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The 5 Most Important Chargers Training Camp Battles

Training camp is right around the corner for the Los Angeles Chargers, and these five positional battles will be of interest.
Quentin Johnston Fantasy Football

Competition is the soundest way to get the absolute most out of a player. Every year, every team in the NFL will have players scraping and clawing to either keep their job or for a new one. For the Los Angeles Chargers, plenty of players are going to have to fight to either keep their job or fight to take someone else’s, and that fight begins in training camp. From the starting base CB spot, to QB3, every player has competition to drive this team to new heights.

5 Paramount 2023 Chargers Training Camp Battles

1. Ja’Sir Taylor vs Asante Samuel Jr. – Starting Nickel

The Chargers cornerback battle is the most important training camp competition for Los Angeles. This has real implications to both the start the season and future roster management. After a three-interception game in the heartbreaking loss to the Jaguars, you would think that Asante Samuel Jr. has his spot on complete lockdown. Although, leading up to the playoff game it wasn’t all smooth for the former second-round selection. The Chargers coaching staff benched Asante Samuel Jr. for Ja’sir Taylor in Week 15.

When Samuel Jr. was “benched” his snap counts dropped from 100%  to 71% in the last four weeks of the season. While not a massive drop-off, his role did diminish for seemingly no reason. The reasoning behind his diminished role was his subpar tackling ability. With the Chargers run defense struggling especially in the second and third levels, Samuel Jr. was picked out as a liability and replaced with the rookie Ja’Sir Taylor.

Taylor got his opportunity when starting slot corner Bryce Callahan went down in Week 14. He impressed Brandon Staley and company, leading the coaching staff to give him more playing time in the starting lineup. Taylor was impressive tackling running backs in space, filling gaps, and doing well in the run game. Taylor went from playing 57 total snaps through Week 14 (46 of them coming from his start in week 14) to playing 104 total snaps in his last 4 regular season games.

Overall, Chargers training camp will give both these players great competition, as well as a variety of different skill sets to play against. Players like Keenan Allen will test their smarts, and quickness, as players like Mike Williams will test their physicality and ball skills. They both bring different skill sets to the table, and both will play in 2023, but who will earn the official starting role in week 1 of 2023?

2. Joshua Kelley vs Isaiah Spiller – Running Back 2

Like the cornerback competition, the Chargers running back room has two non-rookies competing in training camp for important snaps. Unlike the cornerback room, these two players did not show any signs of competing directly with each other, and the start of the competition is for this year and beyond. Joshua Kelley was strictly RB2 when healthy. Even when Kelley was hurt, Spiller may have played more but still did not make any difference as a runner or receiver.

Joshua Kelley is primed to break out this year, having a nice mini-breakout campaign last year. To summarize, Kelley has worked himself into peak shape and showed last year he was a completely different back, both before and after his injury. Kelley showed he can create on his own, having a very solid 1.8 Yards After Contact. He will also benefit from the hiring of Kellen Moore, as last year Moore utilized a two running back system for the majority of his run schemes.

I have not sung the praises of Isaiah Spiller, as he has yet to earn that on an NFL field. But let us not forget, the former Texas A&M back is only 21 years of age at the time of writing this. Spiller’s scouting report out of college goes among the lines of:

  • A powerful back that is strong in his lower-body, showing his physicality running through tacklers.
  • Spiller is surprisingly slippery, showing the ability to completely shake defenders in the open field.
  • Able to lineup in the passing game at any spot
  • Great, soft, hands.

Although, we should mention that he isn’t a complete back yet as his patience can really strike him in the back at times. Spiller showed in his minimal carries that he would dance around too much in the backfield and not hit the gap/hole in time. The second-year back also lacks speed, as he ran an atrocious 4.63. But listed above are some of his strengths, and with year of NFL coaching/experience under Spiller’s belt, he’s only bound to grow into his strengths and work on his weaknesses.

All in all, this Chargers training camp battle seems to be Joshua Kelley’s to lose, but a young, promising, 21-year-old running back has all the tools to put it all together and take training camp by storm. With the hiring of Kellen Moore, both backs will have to fight to earn his trust, giving it a more level playing field than the previous regime.

3. Joshua Palmer vs Quentin Johnston – Wide Reciever 3

You can argue that this battle is the headliner for the Chargers training camp. Quentin Johnston being the first player the Chargers drafted this year at pick #21, and with Joshua Palmer having a very good year last year with over 700 yards, this battle will come down to training camp performance and how early the coaches trust Quentin Johnston.

