Jalen Guyton, Tyron Johnson have made speedy contributions to Chargers’ offense
Jalen Guyton stutter-stepped on the line of scrimmage and ran a go route against Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Tre Herndon.
The Chargers trailed 29-22 in the second half of the back-and-forth game, and were looking for a way to respond. Guyton, the third receiver on the Chargers’ depth chart, hand fought with Herndon early in a pattern, and then used his speed to jet past the defender along the sideline.
He extended his arms to catch the perfectly placed long pass from quarterback Justin Herbert, then calmly jogged into the end zone to score his second touchdown of 70 or more yards this season.
Afterward, he and fellow receiver Tyron Johnson ran near the stands to a television screen and waved to virtual fans.
Both were undrafted last season. Both served stints on the practice squad. But if you think they are surprised by their production despite being somewhat inexperienced, then you’re mistaken, Guyton said.
“We have been playing football our whole lives,” Guyton said. “So it’s not like we have no experience.”
The Chargers still are treating Justin Herbert like a rookie quarterback, but he seems to be learning fast.
The Chargers lean heavily on their veteran stars for the bulk of their passing offense. Receiver Keenan Allen leads the team in targets (63), receptions (44) and yards (481). Tight end Hunter Henry is a second, with 42 targets, 25 receptions and 291 yards.
But Guyton leads the Chargers in touchdowns with three. Johnson came close to scoring his second touchdown Sunday, but he and Herbert missed on a target in the end zone in the first half.
What excites coach Anthony Lynn is the duo provides a vertical threat, and he’s been impressed.
“I like what they’ve done so far,” Lynn said. “They haven’t arrived yet. But two young men with their size, their speed and their skill set, they have a chance to be really good players in this league for a long time.”
Guyton played college at North Texas and accumulated 1,580 yards and 15 touchdowns in two seasons. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys before joining the Chargers last season. He appeared in three games and didn’t have a catch.
Johnson, who posted 1,138 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons at Oklahoma state, spent last season on four practice squads, the last stop with the Chargers.
This season, they initially relegated him to the practice squad again after training camp, but Lynn elevated him to the active roster against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Lynn said Johnson took his preparation to “a whole other level,” and added the receiver visited the coach’s office at 5:45 a.m. the Friday before that game and asked for playing time.
Lynn said both players performed well on scout team, and he wanted to see what they could do in live action. He got the chance because the Chargers desperately needed help because of injuries suffered by Mike Williams.
Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said Guyton and Johnson met the moment and add value now that Williams is healthy.
“Every day you come into work, it’s an interview,” Steichen said. “Those guys are doing a heck of a job and they’re competing every day. We’re excited about all those guys.”
Beleaguered Chargers kicker Michael Badgley made two of three field goal attempts against Jacksonville but missed an extra point for the second straight week.
Both ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds and have torched defenses with that speed in key moments. Against Tampa Bay, Johnson zipped down the field and scored a 53-yard touchdown, which was also his first NFL catch. Guyton scored a 72-yard pitch-and-catch touchdown in that game too, giving the Chargers the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Against the New Orleans Saints, Guyton slipped past the secondary on a double-move route in the second quarter, connecting with Herbert for 49 yards and setting the offense up at the four-yard line. The Chargers scored a touchdown on the next play.
With defenses shifting attention elsewhere, Herbert said it’s nice to have other reliable options, such as Guyton and Johnson.
“To have guys like Hunter, Keenan and Mike — they change the game for us,” Herbert said. “Sometimes when they get doubled, you need other guys to step up.”
Lynn said he has plays designed specifically for those players, mainly deep routes, but would rather they produce in the flow of the game. And sometimes they will run with the ball, as did rookie receiver Joe Reed against the Jaguars on a seven-yard score.
As they find their footing in the league, Johnson said he and Guyton have formed a bond.
“We just try to push each other, study together, uplift each other and really just try to make plays for the team,” Johnson said. “We’re a resilient group and we’re trying to get better every day.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.