Monday was the first day of Chargers new head coach Brandon Staley’s in-person run OTA’s with veterans and rookies. This was the first time the team wasn’t meeting on a computer screen; it was teammates meeting for the first time.
When looking around the NFL, some teams are in jerseys and shorts with their helmets, but the Chargers aren’t doing that. Their players are in jerseys with shorts and no helmet. Staley is listening to his players.
“I learned a lot last offseason, and I felt like if there’s a middle ground, a blend in sports performance, and if you listen to the players, the big thing that the players have a real issue with is 11-on-11 with no pads and the competitive one-on-ones with no pads and the risk that it puts them in. It compromises them, from a player safety standpoint,” explained Staley. “We felt like, coming into this spot, that we could really show that our model is one that hopefully people can follow throughout the NFL, which is when we’re in individual, and we’re with our sports performance staff, we’re going full speed, and we’re working at our craft because that’s what players do; work at your game full speed.”
So that means that Staley has listened to his players, and he is trying to avoid injuries. In years past, the Bolts have sustained terrible injuries during this time, like when Melvin Ingram tore his ACL in May 2013, and then in May 2018, Hunter Henry tore his ACL. Freak injuries, but Staley doesn’t want to run the risk.
“But then, we want to avoid all of those possibilities in one-on-ones and in competitive 11-on-11s,” Staley continued. “We’ve eliminated that. All of our 11-on-11 is pure walk-through. What we’re trying to do is create that same game-like mental intensity, ‘playing a game,’ but without doing so physically. Our guys’ health is at the center of everything that we’re doing. Hopefully, we took a step in the right direction today.”
Staley said after practice, he loved the first day of practice and even added it was a “clean operation.” They accomplished everything they wanted to do. He mentioned that they ran two special teams sessions, which the Bolts need a lot of help in after their dismal year in 2020.
He also was happy about the offense and defense having 65 snaps of work with rotations. It was led by quarterback Justin Herbert, who is growing his hair yet again. On defense, it was a returning Derwin James and linebacker Drue Tranquill that had all eyes on them.
At the Chargers practice facility in Costa Mesa, there are two football fields for the team to practice. Usually, around this time, only one is in use for the offense and defense, while the special teams are on the second one, but not during Staley’s practice. He had Easton Stick leading an offense on that field while facing a defense.
“We just feel like that’s the model where everybody on your team can grow and develop at a high level, not specifically to players but also coaches,” explained Staley. “That’s where they can grow a lot. That’s where your future coordinators are going to come from. You’re creating a pipeline of coaches that are growing, that will be used to running the show, running the huddle, communicating, and coaching at a high level. Hopefully, what you’re doing is developing coaches and players at the same time.”
“The reason why we two-spot is so that our entire team can get work during the practice, and we can evaluate everybody on our team, not just part of our team,” said Staley. “There’s no way that you’re going to be able to identify the next [CB] Chris Harris [Jr.] or [RB] Austin Ekeler or [G] Matt Feiler if you don’t give these guys the opportunity to express themselves.”
He wants to help the team as a whole. The Chargers head coach sees the big picture that they are not only training players but coaches as well.
This was one thing that numerous ex-players said about Staley. He wants everyone to grow, whether it is an intern or his star player.
“I first reached out to Jalen about him when Coach first got the job, and he had nothing but positive things to say about him,” said James. “That’s hard, coming from Jalen. Everybody knows Jalen. He had a lot of positive things. Everything that he said, it’s been better. It’s been good.”
James said it perfectly that LA Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey doesn’t just give out praise to blow smoke. He says it because he means it. James noticed it the first time that he met Staley the day of his introductory press conference.
Some players haven’t been around him as much, but after being hired, Staley made sure to call every player on the team to get to know them. There and on zoom were some of the only places that most players had met Staley.
Monday was the first time that they got to see him on the field. Receiver Keenan Allen was asked about his new head coach’s energy.
“I think it’s big,” said Allen. “Especially having a new coach, you want to start to gain trust, and you want to believe in somebody you can trust and feel like you’re going to fight for. I think he’s giving us that. The way he talks, it’s just giving us the confidence that we can go out there and play for a coach who is going to lead us in the right direction.”
The attendance on Monday was not bad. There were around ten players who were not present for voluntary workouts. The only penciled-in starter at practice for the offensive line on Monday was left tackle Rashawn Slater.
Staley said after practice that even if players aren’t there in person, they can still join the meetings.
“Anybody that wasn’t here in the present was able to be in the meeting as if they were there,” said Staley. “That was something that was really important to us. That’s why we feel really strongly about our way of doing things because it is inclusive to everybody. Everybody is improving. Like I said, we have had 100 percent attendance the whole way, and I think that speaks to the makeup of our guys.”