COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Chargers held their opening organized team activity of the offseason Monday at the team facility.
It was the first of 10 voluntary OTAs the Chargers will hold over the next three weeks. The offseason program culminates June 13 and 14 with a two-day mandatory minicamp. Players break from the team for the next month and a half before reconvening for the start of training camp in late July.
Here are my notes, takeaways and observations from the Chargers’ first OTA of 2023.
1. Overall, attendance was excellent. Of the 90 players on the roster, only two non-injured players did not make an appearance on the field: receiver Mike Williams and running back Austin Ekeler. Defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia and cornerback J.C. Jackson were the only other two players who did not appear on the field, but they are both still rehabbing from significant knee injuries, so not a huge surprise. Jackson and Ogbonnia had been on the field during earlier phases of the offseason program, working off to the side with trainers.
Williams was with the team earlier this spring, coach Brandon Staley said. Williams also missed the opening day of OTAs last offseason. He was back on the field for the second week. “He’s been doing a really good job for us,” Staley said Monday.
Ekeler prefers to work out on his own during the offseason. He missed all of OTAs last year before joining the team for mandatory minicamp. So his absence is not necessarily related to his current contract situation. The Chargers granted Ekeler permission to seek a trade partner earlier this offseason after the two sides remained far apart on extension negotiations. Ekeler is in the final year of his deal. Staley said he expects Ekeler to be in attendance for mandatory minicamp. Ekeler would risk being fined if he does not report for the mandatory practices.
OTAs pic.twitter.com/Tk0yAmFWnI(Video) Joey Bosa On OTAs & Training With Nick | LA Chargers
— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) May 22, 2023
2. One noteworthy player who attended Monday’s opening OTA: edge rusher Joey Bosa. In recent years, Bosa has missed at least the first week of OTAs while he worked out with his brother, 49ers edge rusher Nick Bosa, in Florida. Bosa arrived in SoCal for the second week of OTAs last year. In 2021, Staley’s first season as head coach, Bosa did not report to the team until mandatory minicamp.
When asked Monday about his motivation for attending the opening of OTAs, Bosa responded rather dryly: “The coaches telling me.”
“It’s no problem, it’s just I am in a pretty strict routine down in Florida training with my brother, so it’s just a few moving pieces, obviously, with that other than just myself,” Bosa said. “But my dad’s manning the helm back in Florida with my brother. He’s handling his training for the next few weeks.”
Chargers edge rushers coach Giff Smith has been with the organization since 2016, the year Bosa was drafted. Bosa said Smith has often encouraged him to attend OTAs. But Bosa typically prefers his regimented routine with Nick. This year, Bosa said multiple coaches reached out to him about showing up for the start of OTAs.
“Your culture is your best players and the example that they set, and certainly Khalil Mack sets a high standard, Derwin (James),” Staley said. “And I think Joey is a part of that. So for Joey to be here, I think it shows all these young players what it takes to be successful. You have to be here with your team to improve. And we know that Joey’s got such a specific routine with his brother in Florida, so for him to be here day one, really excited about that.”
Bosa said Mack was “definitely part of the reason” he came to the opening day of OTAs this year. The two have grown close, even though they did not get much time on the field together after Bosa tore his groin in Week 3 last season.
“I feel obligated to do my stuff when I have him watching me, have him counting on me,” Bosa said of Mack. “It’s nice to have that.”
Bosa said he is looking forward to potentially grabbing dinner with the defensive players over Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s going to be great being out here with all the guys,” he said.
The Chargers have an OTA on Thursday and do not return to the field until May 31.
3. Quarterback Justin Herbert participated in the early portion of practice, throwing routes against air to his receivers. He did not participate in the seven-on-seven portion of practice. Easton Stick took the first reps at quarterback, followed by rookie Max Duggan.
Justin Herbert threw passes against air at the Chargers’ first OTA session as he recovers from surgery to his non-throwing shoulder. (Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today)
Herbert is still working his way back from January labrum surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Staley said Herbert remains “on track” and “on pace.”
“He’s been able to throw more and more and he’s on that throwing progression,” Staley said. “He’s working himself for training camp.”GO DEEPERJustin Herbert: Shoulder 'getting closer to 75 percent'
4. A few other players sat out some or most of Monday’s practice: receiver Joshua Palmer, center Corey Linsley, guard Jamaree Salyer, receiver Derius Davis, defensive lineman Austin Johnson, linebackers Nick Niemann and Amen Agbongbemiga and receiver Jalen Guyton. Johnson and Guyton were not in uniform and are still rehabbing knee injuries from last season. As for the other injured players, Staley said, “Anybody that’s not out there, we’re trying to get these guys ready to play for training camp and the regular season. So if they’re not out there, it’s probably something minor in nature.”
5. The Chargers defense won the day in seven-on-seven drills against Stick. Michael Davis had an excellent pass breakup defending a double move from Keelan Doss on the outside down the sideline. Asante Samuel Jr., also on the outside, jumped a Keenan Allen in-breaking route and nearly picked off Stick. James forced an Allen drop in the middle of the field. Deane Leonard, playing outside, had two deep-field pass breakups against Stick. Both those passes were intended for John Hightower.
6. With Jackson’s still rehabbing his knee, Davis and Samuel manned their same positions as last season on the outside. Ja’Sir Taylor took a majority of the reps inside at slot corner, or star. James, as he has done throughout the past two seasons under Staley, rotated down to star in certain packages. James will also play the money position — which is a safety-linebacker hybrid role in six defensive back packages.
Alohi Gilman started seven-on-seven next to James at safety. When James rotated to star, 2022 third-round pick JT Woods came on at safety next to Gilman.
James’ playing more at star could be one way the Chargers create additional depth at that position, with Bryce Callahan’s remaining a free agent. Samuel has cross-trained there but seems penciled into a starting outside spot until Jackson is cleared to return to action. James played 224 snaps at slot corner in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus. That number dropped for 154 snaps last season.
“It’s an advantage for sure,” Staley said of James’ playing star. “I think that’s one of the things he does best, is play close to the ball, and he can play star or money. And so that gives us a lot of flexibility in how we want to play because he’s got a lot of those hybrid characteristics of a defensive back or a linebacker. So we feel like we’ve got a good group to coach at that position, but certainly having his ability to play there is a weapon for us.”
Derwin James’ positional flexibility is always a key to unlocking the best out of the Chargers’ defense. (Marc Lebryk / USA Today)
7. One undrafted player to watch over the spring and summer: defensive lineman Jerrod Clark. He was working on the first-team field during the walk-throughs after practice. Of the 18 undrafted free agents the Chargers signed, Clark might have the best shot of cracking the 53-man roster. He has the type of size and length Staley likes on the interior. We will see how he performs when the pads come on in July.
8. The Chargers will host joint practices with the Saints ahead of their Aug. 20 preseason game, Staley said. Staley said he expects those practices to be Thursday, Aug. 17, and Friday, Aug. 18. Saturday, Aug. 19, would be an off day before the game.
9. Over the weekend, the Chargers signed defensive lineman Nick Williams. They have one open roster spot remaining. Staley crossed paths with Williams in 2018 with the Bears. Chargers defensive line coach Jay Rodgers coached Williams in Chicago in 2018 and 2019.
“He just gives us a lot of interior defensive line versatility. He’s played any of the middle three. Been on a lot of really good fronts,” Staley said. “He’s going to make that group deeper going into training camp.”
(Top photo: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
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