When Tom Telesco and the Chargers made the decision to draft Trey Pipkins in the third round of the 2019 draft, it was met with quite a few skeptics. After all, Pipkins played at the University of Sioux Falls, a Division II school in South Dakota that the majority of football fan had probably never heard of. But at 6’6 and 307 pounds, Telesco felt that Pipkins had the necessary foundation to be developed into a future starting tackle in the NFL.
However, through his first two seasons in the league, that ideal future seemed to only get further and further away as he consistently showed the inability to play with NFL-caliber defenders.
Earlier this year, Pipkins was a healthy scratch for four games. Since returning to the active game day roster in week 12, Pipkins has recorded two starts — one at left tackle against the Chiefs and one at right tackle against the Broncos. In both games, he looked like a legitimate NFL offensive lineman. This past Sunday, he was a top-5 graded offensive player for the Chargers by Pro Football Focus.
So what caused this eye-opening turnaround in such a short amount of time? On Monday, I made sure to ask Staley what he believed were the biggest differences between the Pipkins of earlier this year and the Pipkins we just saw against the Broncos.
“A lot of is his mindset,” said Staley. “Then, the second thing is his technique, understanding how we want to do things around here, then us also understanding him and being able to tailor our teaching, our coaching, to his game. At the beginning of season, he didn’t play well enough to earn an opportunity. That’s just the truth of it; he wasn’t performing well enough. That’s why he wasn’t playing. What he did, I think that he really started to understand the importance of how hard you have to prepare and how much you need to improve as a player in this league to become a player in this league.”
Staley believes that Pipkins getting the chance to spend time in an offensive line room with a number of experienced, veteran players has paid huge dividends. So not only has the offseason acquisitions paid off in the immediate with the line’s much-improved play in 2021, but those same players are making the backups that much better in the long run which helps round out the entire room, as well.
“I know that Frank [Smith] and Shaun [Sarrett]] have done a great job with him. I think him being in an O-line room with some veteran players like Matt [Feiler], like Corey [Linsley ], like Oday [Aboushi], like Bryan [Bulaga] that know what it takes. It’s such a toughness position, a culture position. It’s a developmental position. It happens for people at different stages, but he’s shown some progress, and now he needs to continue to improve and stay consistent in his performance, but I’m proud of the way that he’s been able to fill in at both spots.”
I know Pipkins has gotten plenty of shade thrown his way for his past performances, but player we’ve watched over the past few weeks looks like a completely different guy. Not only is he playing well, but he’s not making the mistakes that littered the few snaps he did get to begin the season.
Coach Smith and Sarrett have definitely earned their paychecks this year and Chargers should be absolutely over the moon for it.