Chargers defense thwarts Justin Herbert and Kellen Moore in scrimmage

Khalil Mack drills during training camp.
Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack takes part in a pass-rushing drill in training camp on July 26. Mack and the Chargers defense created plenty of problems for Justin Herbert in the offense during a team scrimmage Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers conducted their most significant practice of training camp to date Sunday night with an intrasquad scrimmage in Costa Mesa. Here are some of the highlights:


Defense rules

In late January, the Chargers hired Kellen Moore to be their offensive coordinator. By early February, there was palpable anticipation of an incoming points explosion.

That outburst didn’t begin in this scrimmage.

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Playing backups extensively at both tackle spots, Moore’s offense struggled to give quarterback Justin Herbert and his receivers time to execute.


Khalil Mack, Morgan Fox, Kenneth Murray Jr., Nick Williams and rookie Tuli Tuipulotu all had sacks as the offense was unable to produce any plays that gained more than 10 yards.

The Chargers were without left tackle Rashawn Slater, who has been dealing with an illness, while right tackle Trey Pipkins III played only part time as a precaution.

Pipkins was replaced by Austen Pleasants, an undrafted second-year player out of Ohio. Foster Sarell started in Slater’s spot.

“There were ups and downs,” Herbert said. “There were a lot of things that we can correct. There are some good things that we did. At the same time… we’re going to have to be honest with ourselves and attack the things that we could do better.”


Offense finally on the march

After its stalled start, the offense did grind out a 17-play drive that reached the end zone when Herbert connected with Keenan Allen for a three-yard scoring pass on third-and-goal. Allen bested Ja’Sir Taylor on the route.


The series was aided by an offsides penalty and included a fourth-down conversion when Herbert hooked up with tight end Donald Parham Jr. for nine yards.

Herbert also had completions to Mike Williams and Joshua Palmer for first downs to extend the drive.

“I thought we moved the ball pretty well late and at the end,” Herbert said. “We had some drives going. It’s tough going against that defense. They’re a really good defense.”


Situational points

Austin Ekeler runs at training camp.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler carries the ball during training camp on July 29.
(Kyusung Gong / For The Times)

The offense scored a second touchdown during a red-zone period when Austin Ekeler carried four yards into the end zone. The series began with first-and-10 from the 15-yard line.


On the next possession — a two-minute drill — Herbert directed the offense into range for a 33-yard Cameron Dicker field goal. The kick was set up by a Herbert completion to Tre’ McKitty.

Entering his third year, McKitty is still trying to establish himself as a complete enough tight end to factor into the Chargers’ plans offensively.

“We’re going to learn a lot more about him when it goes live here in preseason,” coach Brandon Staley said. “But it’s a big camp for Tre’. He has to prove himself. I think he’s improving, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

The Chargers and quarterback Justin Herbert agreed on a contract extension, a five-year deal worth up to $262.5 million, making him the highest-paid player in the NFL based on average annual value.

July 25, 2023


Other missing parts

Among the other players who did not participate Sunday were edge rusher Joey Bosa (illness), tight end Gerald Everett (illness), wide receiver Quentin Johnston (illness), defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (quadriceps contusion) and cornerback J.C. Jackson (knee).

Asked specifically about all the players who are ill, Staley described the circumstances as “normal sickness going through a football team.”


Jackson has been out the past two days after missing the end of practice Friday because of what the Chargers termed soreness in his surgically repaired knee.

“Just part of the process of going through a tough injury, and there’s going to be a tough way back,” Staley said. “He’s going to have some good days. He’s going to have some tough days.”


A pair of picks

Alohi Gilman greets cheering fans at training camp.
Chargers safety Alohi Gilman interacts with fans at training camp on July 26.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The best defensive moments included another interception by safety Alohi Gilman, who also had a pickoff late in practice last week. On Sunday, Gilman secured the pass from Herbert after it had deflected off the hands of Palmer.

“When his number is called, he’s making plays,” safety Derwin James Jr. said of Gilman. “There’s a lot of confidence in him. Everyone in the organization believes in him.”


Entering his third season, Mark Webb Jr. also had an interception, breaking smartly on the ball and snagging an errant throw by backup quarterback Easton Stick.

A seventh-round pick in 2021, Webb has appeared in seven games — all as a rookie — with most of his experience coming on special teams. The Chargers do like his athletic ability and think he could play an increased role in the kicking game.

“The safeties…you always learn the most when they have to tackle to the ground,” Staley said. “The passing game has never been one of Mark’s issues. You find out about young safeties when they have to tackle. We’ll find out next week.”

The Chargers’ open their preseason Saturday night against the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

Brandon Staley watched his parents battle cancer and then had his own bout, but the Chargers coach believes the experience can help him be a stronger coach.

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K9 keeps shining

With his interception, Murray continued his impressive start to training camp. A first-round pick in 2020, Murray had an interception and a sack Saturday.


“To me, this has been his best camp since he’s been here, and I’m not just saying that,” James said. “He’s flying around, more confident. He believes in the defense.”

The Chargers didn’t pick up the option on Murray’s rookie contract during the offseason. But that business development hasn’t adversely impacted the linebacker’s performance on the field, where he is flourishing next to veteran addition Eric Kendricks.

“Him and Eric Kendricks are in there having fun,” James said. “When you see one, you see the other. He’s been loving it a lot, and it’s been great.”

The Chargers are known for fielding an elite offense, but the team’s defensive players are pushing to become equally as celebrated for their success.

Aug. 2, 2023


Kicking it

Dicker did all the kicking as veteran Dustin Hopkins continues to deal with an undisclosed injury.

Dicker made each of his five field goal attempts — with a long of 43 yards — and three extra points.


Notes: Joshua Kelley had the best running play Sunday, scoring on a 15-yard sprint against the second-team defense. He and Isaiah Spiller are battling to be Ekeler’s primary backup … Deane Leonard had a notable pass breakup on a deep ball to Williams … Christopher Hinton had a tackle for loss against Spiller, but the play was nullified by a penalty.