COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Chargers held their 18th and final practice of training camp Wednesday at Hoag Performance Center. They close out their preseason Friday night at the San Francisco 49ers. Final cuts must then be made by 1 p.m. PT on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s practice was in pads and lasted almost two hours. Here are my notes, takeaways and observations.
Allen closed out training camp with one of his best practices of the past month. He caught six passes, and four of those went for touchdowns.
The first touchdown came on an out route from 4 yards out during the red zone run-focused period. He then caught two touchdowns in seven-on-seven, beating slot corner Asante Samuel Jr. on both. He won on a wheel route up the right sideline on a third-and-5 from about 30 yards out. Two reps later, he lost Samuel on a corner route on a third-and-5 from 10 yards out.
Allen’s best catch of the day came during the first of two situational 11-on-11 periods. Previously, the Chargers starters had been facing the backups in these situational periods. On Wednesday, the starters faced the starters.
“We just didn’t want our twos to die because they’ve played a lot and our ones haven’t,” coach Brandon Staley said of the change. “We just wanted to make sure that they’re able to go compete on Friday night.”
This led to some highly competitive reps between the starters. Allen’s catch was the highlight of the practice. This first period featured a middle-eight simulation — the last four minutes of the first half and first four minutes of the second half. Justin Herbert and the starting offense got the ball first from their own 35-yard line. Herbert converted two third downs, one to running back Austin Ekler on a flat route and one to Mike Williams on a deep corner route. That set up a first down from the plus-25-yard line.
Allen was lined up outside and ran a go route with Michael Davis on coverage. Herbert floated a ball down the sideline. He just cleared Davis. Initially, it looked like it was going to be an overthrow. But Allen stuck his right hand out and tipped the ball into the air. He then collected his balance and grabbed the ball with both hands before crossing the goal line for the touchdown. That put the first-team offense up by three. They had been trailing 14-10.
“It was one of those catches that only Keenan can make,” Staley said.
keenan allen: pic.twitter.com/IuVgrrHOjp
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) August 23, 2023
Allen has been the focal receiver in Kellen Moore’s offense during camp. Some of that is the rapport he has with Herbert. But some of that, too, is how Moore is using Allen. This touchdown was a really good example.
In Joe Lombardi’s offense, Allen played almost exclusively in the slot. That is where Allen has done the most damage in his career. Moore, though, has been moving his receivers around. Allen has been lining up on the outside more often. Williams has been lining up in the slot more often. Williams had a third-and-10 conversion in seven-on-seven from that slot. Allen playing on the outside has created more one-on-one matchups, like he had on this catch against Davis. And in these situations, Herbert has trusted Allen to go up and make a play on contested balls.
Moving Williams and Allen around is going to make the Chargers offense harder to defend. Williams, meanwhile, had the second-best play of the day for the offense in an 11-on-11 red zone period. He ran an out route on a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Samuel was in tight coverage. Herbert threw it anyway. And Williams made a top-tap catch for the score. Tremendous body control and hand-eye coordination.
“It’s all good work,” Staley said. “Justin can put it in places for things like that to happen.”
whole squad is just different pic.twitter.com/M6CYrLZnuO
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) August 23, 2023
News and notes
• Tight end Donald Parham Jr. did not participate in team drills, but he did participate in individual drills after missing Tuesday’s practice entirely due to injury. “Just working through some stuff from practice last week,” Staley said of Parham.
• Right guard Jamaree Salyer did not participate in 11-on-11. “Same thing (as Parham), just being precautious,” Staley said. “But nothing to worry about at all.” Austen Pleasants was at right guard with the first team, but that was a function of keeping the second-team offensive line intact for the situational periods. Inserting Pleasants meant only making one move to both units. The second-team O-line: LT Foster Sarell, LG Jordan McFadden, C Will Clapp, RG Brendan Jaimes, RT Zack Bailey. Bailey also worked at right tackle during the one-on-one period.
• Dustin Hopkins handled the field goal duties Wednesday. He made all three of his kicks during the field goal period, from 33, 38 and 40 yards. After practice, Staley said the team had not yet made a decision on who will be the Chargers’ kicker for Week 1 between Hopkins and Cameron Dicker. Staley added the Chargers “would make the determination” on who is kicking Friday night before they depart for San Francisco. “It’s a good, tough problem to have that we have two kickers that are quality kickers in the National Football League who have both proven themselves,” Staley said. “We’ve got some time to make that (decision).”
• Safety Derwin James Jr. had back-to-back tackles for loss during the 11-on-11 red zone run-focused period.
• When asked if he is expecting receiver Jalen Guyton (knee) and defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia (knee) to begin the regular season on the physically unable to perform list, Staley said: “I don’t know that.” Guyton was catching balls on the Jugs machine after practice with his helmet and pads on.
• The second situational 11-on-11 period was a protect-the-lead drill. The starting offense got the ball at its own 35-yard line with 4:21 remaining in the game, leading by five. The unit went three-and-out and was forced to punt. Herbert tried to hit rookie Quentin Johnson over the middle at the sticks on a third-and-4. Johnston slipped, and the ball went off one of his hands. Backup quarterback Easton Stick then led a 70-yard go-ahead drive. He connected with Derius Davis for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Davis beat rookie linebacker Daiyan Henley on an out route. Herbert and the starters got the ball back with 1:23 remaining from their own 35. They drove 48 yards, firmly into field goal range for a game-winning field goal attempt with 4 seconds remaining. The big play was a pass interference on Michael Davis on a jump ball to Williams. This was a questionable call. The Chargers did not have Hopkins attempt what would have been the winning field goal from 35 yards out.
(Photo of Keenan Allen: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)
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