Chargers minicamp: Takeaways from busy day, including trip to Camp Pendleton

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers had a busy opening of mandatory minicamp Tuesday.

The day began with a one-hour practice at the team facility in Orange County. The Chargers then loaded onto buses and drove 50 minutes south to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. There, the team held a walk-through in front of about 5,000 fans, including Marines and their family members. Players and coaches remained on the field after the walk-through for a meet-and-greet, signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans.

As coach Jim Harbaugh described, “Warriors on the battlefield meeting warriors on the gridiron.”

Harbaugh was one of the last Chargers employees on the field signing autographs. A mass of fans surrounded him and followed him to the bus. Assistant offensive line coach Nick Hardwick — who, like Harbaugh, played for the Chargers in San Diego — was another favorite of the fans in attendance. Hardwick, too, was surrounded by a large crowd after the walk-through.

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The Chargers hold two more minicamp practices, one Wednesday and one Thursday, before breaking for the summer.

Here are my other observations from Tuesday:

1. Harbaugh spoke in the morning before practice at the facility, and he revealed the five offensive linemen who “separated themselves” as the starting group through organized team activities: left tackle Rashawn Slater, left guard Zion Johnson, center Bradley Bozeman, right guard Trey Pipkins and right tackle Joe Alt.

This group took all the first-team reps together at the final OTA open to the media last week. That continued during Tuesday’s practice.

“I think it’s on track to be a top-tier offensive line in the NFL,” Harbaugh said.

The depth spots are still up for grabs, Harbaugh said. Those decisions would “require pads to sort” out, he said. The Chargers will not be in pads until training camp in late July.

Jamaree Salyer had been rotating in with the first-team offense at guard early in OTAs. But he has only taken second-team reps over the last two practices open to media. He was at right guard Tuesday. Six offensive linemen rotated in with the second-team offense Tuesday: Salyer, Jordan McFadden, and Karsen Barnhart at guard; Brenden Jaimes at center; Foster Sarell at left tackle; and Alex Leatherwood at right tackle. Those six, it appears, are vying for between four and five open spots on the 53-man during training camp.

2. For Pipkins, Harbaugh’s statement signifies some positive early returns in his transition inside to guard. Pipkins, who signed a three-year extension during the 2022 offseason, started 31 games at right tackle for the Chargers over the past two seasons. He has not played any regular-season snaps at guard in his career.

“Extremely capable of doing it,” Harbaugh said of Pipkins. “He’s an outstanding player. He’s an outstanding tackle, and he’s an outstanding guard. The idea of getting to our best five at all times and playing that.”

The first real test for Pipkins will come during training camp when reps in the trenches are much closer to live action. There is minimal contact during the spring practices.

“Not having a weak link is critical,” Harbaugh said of the offensive line. “I think we’re trending toward really having that top to bottom.”

3. The Chargers had perfect attendance for the minicamp’s opening. All players were present and accounted for between the two sessions. Tight end Will Dissly, tight end Donald Parham Jr., edge rusher Chris Rumph and running back Gus Edwards were working off to the side during the practice at the team facility. Cornerback Cam Hart was not on the field for the first session at the team facility but was present and participating during the walk-through at Camp Pendleton. Edge rusher Joey Bosa left the first session about midway through, but he was back on the field for the walk-through at Camp Pendleton.

4. The offense got off to a sluggish start to the morning practice. The Chargers dropped five passes in the opening period of 11-on-11. The most egregious came from tight end Stone Smartt, who was wide open down the seam and dropped what would have been a touchdown.

But the unit picked it up in the ensuing seven-on-seven periods. Justin Herbert delivered two superb touchdown passes. The first came in the red zone. Running back Jarret Patterson ran a wheel route down the left sideline, and Herbert layered a pinpoint touch pass over the tight coverage of linebacker Denzel Perryman.

In the next series, Herbert connected with receiver Josh Palmer on a go route for another touchdown. Palmer beat cornerback Deane Leonard on the outside. Herbert created some separation with a pump fake to the flat before resetting and finding Palmer.

5. The chemistry between Herbert and rookie receiver Ladd McConkey is continuing to blossom. McConkey has been playing mostly in the slot, and he is already proving capable of winning easily and often in short areas of the field. His route running is pro-ready. McConkey caught four passes from Herbert on Tuesday, including a third-down conversion out of the slot. McConkey beat nickel corner Ja’Sir Taylor on the play.

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The connection between Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and rookie receiver Ladd McConkey (above) continues to blossom at minicamp. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

6. The Chargers are settling on a defensive back rotation: Asante Samuel Jr. and Kristian Fulton on the outside with Taylor in the slot and Derwin James Jr. and Alohi Gilman at safety.

The key position battle developing is at the third safety spot. Defensive coordinator Jesse Minter will be moving James into the slot in certain packages. That has been evident through OTAs and minicamp. When James moves to the slot, a safety must come onto the field to replace him on the back end and line up next to Gilman. So far, A.J. Finley and J.T. Woods have been rotating as that replacement safety.

“They’re doing a great job,” Gilman said of Finley and Woods. “They’re learning quick. It just takes reps, and it will all come out when it does. …Whoever is able to get the opportunity to process the fastest will have a good chance to play more.”

7. Perryman and Daiyan Henley were working at inside linebacker with the first-team defense for the second straight week. It appears that is the starting pairing for now. Troy Dye and Nick Niemann worked with the second-team defense. Junior Colson and Shane Lee worked with the third team.

Colson had suffered a minor injury on the first day of OTAs in May, but he was back in team drills Tuesday. The rookie third-round pick could push for a starting job in training camp if he can stay on the field.

8. The Chargers had two tryout players with the team Tuesday: safety Tony Jefferson and receiver Praise Olatoke. Olatoke ran track at Ohio State and is part of the NFL’s International Pathway Program. Jefferson is a 10-year veteran. He last played for the Giants in 2022. Jefferson spent part of four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, where he crossed paths with Chargers GM Joe Hortiz.

If Jefferson makes the roster, he would be an interesting addition to that third-safety battle. Finally and Woods are unproven. Jefferson would provide a much more experienced option.

(Top photo: Harry How / Getty Images)

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