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Chargers Encouraged With the Outlook of Rookie Offensive Lineman Zion Johnson, Jamaree Salyer

Tom Telesco reflects on the performance from rookies Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer this season.

The Chargers have been no stranger to invest in their offensive line through the NFL Draft. 

In 2021, they selected Rashawn Slater with the No. 13 overall pick out of Northwestern to serve as Justin Herbert's blindside protector. Last year, they followed suit, returning to the offensive line to pick Zion Johnson out of Boston College with the No. 17 overall selection to bolster the right guard spot.

Johnson made all 17 starts this season, but he wasn't the only first-year player along the offensive line to play meaningful snaps for the Chargers as a rookie.

Jamaree Salyer, the team's sixth-round pick out of Georgia, was forced into action at left tackle after initially thought of as an interior player at the pro level. After spending training camp almost exclusively between the two guard positions, Salyer returned to his college roots and stepped in at left tackle, making 14 starts in place of Slater, who suffered a torn biceps injury on Sept. 25.

As the Chargers' 2022 season has come to a close, general manger Tom Telesco voiced his pleasure of the performance from his young offensive line, particularly the play of Johnson and Salyer.

"Zion, really happy with him. He had his ups and downs like a rookie offensive lineman is going to have," Telesco said of Johnson. "I know when we drafted him, I said, ‘You can’t expect him to step in like Rashawn Slater did.’ What Rashawn did is just really uncommon, but Zion gives us an edge and a toughness inside. 

"If he makes a mistake, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. I just think he has a really high ceiling. He’s really mature. A lot of that stuff that we thought when we drafted him, you don’t know until you see it at this level, and to see him out there, he battled for us. I’m really proud of how he played, and I think he has a long way to go.”

Johnson played 1,187 offensive snaps, allowing five sacks and seven quarterback hits, according to the metics of Pro Football Focus.

Salyer, being called upon in Week 4 to take over the starting role at left tackle, exceeded any prior notions that led to him being a Day 3 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Salyer didn’t commit his first sack until the seventh start he made, keeping Herbert upright in the pocket for the first month and a half of facing furious pass rushers.

“He saved us this year," Telesco said of Salyer. "I wish that I could say that I was smart enough to say we were going to draft him to play guard, but that he could go play left tackle if Rashawn gets hurt, and play really good football. That wasn’t the case.

"He played tackle in college. That’s the one benefit when you draft a tackle in college that you really see as a guard, you always know, ‘Hey, look. We could put him out there if we had to,’ because he has experience doing it."

In totality, Salyer logged 989 offensive snaps, allowing five sacks and 10 quarterback hits, according to the metics of Pro Football Focus.

As Slater will return next season to his position off the left side following his recovery from biceps surgery, Salyer's impact was so prevalent that Telesco indicated he's earned the right to encompass a starting role in 2023. However, the status of what position Salyer occupies is to be determined.

"He played really efficient football for us at a critical position," Telesco said. "As you move into next year, as good as Jamaree played, I feel pretty comfortable that Rashawn Slater will be our left tackle, but we’ll figure out what the best role for Jamaree is. 

"Do we see him at a guard or a tackle for next year? I don’t know yet, to be honest with you. I’m not sure.”

One possible scenario is bumping Salyer over one spot on the offensive line to the left guard position, taking over for Matt Feiler, who's coming off an up-and-down campaign. The Chargers can get out of the final year of Feiler's contract with a dead cap hit of $2 million, while saving $6.5 million.

Meanwhile, right tackle is also a possibility for Salyer, as Trey Pipkins will become an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year in March. Pipkins performed well in his first full season as a starter, so perhaps the plan could be to re-sign him to remain at right tackle and place Salyer at left guard.

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