Chargers HC Brandon Staley Kicks off First Rookie Mini Camp

It was the first time all of the 2021 rookies practiced together.
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It was the first day at work for the Chargers rookie players. The players spent the last few days taking their NFL headshots, trying on their jerseys, and getting ready for their first taste of action.

It also was the first day of coaching for Brandon Staley and his coaching staff. This was their first on-the-field coaching session. Right off the bat, Staley and his staff was to ease in the rookies and not overwhelm them.

“It was a big goal of ours to show that to these guys, to get them off to a good start,” said Staley after practice. “We felt like we wanted to create a safe environment today. As you saw, we had no helmets on. We really wanted a more workout environment, where there’s a great pace, where these guys can really concentrate and focus and not have that pressure on them with pads or helmets.”

The players started practice by stretching and warming up while a big crowd of coaches watched, including team owner Dean Spanos, President of Football Operations John Spanos, and general manager Tom Telesco.

All eyes and camera seemed to be on number 70, 26, and 5, which were the three players selected first by Telesco and Co. Second-round pick cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. practiced closer to the media, and right away, his quickness showed.

“Guys were flying around, coaches had good energy, and guys were communicating, trying to make sure we knew our assignments,” said Samuel. “I feel like we got better today.”

What is the rookie corners goal for this minicamp?

“Just making sure everything, mentally — I know where I’m supposed to be at corner and nickel,” explained Samuel. “Make sure I know what checks I’ll have to call. Basically, the mental part of the game and just making sure that all of the teammates, all 11 guys, are on the same page because it’s a team game. Just basically get it right with the team.”

Slater was across the field from the media, but his reaction to the snap was pretty quick, which is something Staley pointed to after practice. It was his first time practicing with a team since 2019 because he sat out last season preparing for the draft.

“It was good,” said Slater. “It was definitely a lot, going out there on the field for the first time, getting in the huddle, and hearing a lot of the terminology. I’ve got a lot to learn. I feel like we had a really good practice out there.”

The rookie out of Northwestern has only been in California for a few days and noticed something unique.

“I will say, it’s amazing out here,” said Slater. “I remember when I first walked out of the airport, it was like sunny and 70. Usually, in Houston, if it’s sunny outside, you’re sweating, but it was perfect.”

Third-round draft pick Josh Palmer also noticed something about the weather in Cali.

“I thought it would be a lot hotter,” said Palmer. “Right now, it’s kind of chilly.”

In-person, Palmer looks a lot bigger than his highlight tape. He spoke after being drafted about wanting to be a sponge with fellow receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. He also has that as his goal this weekend.

“Learning as much as possible and being prepared,” explained Palmer. “It’s been a long four months of working out and training to be in this moment right now, and I know a lot more growth needs to happen. For just this weekend, I’m more interested in learning everything; learning all the coaches, learning the playbook, and being on the same page as everyone else.”

It has been well documented since becoming the head coach of the Chargers that Brandon Staley is all about relationships. His philosophy is about teaching players but also players teaching players.

“Our rookie minicamp for these guys was to learn each other; to get to learn one another this weekend and to have relationships, both coaches and players, but then people within our building that are going to directly impact their experience here — getting to know the people that are really going to set the foundation for their future,” said Staley.

So how did he feel like day one went?

“Felt like the pace of practice stood out to me,” explained Staley. “Felt like, operationally, there was good tempo. There was good organization. People were confident in where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to be doing when they got there. Felt like our coaches and our sports performance staff did a really good job of outlining the expectations for the practice.”

The Chargers have a couple more days of rookie minicamp, but this weekend is about bringing some of these players up to speed because, like they mentioned, soon the veterans will be there.

For the players, it seems surreal that their moment is finally here. They are now NFL players, but for their head coach, this is also a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.

“A dream come true,” admitted Staley. “I told the guys last night that it’s a dream come true and a dream that’s at the beginning.”