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Buy, Sell or Hold Chargers Training Camp Hype Trains

At the time of writing this, the Los Angeles Chargers have had their first live scrimmage at SoFi Stadium and will be preparing for their first preseason game against the Rams. The Chargers have now had more than ten practices in the 2021 edition of training camp. With that, camp hype is inevitable. 

Sometimes that hype is legitimate and lasts throughout the entire season. Other times, we see glimpses of the hype lasting for brief moments throughout the season. And yes, occasionally it never comes to fruition – see Artavis Scott. This article is an attempt to figure out if this year’s cases of hype are legitimate, in a buy, sell or hold format.

Austin Proehl

It’s only right that we start with this year’s training camp darling. The Chargers are undergoing a massive overhaul of their special teams unit. Nasir Adderley will likely be back as the team’s main kick returner, which should be very exciting for Chargers fans. Ty Long will be back as their punter, but everything else is up for grabs. 

Up until this point in training camp, Proehl seems to have been the main beneficiary of the battle for punt return duties. He is almost always the first man in line when they shift towards punt return drills. 

At the start of training camp, however, he was struggling to get involved as a receiver. It wasn’t until Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton went down with injuries that we started to hear him getting those opportunities. Make no mistake about it, he took advantage of his newfound opportunities and he deserves credit for that. The team has also seemingly gone out of their way to stay involved. He appears to have a solid connection with both of the backup quarterbacks. 

That being said, KJ Hill is not going away either. He manned the punt return duties last year after Desmond King was benched and subsequently traded, and while unspectacular he was mostly solid. Of all the punt returners who caught at least 20% of their teams’ punt returns, Hill was 27th in yards per attempt. On the positive side, however, Hill only muffed a single punt last season. (King muffed four punts in 2019, which was probably another reason for him being in the dog house last season)

One of Hill or Proehl will make the roster, but it’s always important to keep a close ear to the ground for what the coaches are saying, and they have expressed confidence in Hill as a receiver over the last few days. When they talk about Proehl, it’s mostly been for his abilities on special teams. If they are pretty close as returners, it stands to reason that they’d keep the one with more upside at receiver.

Verdict: Hold – Proehl seems to have the early lead, but Hill could still win this battle.

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Kyzir White

The fourth-year safety-turned linebacker is one of many defensive players on the Chargers that will be playing the 2021 season in a contract season. White started most of the 2020 season after Drue Tranquill broke his leg in the first game of the season, but his season was effectively over once ended up on the covid list. Overall, White racked up 77 total tackles, four tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, and three pass breakups in the 2020 season. 

Most importantly, he logged a career-high 538 snaps. Although those all came under a different coaching regime, he was able to put out a lot on tape for the new staff to evaluate. 

This year he’s been arguably the biggest surprise of any key defensive player at training camp. He has been all over the field as a space and chase linebacker at training camp, getting pass breakups against the Chargers tight ends, making tackles for loss, pressuring the quarterbacks as a blitzer, etc. White even had another pick-six on Thursday’s practice. He’s arguably been the most disruptive pass defender in camp.

There have been moments when Tranquill has looked like the better player, and there are other moments where it’s been White. The new staff has raved about their inside linebacker trio, and for good reason – at least so far.

The Chargers will likely only have two inside linebackers on the field at once but they have said they’ll have a plan for him (and Tranquill) and that seems to be coming to fruition. And we’ve gotten a good glimpse of a specific role for White this season. When the Chargers shift into their DIME package (six defensive backs), White has been the lone inside linebacker to stay on the field – generally playing alongside Derwin James. Defensive Coordinator Renaldo Hill recently called White a bully, in part because of his tenacious mentality in position and team drills, but also because he simply gets after the ball. The team loves his versatility because he can play the run and the pass extremely well.

Verdict: BUY – White is going to have a large role for this team.

Joshua Kelley

The former UCLA Bruin is one of the examples of training camp hype fizzling out. Several beat writers dubbed him as the breakout player of 2020 after he supposedly had the best training camp of anyone on the roster. This year, there have been reports that Kelley has improved significantly as a pass catcher and is running with real explosiveness. 

Kelley is in a fight for his life to make the roster, so his progress is absolutely a positive sign. The biggest question with Kelley at this point is his confidence. He’s been saying all the right things, but what happens if the Chargers keep him and the fumbling issue persists? His vision was one of his best attributes as a Bruin, but once the fumbles happened it was like the only thing he was focused on was holding onto the ball – instead of trusting his instincts. That kind of loss of confidence cannot happen again if the Chargers do end up keeping him.

I was very bullish on him as a college prospect, and although I disagreed with the execution of the draft pick, I liked the player a lot. I still believe he is capable of becoming a quality NFL running back. However, I also really like Larry Rountree and the kind of power he runs with. One of the biggest things the Chargers struggled with last year was goal-to-go situations (short yards). According to Daniel Popper’s via his YouTube show, Rountree has delivered some of the biggest hits of camp this year. Rountree was also lauded for his special teams background at Missouri, and can even return kicks.

Verdict: HOLD – this particular battle will likely come down to the actual preseason games.

The Rookie Class

I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time a Chargers rookie class has received this much hype during training camp. Obviously, it’s early and these players haven’t even played an actual NFL game yet, but the early reviews of this class should have Chargers fans giddy with excitement.

Everyone knew that Rashawn Slater and Asante Samuel Jr were likely going to start for this team. Thankfully, they have been as advertised so far in training camp. They will certainly take their lumps at some point throughout the season, as all rookies do, but the fact that they are not only holding up against the Chargers veteran players but even dominating at times shows just how good these players can be.

Outside of those two players, Rountree, Josh Palmer, Chris Rumph, and Mark Webb have really been standing out as well. You could even throw undrafted free agent linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga in this conversation as well, who according to Joey Bosa has been “killing it”.

Palmer has the kind of well-rounded skill set that was always going to earn him a role behind Guyton and Johnson, but he’s been extremely impressive as a route runner and after-the-catch kind of player and has arguably already surpassed the two speedsters.

I had my doubts about Rumph’s ability to be anything more than a pass rush specialist but there have been reports of him wrecking the second team’s rushing attack, and Bosa has been singing his praises since the first practice because of that. He then had three sacks in the scrimmage on Sunday, which apparently earned him the right to take reps with the first-team defense. If he’s a serviceable player as a rookie, I’ll count that as a huge win for the team.

Webb has been dealing with a hamstring issue for the last week (he should be back to practice next week) but he’s already had a couple of interceptions in training camp and has been pushing Alohi Gilman for playing time as that last defensive back in DIME packages. Similar to Rumph, anything Webb gives the team in year one is a huge victory.

Brenden Jaimes has been working with the second-team offensive line and will make the roster, but offensive linemen rarely receive training camp hype unless they are dominating as Slater has been. Then the last rookie that we haven’t really heard much about is linebacker Nick Niemann. If any rookie is in danger of being cut, it’s him. He’s in a heated battle with Ogbongbemiga and Cole Christiansen for that fifth linebacker spot. 

Verdict: BUY – this rookie class has the potential to be a 2017 Saints type of class.

Chargers linebacker Kyzir White prepares for a play. – Via Chargers social media

Steven Haglund

Author Steven Haglund

Hello LA Football fans! I am so stoked to be joining the LAFB team and get some high-quality content headed your way. I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ve been a Chargers fan since I was 10 years old when we traveled to San Diego and attended my first NFL game. I saw LaDainian Tomlinson score early in the first quarter and have been hooked ever since! I am also a contributing writer for Bolt Beat and the host of the Guilty As Charged Podcast. Bolt Up!

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