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“Surge or Static?” Preseason Week 1: Rookies shine in first taste of the NFL

Both Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson may need to watch their backs.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Man, it felt GREAT to watch the Chargers take the field last night against the Rams for their first preseason game of the year. The energy was awesome, the players hyped from the jump, and the coaching staff really seemed to be on point throughout the night.

Both the offense and defense stood out on several occasions. Plenty of rookies wasted little time in announcing themselves to the NFL. However, that little ol’ third phase of the game named “special teams” was a blatant low point for the team on Saturday night.

I’ll be honest and say that kick coverage was actually pretty good. Rookie Chris Rumph and running back Darius Bradwell both had stellar tackles on the night. But punt coverage was another story. Running back Raymond Calais returned two punts on the night for a combined 61 yards. Receiver Tutu Atwell returned the first punt of the night for 20 yards and running back Otis Anderson returned the final punt for 15 yards after muffing the initial catch. So on the night, the Bolts allowed four punts with an average return of 24.0 yards.

Not good.

But enough of dwelling on that. Let’s kick off a new season with this year’s first “Surge or Static?” For those of you who are new to the community, every week I write about a handful of Chargers players who either “surged” forward or hurt themselves by staying “static” with their most recent game performance.

With all that being said, let’s dive right in.

Surge

WR Josh Palmer

In his first taste of game action in the NFL, Palmer led his team in both receptions and receiving yards with six and 36, respectively. The crazy part? He caught four of his receptions in the very first drive and all six through the first half, alone.

While the yards per reception average wasn’t all that great, Palmer showed the ability to show up when needed and several of his catches ended up moving the chains. Averaging 15 or more yards per reception is great, but what’s even better is building a solid trust with the quarterback and coming through in the clutch.

If you’ve watched Palmer in training camp up to this point and still believe he won’t see a significant role this year, you may want to think again.

RB Larry Rountree

This one wasn’t as big of a surprise to me. Following his selection in the sixth round this year, I slapped on Rountree’s film and immediately saw something that made me believe he could be a contributor on this team. Rountree’s balance through contact was apparent at Missouri and that’s a trait that’s easily translatable to the NFL. Understanding how to take and receive contact from would-be tacklers and using their momentum to your advantage is a huge plus in the pros.

On Saturday night, Rountree led the team in rushing with 63 yards on eight carries. He popped off a spectacular 25-yard jaunt on a fourth-and-one that really energized the offense to begin the second half. On the Chargers’ final drive of the night, Rountree broke off another 24-yard run that helped seal the victory in Inglewood.

K Tristan Vizcaino

Vizcaino did exactly what he needed to on Saturday night: he made both of his field goal attempts. I know that sounds like the bar is incredibly low for these kickers, but that’s the truth.

Don’t miss easy kicks. Don’t miss extra points. That’s about it.

Vizcaino’s long of the night was only 38 yards but you’re not going to find a Chargers fan who cares. There were no misses and that’s a cause for celebration if there ever was one.

CB John Brannon

Brannon saw his first bit of NFL action late last season when he was forced into action due to numerous injuries to the defensive back group. He was one of two undrafted corners to sign with the team in 2020 and him getting the nod at all over Donte Vaughn tells us he’s currently ahead of the latter on the depth chart.

In last night’s exhibition, Brannon helped seal the victory with a late interception of Devlin Hodges in the end zone. It wasn’t the cleanest of picks, but Brannon made a great break on the pass and got a hand in front of the intended receiver which somehow corralled the interception before he scampered 14 yards the other direction.

That was the closest the Rams ever got to the end zone for the rest of the night.

Static

RB Joshua Kelley

Kelley tied Rountree for the team-lead eight carries against the Rams. Unfortunately, he only managed 19 total yards compared to Rountree’s 63. He averaged just 2.4 yards per carry behind the same line that Rountree managed 7.9. Yes, it’s fair to say the defenders were downgraded as the game went on, but that’s quite the contrast.

Kelley has yet to show that “make something out of nothing” trait and his lack of agility and shiftiness at the line of scrimmage really lowers his ceiling. He’s a north/south runner but doesn’t often run with the power behind his pads that you’d expect for being one of the bigger backs on the team.

LB Amen Ogbongbemiga

There’s been some hype around Ogbongbemiga this offseason with the idea that he’d be able to make the team as a special teams contributor. The inside linebacker group is also fairly shallow which inherently increases his chances of making the team. On Saturday night, Amen finished with four tackles and showed some fire on defense when defending the run. However, when it came to dropping into coverage, he was quickly exploited.

Personally, I don’t think he was put in a great position to succeed, but it was clear that dropping into coverage was not his forte. He allowed the Rams’ only touchdown of the night when he bit on a double move by receiver Trishton Jackson in the slot. If it was just a simple stick route, Amen might have broken up the pass. Unfortunately, Jackson immediately turned the route back inside after the outside fake and caught the pass with no one within five yards of him.

It wasn’t all bad, but Ogbongbemiga must improve the other half of his game if he wants to stick around for the long haul.