He was seeing his initial NFL action and is still three weeks away from receiving his first regular-season game check.
But Chargers rookie Jerry Tillery already understands the business of football and how doing things like he did Sunday against New Orleans is good for business.
“That’s what I’m paid to do,” he said after recording a sack. “It was good to get out there and do what I’ve been working on all training camp, much of my adult life, really, playing defensive line. It was good to get out there and do it well.”
Tillery, a first-round pick in April, entered the game in the second quarter and soon after beat Saints right guard Nick Easton badly to tackle elusive quarterback Taysom Hill for an eight-yard loss.
The play was one of the top individual highlights in a game the Chargers lost 19-17 at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“You know, it looks like Jerry played pretty well,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “I’ve got to watch the tape to see how he played every down, but I like the fact that he got a sack and it wasn’t even close.”
Among the other notable performances:
- Cardale Jones, competing for the job as No. 3 quarterback, led a 10-play, 98-yard touchdown drive that ended on a 24-yard connection with Andre Patton.
- Patton, one of the candidates to provide wide receiver depth, finished with four catches for 62 yards.
- Troymaine Pope returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown. The special teams contribution was significant for a running back battling for the third spot on the depth chart.
- Defensive back Jaylen Watkins intercepted a tipped pass near the goal line in his first game since last preseason. He missed 2018 because of a knee injury.
“It was good to see him healthy and back on the field,” Lynn said of Watkins. “He’s a versatile athlete. ... He’s competing with some young kids ... so we’ll see how that works out.”
Among all the Chargers’ moments, Tillery’s sack stood out simply because he’s the one most expected to contribute this season.
Taken with the 28th pick out of Notre Dame, Tillery missed the start of training camp because of offseason shoulder surgery. He began practicing last week and was in his first game since the Fighting Irish lost to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinals in December.
“I felt great,” Tillery said. “No issues with my body. I think we’re a very conditioned team. That’s what I’ve been working on all offseason, all training camp. It felt good to get out there again.”
After sacking Hill, Tillery rose and pumped his right fist in an animated display as teammates converged to congratulate him.
He described the play as feeling “like a big payoff,” given his long road back from the shoulder injury.
“These are things we work on in practice every day,” Tillery said. “We were able to get the right looks in the game, with our speed and technique and takeoff and fundamentals, it all came together on that snap.”
Sunday also was a potentially big day for Jones, who is trying to remain the backup to Philip Rivers’ backup.
He finished 10 of 14 for 111 yards on a day when the Chargers struggled to run the ball — 78 yards on 24 carries — behind an under-construction offensive line and minus Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon, who is holding out because of a contract dispute.
“I thought he had his best game as a Charger,” Lynn said of Jones. “I liked the way he handled the offense going up and down the field.”
Jones spent the last two seasons with the Chargers but hasn’t appeared in a regular season game since 2016, when he made one appearance for Buffalo. He joined the Chargers in a trade for a seventh-round pick in July 2017.
“There’s no lack of confidence with or without that [98-yard] drive,” Jones said. “I’m just being comfortable in my third year in the system and knowing what I’m doing and not thinking too much.”
In April, the Chargers drafted quarterback Easton Stick out of North Dakota State in the fifth round. He and Jones are competing for the spot behind Rivers and Tyrod Taylor.
Stick struggled against the Saints, finishing five of 13 for 62 yards and throwing his second interception of the preseason.
If the Chargers keep only three quarterbacks — which seems likely — and are reluctant to give up on a fifth-round pick so quickly, Jones could find himself looking for another team in three weeks.
“That’s totally up to the coaches,” he said. “I mean, my job is to take advantage of each and every opportunity and control what I can control.”
The Chargers lost linebacker and edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu in the third quarter. He left the game and did not return after experiencing what he described as a “weird pain” in his left side.
Nwosu, who was hurt when he tackled running back Devine Ozigbo on a four-yard gain, said he did not believe the injury was serious. The former USC standout remained on the sideline immediately afterward, with his side wrapped. After meeting with team medical personnel, Nwosu had the wrap removed and he walked gingerly to the locker room.
“Not sure what’s going on with that yet,” Lynn said. “But I did see him walk off the field. He was playing pretty good ball before that.”