

The Chargers reported to camp Tuesday morning in Costa Mesa, with the team’s first training camp practice set for 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Over the next three-plus weeks, they will hold 16 open-to-the-public workouts at Jack Hammett Sports Complex and a 17th at SoFi Stadium (on Aug. 8).

Quarterback Justin Herbert returned after a rookie season that began with him on the bench and ended with him on top. He was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.

Attempting to build on that, Herbert now faces expectations that exploded during and since his record-setting debut.

“I’m trying not to look into all the things that are going on in social media and stuff like that,” he said. “As long as I keep working hard, doing things the right way and never giving up, I think that we’ll be in a pretty good position.”

After their numbers lagged through training camp, the Chargers now are close to having 90% of their players fully vaccinated or in the process of being fully vaccinated.

Tight end Tre’ McKitty and offensive lineman Rashawn Slater were the last rookies to sign contracts, both completing their deals Tuesday.

The Chargers drafted Slater in the first round to be their starting left tackle. They took McKitty in the third round. Considered more of a blocker than receiver, he’s expected to back up veteran Jared Cook.

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