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Analysis: Five Things to Watch as Chargers Begin OTAs

The Chargers hit the field for the start of OTAs on Monday. What five things are worth monitoring?

The Chargers start OTAs at their team facility on Monday, which will allow Brandon Staley and his staff the ability to evaluate what they have after working all offseason to upgrade the roster.

This portion of the offseason is still voluntary, but is highly encouraged by the coaches to attend.

Here are five things to watch as the Chargers take the field for the start of OTAs.

The right tackle battle

Dec 17, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Chargers center Dan Feeney (66) lines up the offense against the Los Angeles Chargers defense during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers have answered just about every question they had entering the offseason – with the lone exception of right tackle. Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins will duel it out for the starting spot, but that will require assessments throughout OTAs, mandatory minicamp and training camp before the team settles in on who will be the starting right tackle.

OTAs will serve as a first-look resource for the coaching staff to determine what adjustments each player has made during their time away from the team. It will also give newly hired offensive line coach Brendan Nugent an opportunity to see how things stack up among his options on the right side.

Norton made 15 starts last season compared to Pipkins' two. But with Nugent now into the fold, and a true position battle on the horizon, it's anyone’s spot for the taking.

Competition at cornerback

May 13, 2022; Costa Mesa CA, USA; Los Angeles Chargers defensive back Ja'Sir Taylor (36) during rookie minicamp at the Hoag Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers added a multitude of cornerbacks in the form of free agency and the draft. Among the new members, J.C. Jackson is the only undisputed plug-and-play addition.

Bryce Callahan will be competing for a starting spot. And rookies Ja’Sir Taylor and Deane Leonard will be putting their best foot forward to cement themselves on the roster. Their contributions on special teams will go a long way as they'll be looking to outlast Tevaughn Campbell and others to round out the cornerback room.

Staley's defense is predicated on stout cornerback play and the competition throughout the offseason should largely illustrate just how far they've come.

How's the new-look defense meshing?

Sep 19, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) practices before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers maintained continuity on offense, but the defensive unit looks vastly different than how they finished last season. While they’re much more talented and possess an increased level of depth, it doesn’t go without saying that the new pieces brought in will need time to gel with one another.

Monday will mark the first time the Chargers will take the field collectively in which they'll discover broadly how the new additions slot in.

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Five of the Chargers' free agent signings on defense come in with past experience playing under Staley, so that should play favorably as they already have had exposure to understanding the language of his scheme. But for the new players brought aboard who are learning his defense for the first time and working to get acclimated, OTAs will serve as their first test.

Who's emerging at defensive tackle?

Sep 26, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (69) looks on from the sidelines in the first half of the game at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers' play from the interior alignment of the defensive line haunted them at times last season. They vastly struggled to stop the run and saw just minimal pass-rush production from up the middle. However, this season should look a lot different from that position.

Not only did they address arguably their biggest weakness by signing two of the top run-stuffers in free agency with Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson, but they also added Morgan Fox, an option to provide some juice as a pass-rusher, who logged a career-high six sacks in his lone season under Staley in 2020.

The Chargers didn’t pick up Jerry Tillery's fifth-year option, but he'll play out his final year under contract in the season ahead. Christian Covington was re-signed for depth purposes at the start of free agency and they drafted Otito Ogbonnia in the fifith-round. Breiden Fehoko, Joe Gaziano and others are also in the mix to fight for roster spots in a defensive line group that is particularly crowded.

Staley now has the ability to be multiple up the middle and shift his personnel to his liking. OTAs will be the first look at how the Chargers' interior players configure, determining who emerges early on.

How much will be learned about Ryan Ficken's special teams philosophy?

Jan 3, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; The Los Angeles Chargers special teams get ready for a kickoff against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers are looking for different results from their special teams unit from where they ended the season last year. They hired Ryan Ficken as the new special teams coordinator, who comes over after spending the last 15 seasons on staff with the Vikings.

New concepts will be implemented and OTAs will be the first step in doing so. The learning curve to new philosophies on special teams can come with a steep learning curve due to the fact that a large portion of special teamers include an abundance of first and second-year players.

Therefore, laying the framework of Ficken's system will likely come early in the OTA phase in order to build off of the infrastructure. Players looking to crack the roster, specifically undrafted free agents, will perhaps work closely with Ficken to contribute on special teams in addition to their natural position.


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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.