Three Chargers With The Most To Prove In Training Camp
The buzz surrounding the Jack Hammett Sports Complex is palpable as the Los Angles Chargers opened their training camp this past Wednesday. With OTA’s in the rearview mirror, now is time for the tough decisions to be made. The Chargers currently have 86 players on the roster which must be trimmed down to 53 before the start of the regular season. First-year Head Coach Brandon Staley will have 17 practices and three preseason games to make his evaluations. With training camp now in full swing, which three players have the most to prove if they hope to be part of the final 53-man roster?
The Chargers’ receiving corp is loaded with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams representing the superstar tandem at the top of the depth chart. Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson were some of Justin Herbert’s favorite targets last season and when you add in rookie Josh Palmer to the mix, you have a very versatile group of wideouts.
2020 seventh-round draft pick K.J. Hill made some noise last offseason and was on track to be a big part of the Chargers offense. Unfortunately for Hill, his steady hands which allowed him to set the program record for receptions at Ohio State didn’t follow him to the NFL. He finished the season with seven catches for 73 yards which is totally reasonable from a rookie. What is not acceptable is having two drops on only 11 total targets.
What this receiving room really needs is a “run after catch” specialist with some return ability. The front office drafted Hill with the thought that he would be able to develop into that player and in his first season, he simply did not show that. Now he’s buried even further on the depth chart and will have to fend off the likes of Austin Proehl, Joe Reed, Jason Moore, John Hurst, and Michael Bandy. Hill’s best bet to secure a spot on the final roster is to lock down the punt return job which he does have experience with (12 ret, 83 Yds). However, the word coming out of training camp is that Proehl has been the first to field punts which might suggest he is the front runner to earn that spot. General Manager Tom Telesco does love his draft picks but that might be the only thing that bodes well for Hill right now.
Rebuilding the offensive line has been a focal point all offseason long and the front office has done a masterful job. The Chargers made Corey Linsley the highest-paid center in the league and inked guards Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi in free agency. Then the Bolts added Rashawn Slater in the draft to shore up the blindside. Last year’s starter at right tackle returns in Bryan Bulaga but the depth behind the starters, especially at the tackle position, is a bit concerning.
Given the Charger’s recent injury history on the offensive line, expect Los Angeles to carry 10 players at the position. The team loves Trey Pipkins and he will definitely be back. As it stands now, Norton is slated to be the team’s backup at right tackle. He was the team’s highest-graded lineman last year (PFF Grade 65.1) but being the best guy on the worst unit doesn’t sound all that impressive. Norton’s play was admirable but at the same time left a lot to be desired.
Norton’s battle to make the roster will not be an easy one as he will have a lot of young talent to contend with. Firstly, fifth-round draft pick Brenden Jaimes has the versatility to kick outside and should be in the running at swing tackle. The team also has undrafted free agents Kyle Spalding and Darius Harper who are chomping at the bit to crack the rotation. On paper, Norton seems to be the odd man out and will need a big camp if he hopes to don the Powder Blue next season.
Emeke Egbule is a player who doesn’t really have a set position and was horribly misused in the Gus Bradley system. At 6-foot-2, 240-pounds Egbule is caught in that defender purgatory somewhere between defensive end and linebacker. His upside lies in his versatility and ability to play all over the formation, but it is hard trying to find a place for Egbule on this current Chargers roster.
Egbule has appeared in 29 games over the past two seasons, taking most of his snaps as an off-ball linebacker and on special teams. Despite experience at the position, Egbule never looked comfortable playing that role. It also doesn’t help his case that the Chargers seem to have a lot of untapped potential at linebacker. A healthy Drue Tranquill returns to the fold and will join Kenneth Murray and Kyzir White as the starters. Nick Niemann was taken in the sixth round to provide some depth while undrafted free agent Amen Ogbongbemiga has impressed the coaching staff throughout OTA’s. That doesn’t leave any room for Egbule there, but what about using him as a pass-rusher?
The Chargers pass-rush depth behind perennial Defensive Player of the Year Candidate Joey Bosa is an area that many analysts have pegged as one of the team’s bigger flaws. Three-year veteran Uchenna Nwosu has been waiting his entire career to crack the starting lineup and expects to see a career year from the former USC product. The team also brought in free agent Kyler Fackrell and drafted Chris Rumph II out of Duke. Those two players really emerged from the pack in OTA’s, quickly demanding attention from the coaching staff and drastically hurting Egbule’s chance of making the final 53. The Chargers special team’s unit has been horrendous in recent years but Egbule doesn’t really have the athleticism you are looking for from a coverage team player. It’s much more likely he is delegated to the practice squad.