Justin Herbert impresses: Observations from Chargers' first intrasquad scrimmage
The Chargers staged their most significant training camp practice to date Sunday night in Costa Mesa, the two-hour-plus session built around an intrasquad scrimmage.
The top offense went against the top defense for five possessions and produced three field goals and two touchdowns, both of which came on short Justin Herbert passes.
Though the players were in pads, there was still no tackling to the ground, leaving some gray area in terms of evaluation.
Here are some of the highlights:
Herbert’s first scoring pass covered three yards and went to Austin Ekeler, who finished 2021 with 20 touchdowns, tied with Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor for most in the NFL. The drive included a nifty Herbert completion to Keenan Allen and a 35-yard connection with DeAndre Carter on third-and-long. The offense also overcame a false-start penalty on tight end Gerald Everett.
Herbert then hooked up with Everett for a two-yard score to cap a red-zone situation that started with first-and-10 at the 15-yard line. After securing another first down near the five, the offense twice failed to score on running plays, the second ending when safety Nasir Adderley stopped Ekeler for a loss.
The three field-goal drives ended with Dustin Hopkins converting from 33, 24 and 48 yards.
For the backups, Chase Daniel connected with Trevon Bradford for a beautiful 37-yard touchdown.
Daniel also led the second-team offense to a field goal on his first series, a possession that included three more receptions for Carter plus a running play on which Carter gained 10 yards. Signed primarily to be the team’s kick returner, Carter has had a very productive training camp as a receiver as well. “He has fit right in,” coach Brandon Staley said. “He’s an outstanding teammate, versatile player and plays in a lot of places. … He’s going to be a guy that makes an impact on our team. He is much more than just a return guy.” Herbert called the fifth-year veteran “a very smooth route-runner” and said he’s “very friendly to the quarterback,” further explaining that Carter’s savviness makes him a more inviting target.
The defensive highlights included veteran edge rusher Khalil Mack stopping Ekeler for a loss on one running play and for no gain on another. Coming off a foot injury that cost him the final 10 games of last season, Mack continues to stand out for the Chargers, who traded for him in March. Fellow pass rusher Joey Bosa suggested Mack actually says he feels as if his play must improve. “I just keep telling him that it’s going to take time, and I’m sure a few weeks into the season, he’s really going to be rolling and feeling great,” Bosa said. “We still have plenty of time until that first game comes.”
The scrimmage included a tense exchange between veteran defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day and rookie right guard Zion Johnson. A first-round pick in April, Johnson ended up losing his helmet on the play and Joseph-Day was flagged for a 15-yard penalty. “You can’t be afraid to get after each other sometimes,” Bosa said. “I think Zion has that in him, for sure. … You have to set the rookies straight sometimes.”
Rookie fullback Zander Horvath had a nice, aggressive run after catching a pass from Herbert. He’s battling veteran Gabe Nabers for a potential game-day roster spot. Horvath should get plenty of action in the preseason.
Second-year edge rusher Chris Rumph II combined with Jerry Tillery for a sack and also stopped Ekeler for a two-yard loss on a running play.
Several regulars did not play because of injury. Those out included linebackers Kenneth Murray Jr., Kyle Van Noy, Drue Tranquill and Nick Niemann. Murray had offseason ankle surgery, Staley maintaining that he hopes Murray can return at some point in training camp. Van Noy, Tranquill and Niemann are all dealing with what Staley called “soft-tissue” issues. He has indicated that none of the injuries are thought to be serious. With those four out, Troy Reeder and Amen Ogbongbemiga started at inside linebacker.
Staley confirmed that tight end Donald Parham Jr. suffered a hamstring injury during practice Friday. He said Parham “should be out, for sure, this week.” Second-year tight end Tre’ McKitty also remains sidelined because of an undisclosed injury. With those absences, Hunter Kampmoyer, a former teammate of Herbert's at Oregon, received some time with the first team.
Bosa was limited Sunday because of a blister issue that surfaced while he was warming up. He was visibly limping as he left the field. “I’ve never really had one on my foot before,” he said. “I’ve been trying to make these cleats last, but I think they’re ready for the garbage. But it’s not a big deal. I’ll just pop them and get them wrapped up and be back in action.”
Safety Mark Webb Jr. and wide receiver Jason Moore Jr. also sat out because of undisclosed injuries. Cornerback Tevaughn Campbell went down because of a leg injury during the scrimmage and did not return.
Undrafted rookie offensive lineman Andrew Trainer will remain out after being injured Friday, Staley said.
The Chargers aren’t on the field Monday and will return to practice Tuesday morning. Their first preseason game is 7 p.m. Saturday at SoFi Stadium against the Rams.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.