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Rashawn Slater’s path to Chargers success faces test against Rams

Rashawn Slater fires off the line during a training session.
Rookie Rashawn Slater fires off the line during a training session with the Chargers.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

He enters his first NFL season toting massive expectations, Rashawn Slater representing the Chargers’ hopes at left tackle.

Yet after a recent training camp practice, the rookie was spotted carrying something else: the helmet of fellow offensive lineman Scott Quessenberry.

Slater was the No. 13 overall pick in April and signed a contract that guarantees him $16.6 million.

None of that clout could prevent him from experiencing the kind of rookie rituals that have long existed in the NFL.

So there was Slater, carrying his own helmet and Quessenberry’s as he walked off the field.

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He handled the assignment with a smile, another sign suggesting Slater is on the right path.

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

“He’s got grit,” left guard Matt Feiler said. “He wants to learn. As an offensive lineman, that’s what you need to do. You need to learn from your mistakes and ask questions. He’s asking all the right questions.”

The Chargers will continue to get answers about Slater on Saturday night in their exhibition opener at SoFi Stadium against the Rams.

He is one of their few starters who will play in the preseason, Slater needing the experience after opting out last year at Northwestern because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vast majority of the Chargers’ regulars will not play in this game or the two exhibitions that follow.

Coach Brandon Staley and his staff instead will use training camp and a pair of upcoming joint practices with San Francisco to ready their starters.

That makes Slater’s appearance Saturday all the more noteworthy as he prepares to join an otherwise veteran offensive line charged with protecting prized quarterback Justin Herbert and spring a much-needed running game.

Slater, 22, has been praised throughout camp for his work ethic and intelligence. The physical traits of the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder have been admired by NFL talent evaluators for much longer than that.

Calling him “a young guy who’s capable of absorbing a lot,” Staley said Slater’s development hinges on his ability to master techniques, work together with Feiler and transfer his strengths to the NFL game.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is entering his 11th season, said Slater possesses the traits necessary to deal with the ups and downs that come from a position where every snap is a win or a loss.

“Something I always find is a very good sign for rookies is, when they come out here and make a mistake, they learn from it,” Bulaga said. “They don’t come back out the next day and make the same mistake.

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“They might make a different mistake, but it’s not the same one that they were corrected on the day before … Rashawn’s a really smart kid. So far I’ve been very impressed with him.”

Against the Rams, Slater will not face the sort of competition he has encountered daily in practice. Like the Chargers, the Rams will sit most of their top players all preseason.

Slater might not play for long Saturday, either, with Staley committed to trying to get his team to the regular-season opener as healthy as possible. That will be the priority for Slater over an extended string of snaps against fringe NFL players.

So Slater’s best work will continue to come against the likes of teammates Joey Bosa and Uchenna Nwosu. When the 49ers visit Costa Mesa next week, he should have a chance to match up against Nick Bosa, too.

That doesn’t make this preseason appearance by Slater insignificant, not when the Chargers are relying so much on their latest first-round choice.

“He’s picking up things a lot quicker than I thought he would,” Feiler said. “Definitely a lot faster than I did when I was a rookie. He’s taking big strides and he’s looking good.”


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