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Why Brandon Staley sees ‘a good football’ team in Chargers’ first practice in pads

Coach Brandon Staley greets tight end Gerald Everett on the first day in pads for the Chargers at training camp.
Coach Brandon Staley greets tight end Gerald Everett on the first day in pads for the Chargers at training camp.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The Chargers faced their first legitimate fourth down of training camp Monday and — surprise! — Brandon Staley decided to go for it.

OK, so the situation came in the closing seconds of a two-minute drill and kicking wasn’t really an option. But, when the subject is Staley and fourth-down choices, each example is notable.

Matched against the No. 2 defense, Justin Herbert led the Chargers’ starting offense inside the five-yard line with four seconds remaining.

On fourth and one, the Pro Bowl quarterback was unable to get rid of the ball before whistles blew indicating that defensive lineman Andrew Brown would have sacked Herbert.

The play marked a significant victory for the defense during the Chargers’ first session in pads.

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“I thought the way we practiced 11-on-11 is indicative of a good team,” Staley said afterward.

Asked to explain that thought, he said: “Just the style of play. The pace. The tempo. The contact. Making sure that you’re keeping each other safe. You’re going fierce, but you’re keeping each other safe.”

Staley added that he liked that the Chargers’ pace did not slow with the players in full gear.

“I saw a good football team out there today,” he said.

During his rookie season as a head coach, Staley faced criticism at times over his fourth-down decisions. Though he has said each year can be different, Staley and the Chargers are expected to continue being assertive in such situations.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass on first day of training camp with pads.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass on the first day of training camp with pads.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

“I do think it’s a positive thing for our team because we want to be aggressive,” Staley said. “We want to have a team that’s fearless, that’s not scared to meet a moment.”

Also Monday, Herbert finished a red-zone sequence by hitting Mike Williams for a touchdown from about six yards out.

But he also missed an open Keenan Allen on a deep crossing route to open the No. 1 offense’s two-minute trip.

There has been a lot of talk in camp about Herbert and his progress in his second year in this offense and third in the NFL. Veteran center Corey Linsley noted he has detected a change in the young quarterback.

“It’s more his attitude … that sort of confidence where it doesn’t need to be said a whole lot,” Linsley explained. “You can just see it in his eyes where you’re like, ‘This guy’s in the zone.’ ”

Zion Johnson impresses

Rookie Zion Johnson performed well in one-on-one drills against the interior defensive linemen. He was taken No. 17 overall in April to be the Chargers’ starting right guard.

Johnson had solid reps against Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox and also put Jerry Tillery on the ground.

The Chargers worked to aggressively bolster their secondary during the offseason. The new lineup is attacking training camp and vying for snaps.

Linsley praised Johnson’s even demeanor, adding he’s “smart as hell.”

“He’s got a ton of raw talent,” Linsley said. “You can see he’s already put a lot together. I’m excited to play next to him.”

In the spring, the Chargers used the first of two sixth-round picks on another offensive lineman, Jamaree Salyer out of Georgia, where he played multiple positions.

The Chargers have had Salyer at guard, and he has been impressive. He filled in for starter Matt Feiler on the left side during some team drills over the weekend.

Staley spoke highly of both Johnson and Salyer on Monday.

“Those two young guards showed they have what it takes,” he said. “They got the head on their shoulders. They’re really strong inside, like really strong. And then they work at it like crazy.”

Are Chargers on shaky ground with only Austin Ekeler to count on? They’ve drafted running backs three years in a row hoping to find an alternative. They better find an answer.

Salyer is one player who should see plenty of time during the preseason as the Chargers attempt to gauge his potential.

“He’s just got a lot of the stuff made of quality football players,” Staley said. “He’s got physicality, toughness, discipline. He’s calm. He’s got that versatility to play a lot of different positions.”

High on punting

Veteran JK Scott had a strong day, booming several punts high and long and also placing one out of bounds inside the five-yard line.

The Chargers struggled in punt coverage a year ago as Ty Long was inconsistent and they were forced to employ several young players with limited special-teams experience.

“I think the hang [time] is one of his strengths,” Staley said of Scott. “He can really get it up in the air, which certainly is going to help your coverage system. He can also locate it in different places. He’s off to a good start.”

Chargers standout Derwin James Jr. is one of the NFL’s top safeties, following through on a strong football legacy established by his father in Florida.

A fifth-round pick of Green Bay in 2018, Scott spent three seasons with the Packers, averaging 44.6 yards per punt. He appeared in one game last season with Jacksonville.

The Chargers signed Scott as a free agent in March. He’s the only punter in camp.

Etc.

Linebacker Drue Tranquill missed his second consecutive practice because of what Staley said is a minor groin issue. Tight end Donald Parham Jr. returned to practice after being limited Saturday.


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