5 Training Camp Battles To Watch For The Chargers

Chargers Draft Decade
Los Angeles Chargers Quarterback Justin Herbert. Photo Credit: Az Skies Photography | Under Creative Commons License

If you have been following the Los Angeles Chargers moves this off-season, you know that the team will look a lot different next season. This starts with the decision not to re-sign Philip Rivers and instead roll with journeyman QB Tyrod Taylor and rookie Justin Herbert.

The team also decided to ditch former first-round pick Melvin Gordon in favor of former undrafted running back and fan favorite Austin Ekeler.

Then the Chargers focused on getting younger, cutting defensive lineman Brandon Mebane (35) and linebacker Thomas Davis Sr. (37), and drafting linebacker Kenneth Murray in the first round and signing defensive tackle Linval Joseph (31) in free agency.

They also revamped the right side of their line with the additions of five-time Pro Bowler Trai Turner (acquired via trade) and former Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga (via free agency). While these additions leave many Chargers fans hopeful for this upcoming season, there are five training camp battles that will define the way the season plays out.

5 Training Camp Battles To Watch For The Chargers

5. Running Back 2: Justin Jackson Vs. Joshua Kelley

Last season the Chargers realized just how important their running back depth was when Melvin Gordon decided to hold out. Austin Ekeler was thrust into a starting role and former 7th round pick Justin Jackson was primed to have a heavier workload after having an impressive rookie season when called upon to fill in for an injured Ekeler and Gordon.

While Jackson has shown great burst and vision, questions have been raised about his durability and whether or not his running style truly compliments Ekeler. The Chargers may have shared these concerns, leading them to draft Joshua Kelley in the 4th round.

Kelley is a bruising back who accumulated 2,300 yards and 24 scores on the ground over two seasons at UCLA. While Kelley’s bruising running style better compliments Ekeler’s elusiveness, Jackson may be able to hold on to the job if he can continue to show his play-making ability and stay healthy.

4. Wide Receiver 3: Joe Reed Vs. KJ Hill

Last season, fans quickly realized that the lack of a solid 3rd receiver held the offense back. Fans may remember Rivers launching the ball deep for a wide-open receiver only for them to drop the ball. Those catches could have changed the tide of many of the one score games the Chargers were unable to win.

Telesco and Co. realized that and went after two receivers in the draft. They drafted speedy receiver Joe Reed in the 5th round and Ohio State all-time reception leader K.J. Hill in the 7th round.

While both receivers offer different skill sets, they both share one trait… they have never dropped a pass over 20 yards. Joe Reed offers a skill set similar to that of 49ers’ receiver Deebo Samuel while K.J. Hill’s route running has been compared to fellow teammate, Keenan Allen.

Playing Joe Reed on the outside would allow Keenan Allen to move back to the slot where he thrives while playing K.J. Hill in the slot would allow Allen and Williams to continue commanding attention from the top corners on the outside. No matter the outcome, Chargers fans should be excited about the versatility that these two receivers bring to the offense.

3. Left Guard: Forrest Lamp Vs. Dan Feeney

When the Chargers drafted Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney in the 2nd and 3rd round, respectively, in the 2017 draft, many fans were excited due to their pre-draft hype. Unfortunately, neither player has shown enough to garner any real excitement.

Lamp has battled injuries throughout his NFL career and when healthy, has spent much of his career on the sideline for some unknown reason. After a few injuries to the line, Lamp finally got his shot. He played well enough for fans to want to see more of his play. Unfortunately, he got injured again, ending his season.

On the other hand, we have seen plenty of Feeney. He’s started games at guard and center (filling in for an injured Mike Pouncey). Feeney got off to a hot start his rookie season after being called upon to play after the Chargers line was plagued by injuries. It all went downhill from there, unfortunately. He suffered from a sophomore slump but played all 16 regular-season games and 2 playoff games. He played all 16 games this past season, but he was apart of an offensive line unit that was among the worst in the league. Ultimately, it’s Feeney’s job to lose but fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Forrest Lamp starting week 1 if he can stay healthy.

2. Free Safety: Rayshawn Jenkins Vs. Nasir Adderley

The Chargers have arguably the best safety in the league in Derwin James. However, in order for the Chargers to be able to maximize his talent (patrolling the line of scrimmage), they need to find a long term solution at free safety. In the 2018 draft, the Chargers got arguably the biggest steal in the second round when they drafted Nasir Adderley out of Delaware. He was selected because of his ability to play as a true free safety in Gus Bradley’s system. While he flashed his abilities in preseason, injuries held him back in his rookie season, with him eventually ending up on the season-ending injured reserve list.

This opened up the door for the athletic former 4th-round pick Rayshawn Jenkins to step in. Jenkins had his highs and lows. For every missed tackle, there was a heroic leaping interception or pass breakup. Coming out of Miami, Jenkins was a very raw player so it’s likely he will improve with more experience. While Lynn’s history of not wanting to mix up the starting lineup will favor Jenkins, but Adderley’s perfect fit in the defense may be enough to earn himself the starting nod if he’s able to show some improvement in the preseason. No matter the outcome, fans should expect to see both players quite frequently due to Bradley rotating defensive backs so often.

1. Quarterback: Tyrod Taylor Vs. Justin Herbert

Most important battle? Yes. Most competitive battle? This is where it gets interesting. Based on Lynn’s comments on the QB battle, the safe pick to win would be Taylor. He has experience running the system that Lynn plans to implement this season and he’s a veteran who has made a Pro Bowl and led his team to the playoffs. His conservative playstyle and mobility also fits the traits Lynn values in a quarterback.

However, don’t count Herbert out. Of all the quarterbacks drafted in the first round, Herbert has the most starting experience (starting all four years at Oregon). He improved every year and led his team to a Rose Bowl victory last season. While Burrow and Tua didn’t participate in the combine or Senior Bowl, it’s uncertain whether or not they could have topped Herbert’s performances. Herbert undoubtedly improved his stock the most during the pre-draft process. While he has his doubters, he has shown the ability to overcome adversity in games and during interviews. If he can overcome the learning curve, Herbert has a chance to be the Chargers’ Week 1 starter.

The team is in a win-now mode and it should not be surprising to fans if the Chargers decide to roll with whichever quarterback they believe gives them the best chance to win, as you would hope would be the case.

Los Angeles Chargers Quarterback Justin Herbert. Photo Credit: Az Skies Photography | Under Creative Commons License

Los Angeles Chargers Quarterback Justin Herbert. Photo Credit: Az Skies Photography | Under Creative Commons License