He still has appeared in only one NFL game, taking 19 snaps as a rookie on a day his 7-9 team lost its season finale by 20 points.
On Sunday, Cardale Jones had what his head coach called his greatest day as a Charger, leaving only two more preseason games to sort out what it all means.
Jones looked like a different quarterback as he completed 10 of 14 passes for 111 yards against the New Orleans Saints and one touchdown that came on an expertly lofted ball down the middle.
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was asked Wednesday what has changed for the 2016 fourth-round pick.
“I wish I knew the answer to that because, if that was the case, we’d like to have seen that two years ago,” Whisenhunt said. “Not anything against Cardale. I’m extremely excited by the way he’s performed in our camp.
“Maybe it’s just the process of growing up a little bit. He came out [of Ohio State] young. I think maybe it’s being in the same system for a couple years. It’s been different, and it’s a credit to him.”
Jones, 26, is competing with rookie Easton Stick for the No. 3 spot behind Philip Rivers and Tyrod Taylor.
The Chargers acquired him via trade from Buffalo in July 2017, Jones reuniting with former Bills assistant Anthony Lynn, who was then in his first season with the Chargers.
Just seven months earlier, Lynn was on the sidelines as the Bills’ interim head coach when he inserted Jones into a game Buffalo lost 30-10 to the New York Jets.
That day, Jones went 6 for 11 for 96 yards and threw one interception. He has dressed for only one regular-season game since and spent all of last year on the Chargers practice squad.
“He’s worked hard,” Whisenhunt said. “You could see it early in the spring. It’s nice to see him be able to perform the way he has on the field.”
The touchdown Sunday — a 24-yard connection with Andre Patton — was highlighted by the fact Jones stood in the pocket as two New Orleans defenders rushed.
End Marcus Davenport beat Chargers rookie left tackle Trey Pipkins on the outside and linebacker Kaden Elliss surged through the middle unblocked. Jones hung in just long enough to drop the ball into Patton’s hands in stride.
“The touchdown to Andre was outstanding,” Whisenhunt said. “It was an outstanding handling of that and making the throw when people were coming down on him. We really like seeing those kinds of things.”
Immediately before that play, however, Jones erred on a call for a screen pass that Whisenhunt said probably would have resulted in an easy touchdown. Instead, Troymaine Pope was limited to a three-yard gain.
“I left some plays out there in my opinion,” Jones said. “I would have liked to put another drive in the end zone or put some more points on the board.”
The Chargers have two preseason games remaining, the first coming at 7 p.m. Saturday against Seattle in Carson.
Jones and Stick, a fifth-round draft pick in April, will continue to battle to be the backup to the backup. The Chargers will be looking for more of what they just saw from Jones.
“He’s got to sustain it,” Whisenhunt said. “I think a lot of times in this league it’s a flash-in-the-pan type thing. You want to see sustained success or sustained ability to handle what’s coming at you.
“He did a nice job in the Arizona [preseason] game and followed that up with another good game last week. So, now … it’s another challenge. I think you have to measure it in total. It can’t be just one game or one half.”
No Inman yet
As of practice time Wednesday, the Chargers were still waiting for wide receiver Dontrelle Inman to take his physical. He’s expected to join the team after being granted for his release from New England on Sunday. Inman, 30, played parts of four seasons for the Chargers before being traded to Chicago in October 2017.
He had another free-agent offer from the Jets but opted to return to a team — and quarterback — more familiar to him. Inman will join a position group headed by Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin. Allen has been slowed recently by knee and ankle injuries, but Whisenhunt said he’s encouraged by what he has seen from the veteran.
“He’s in great shape, explosive and looks really good,” Whisenhunt said. “I think that he has played really well. In practice today, he looked good again. … I’m really excited about Keenan, where he is and the season that he is going to have.”
Rookie safety Nasir Adderley, a second-round pick, was in helmet and shoulder pads for practice Wednesday but did not participate in team drills. He has been slowed by a hamstring injury. … Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, who was hurt Sunday against the Saints, also was in pads but did not engage in 11-on-11 drills. … Running back Jeremy Cox left practice early with an undisclosed injury.