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Who will be Tyrod Taylor’s blindside blocker? Chargers camp battles are brewing

Trey Pipkins lines up for a play.
Second-year offensive lineman Trey Pipkins is looking to earn a starting role at left tackle for the Chargers this season.
(Norm Hall / Getty Images)

The Chargers are facing the same swirling uncertainties as the rest of the NFL, the COVID-19 pandemic keeping this season on edge.

Yet, amid all the unknowns, there is mostly clarity on the field, even for a team transitioning from a longtime franchise quarterback and coming off a wrenching 5-11 finish.

Veteran Tyrod Taylor is expected to be the Week 1 starter in place of Philip Rivers, who spent the last 14 years becoming a Chargers icon.

Though Justin Herbert was drafted sixth overall in April to eventually take over, Taylor has the job as the Chargers prepare to begin padded practices next week.

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As for the positions that do need to be determined, there isn’t a ton of intrigue — except for one of the most important jobs of all, left tackle.

Tyrod Taylor says he knew the Chargers would draft a quarterback, and he isn’t worrying about losing his starting job to rookie Justin Herbert.

Sam Tevi and Trey Pipkins are the top options to protect Taylor’s blindside, with the Chargers’ new quarterback projected to aid the effort with his mobility.

Beyond that, there’s the question of No. 1 fullback (Bobby Holly or Gabe Nabers, both undrafted rookies) and No. 3 wide receiver (drafted rookies Joe Reed or K.J. Hill or speedy Darius Jennings).

There also are issues of playing time that need to be sorted out among the linebackers and in the secondary, but those situations could fluctuate throughout the season based on week-to-week schemes.

All of which brings the focus back to left tackle, which, before the first actual practice of 2020, appears to be a two-man race.

Tevi is the more experienced candidate, entering his fourth season after being a sixth-round pick in 2017. He started 29 games at right tackle the past two years, playing roughly 80% of the offensive snaps.

Pipkins was a third-round pick in 2019, a promising project taken out of little-known Sioux Falls. He ended up having to start three games as a rookie because of injuries.

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“He’s a very intelligent young man,” said James Campen, the Chargers’ new offensive line coach. “This kid is sharp. He gets what you’re asking him to do.”

When he joined the Chargers in the offseason, Campen began studying tape of Pipkins, going all the way back to one-on-one drills from training camp a year ago.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn resorted to taking his players’ cleats in an attempt to tone down the intensity during the team’s first day of conditioning.

Asked about the difference between readying a young offensive lineman from a Power 5 school and one from a Division II program, Campen mentioned “separation anxiety,” a reference to the space along the line of scrimmage.

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“The reaction time is so different,” Campen explained. “He’s a big man. He’s tall, and he’s long. He has all the traits. You just have to get that separation anxiety out of him a little quicker … I think he has a lot of potential.”

Mike Pouncey is attempting to return as the Chargers’ starting center after having his 2019 season cut short by a neck injury. A first-round pick out of Florida in 2011, Pouncey started all 16 games during his rookie season with the Miami Dolphins.

“A lot of times, people forget what it takes for a young offensive lineman in this league,” Pouncey said. “They just expect them to come straight out of college and be a pro from Day One …

“It just doesn’t work like that. Sometimes, it takes young linemen longer to adjust to the speed of the game or the size of the players. These guys have gotten a lot of playing time. They’ve gotten better and better.”

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The Chargers have five weeks to find the answer to the most-pressing position question they face today ... and every day.


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