Today marks the beginning of organized team activities (OTAs) for the Chargers. Along with today and tomorrow, the team will get together for nine sessions. Those dates are May 23rd-24th, May 26th, June 1st, June 3rd, June 6th-7th, and June 9th.
It is in these minimal sample sizes that we can begin to piece the puzzle together that will eventually be the 2022 Los Angeles Chargers. Position battles begin here and numerous players will be worthy of keeping an eye on as we inch closer and closer to training camp.
In honor of OTAs commencing, here are four storylines and/or position battles that I’ll be most interested in throughout the next two to three weeks.
1.) Will Jerry Tillery retain a starting role in 2022?
This offseason, the Chargers moved on from former third-round defensive tackle Justin Jones but added three new bodies to defensive line group in Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, and Morgan Fox. Both Sebastian-Day and Fox are played under Brandon Staley when he was with the Rams in 2020 while Johnson enjoyed a career year with the Giants a season ago.
As it stands, all three players are objectively upgrades over both of what Tillery and Jones were a year ago. As a part-time player, Fox had a better season in 2020 than either Tillery and Jones have ever had as full-time starters. So with this in mind — meaning that Tillery seemingly looks like the team’s fourth-best interior defensive lineman — I’m interested to see if the team still feels like he’s worth giving a starting spot to this season. After all, the Chargers didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, although Staley did note that Tillery remains in their future plans.
Jerry Tillery vs. a third-string RT pic.twitter.com/KKYbRi8RHJ— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) September 20, 2021
2.) Will the addition of Isaiah Spiller lead to more two-running back packages on offense?
When Austin Ekeler kept proving that it was a mistake to keep him off the field for too long, former head coach Anthony Lynn began to incorporate more offensive packages where both Ekeler and Melvin Gordon were on the field together. It allowed for personnel flexibility and gave the offense an upper hand by not allowing the defense to predict exactly what they were looking to do. Ekeler’s versatility as a pass catcher allowed him to flex into the slot, and sometimes even out wide, to take advantage the athletic gap between him and a poor linebacker tasked with covering him wherever he went.
Now that the Chargers brought in someone like Spiller, they can once again feel confident in deploying similar looks on offense. I don’t think Ekeler will ever be a bell-cow for the team, and even if he is capable of withstanding the rigors, Staley likely isn’t looking to put anymore pressure on his shoulders than he was forced to in 2021 due to a lack of depth at the position.
3.) Will Trey Pipkins or Storm Norton receive the most first-team looks at right tackle?
Likely the most interesting position battle entering the week, OTAs will give us the first looks at what the Chargers believe to be the first-team offensive line at this point in the offseason. Some player is going to trot out there with the starters at right tackle and you have to think it’s either Trey Pipkins or Storm Norton. Some conspiracy theorists are hoping to see Matt Feiler or even Jamaree Salyer out there on the edge, but I doubt the Chargers surprise fans here. My guess is Norton and Pipkins split time this offseason with the first team with Norton getting the opening snaps with the group.
Is it what I want? Definitely not. Do I expect this to be a boring position battle despite being such an important position the team needs to address? Very much so.
4.) How will the cornerback depth chart shake out?
The Chargers replaced veteran Chris Harris Jr. with the likes of J.C. Jackson and Bryce Callahan to reinvent a cornerback room that also includes last year’s second-round pick Asante Samuel Jr. and Michael Davis, the group’s longest-tenured player. Now with four viable starters, it remains to be seen how the Chargers will divide up snaps amongst. We expect the defense to play a ton of Nickel which means three corners will be out, but which three will it be? Of course opposing personnel will dictate some of that, but with Callahan being mainly a slot defender and both Samuel Jr. and Jackson being capable of the same, how will that affect Michael Davis’ playing time since he’s mainly an outside guy? I’m excited to begin to find out.