Training Camp Tour: Henry, Brown among SD rookies with chance to make immediate impact
SAN DIEGO, Calif. – As is often the case in San Diego, the weather was lovely on Wednesday and the practice at Chargers Park had a bit of a relaxed feel to it. Most of the starters were resting as the team had a few straight days of padded practices, and the coaches decided to let some entrenched players get some rest. Tons of family members were present at the facility and came on the field at the conclusion of practice.
[More: Get the full PFF training camp tour schedule here.]
Rookies getting opportunities
With most of the starters resting, the practice had a heavy special-teams emphasis to it. Sixth-round pick Drew Kaser (Texas A&M) was booming punts and already appears to have the starting job locked up, as the Chargers recently waived punter Kasey Redfern. Multiple players took turns fielding punts, including Isaiah Burse, who was also heavily featured on offense with so many players resting.
RB Melvin Gordon didn’t have Wednesday off like the majority of the starters, and had a few nice runs on the day. RB Branden Oliver saw several pass targets thrown his way. Offensive rookies Max Tuerk (USC), Derek Watt (Wisconsin), Chris Swain (Navy), and Hunter Henry (Arkansas) all participated heavily in practice. There was also an obvious attempt to get big people on the field to improve their run game. The Chargers frequently used multiple tight ends or a fullback as extra blockers, and appear to be headed to a more thumping ground game. Rookie TE Hunter Henry was frequently targeted on the day, and was even split wide during a red-zone drill. Henry’s skill-set makes it very attractive for the Chargers to employ more 12-personnel packages in 2016 than they have in recent seasons.
[More: Chargers TE Hunter Henry tops list of three NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates not named Ezekiel Elliott.]
Impact of Joey Bosa contract stalemate
There was still no news to report on defensive end Joey Bosa (Ohio State), as he and the Chargers are still stuck in contract negotiations. Sadly, the impasse is hurting both parties, as the team badly needs edge-rush help, and Bosa is missing key reps that could help him see the field earlier. Bosa is currently listed as a third-string defensive end, and will apparently be playing the 5-technique defensive end position in their base defense, with his nickel pass-rush role currently uncertain. Bosa has the ability to kick inside and rush from the defensive tackle position in nickel, or can be left at the defensive end position.
Can fifth-rounder Jatavis Brown help defense in year one?
The defensive player the PFF team was most looking forward to watching on Wednesday was rookie linebacker Jatavis Brown (Akron), but unfortunately he also had the day off. Brown is an undersized defender who does everything well, and does it quickly. Last season, Brown was one of our highest-graded FBS linebackers and graded positively as a run-defender, pass-rusher, and in coverage. Brown has seen some first-team reps during camp already, and we believe he can make an impact as a nickel linebacker. Second-year ILB Denzel Perryman was a highly-effective run defender during the last half of the 2015 season, so perhaps he will stay on the field in base defense, and Brown can substitute in as the nickel backer. The Chargers’ linebacker rotation will be an area to watch as the preseason progresses.
Perryman didn’t practice Wednesday, but he did take a few minutes to chat with the PFF crew after practice. Perryman is an interesting test case in our grading system, as his run-defense grades actually increased from college to his rookie year.
“To get to this level, you have to step your game up a notch,” Perryman said.
When asked what he credited that success to, Perryman mentioned the coaches and players around him and the conversations they have in meeting rooms about situations and reads.
“The biggest thing I could take away from my rookie year was getting in the playbook and knowing what you’re doing out there on the field, because that way you play a lot faster. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re out there thinking and playing slow, and probably someone will run into the back of you—I wasn’t trying to be that guy.”
The Chargers hope Perryman continues to play the way he did the last half of 2015.
Other camp notes
– Free-agent acquisitions C Matt Slauson (Bears) and DT Brandon Mebane (Seahawks) are both immediate starters, and will be relied upon to improve the run game and run defense, respectively; both rested Wednesday.
– The collision of the day was between rookie linebacker Joshua Perry (Ohio State) and Swain.