Joshua Palmer set career highs in nearly every category, doubling his yards and receptions from his rookie year. We obviously don’t expect that jump again, as Palmer played well replacing the Chargers top talent at wide receiver as Keenan Allen and Mike Williams went down with injury. In conjunction, this is the biggest reason why his stats increased so dramatically last season. We now do expect a similar level of efficiency and play from him as he has now shown he can play at a high level, at many different spots. Palmer showed his ability to line up as an X receiver, a backside-Z receiver, and lastly, his main role, the slot. Palmer recorded 72 receptions for 769 yards and three touchdowns last season, playing more snaps than expected with the injuries to Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

Quentin Johnston was a polarizing wide receiver prospect during the draft cycle, as many early in the process loved his game and thought he would be the easy WR1 on boards when NFL draft season came around. That obviously didn’t happen as he was the second receiver drafted in the 2023 draft. Johnston shows great ability to separate, very impressive athleticism (which his combine performance did not match), long arms, and lastly a very good run-after-catch receiver. Although this seems great, Johnston struggles against press coverage, contested catches even at his size, and also struggled in his 40 time running a 4.52, which is much slower than draft scouts thought.

To summarize, you have a very good role player in Joshua Palmer coming off of his best year yet, although Palmer will have to fight for snaps against the rookie, Quentin Johnston. Palmer brings a route-running approach to the receiving room. The former third-round pick also has two years of experience on Johnston, showing to be a very trustworthy, smart, versatile receiver. Johnston may not have seniority but has draft status, in which Chargers coaches and staff will want to play him early as possible. The TCU receiver brings size, yards after catch, and speed to the room, in which the Chargers don’t have any receiver like that on the roster.

4. Easton Stick vs Max Duggan – Quarterback 2

Every year, an NFL team loses their starting quarterback to injury and it completely derails their season. It’s very rare for a backup quarterback to maintain the play of the starter, but it is possible, as we have seen with Brock Purdy, Andy Dalton, and Cooper Rush. As for the Chargers backup situation, it will be very difficult for these players to see the field, as Justin Herbert is extremely tough, and will play through next to anything.

Easton Stick is a former 5th-round pick from North Dakota State University, playing out his entire rookie contract with the Chargers. He has thrown one regular season pass, completing it for just four yards. Easton Stick is very well-liked by Charger fans and is obviously liked by the Chargers front office and staff. He signed a 1-year, 2-million dollar deal with the Chargers this offseason. As a passer, he is very football smart and quick with the ball and isn’t one to throw downfield, but can extend plays with his legs and agility. He is an ideal backup quarterback, as he has shown to have great football knowledge as he has a 32 Wonderlic score, which was fourth in his class. His smarts don’t always transfer to the NFL field as he has shown in the preseason to make some questionable plays.

Max Duggan was the Chargers 7th round selection this year, and he was definitely taken as a quarterback with athletic tools and a strong locker-room presence. This is another archetype of a backup quarterback, as having someone to develop their tools and still contribute in the locker room is always important. Duggan is very fast running a 4.52 40-yard dash (the same as draftee and teammate Quentin Johnston).

We have talked about Duggan’s athletic ability and locker-room leadership ability but were haven’t touched on how tough he truly is. Watching his tape, he is one of, if not the toughest player I watched throughout this draft cycle. He plays his absolute heart out every play, and at the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for. Duggan will bring a scrappy, tough, hardworking, toolsy skillset to the Chargers, which makes him an intriguing backup quarterback behind leading signal-caller, Justin Herbert.

Although this battle may go to Stick based off seniority and experience, as it seems the Chargers have always valued that in the past, Max Duggan will give Stick a run for his money. Both possess similar skill sets, but I believe that Max Duggan has a much higher ceiling. Duggan just has to clean up a lot of his mechanics, processing, and ability to get the ball out quickly. The Chargers are likely to keep 3 quarterbacks on the roster, but who will win that second-string job behind Herbert?

5. Dustin Hopkins vs Cameron Dicker – Kicker

Los Angeles has been looking for a steady kicker for decades, and when it rains, it pours. The Chargers have a good problem on their hands, having two kickers that showed out last season. Hopkins is the veteran of two, and Dicker is the young talented rookie. This battle for the Chargers will completely come down to training camp performance.

Dustin Hopkins looked great in his games with the Chargers, playing his heart out and completely balling in his last game this year, making four kicks, including the game-winner with a bad hamstring.  Last year, Hopkins hit nine of his 10 field-goal attempts and all 12 of his extra-point tries. Hopkins will come back this offseason healthy and ready to go. Another factor that will be crucial considering the Chargers cap situation, will be the difference in contracts. In 2023, Hopkins will earn a base salary of $2,230,000, while carrying a cap hit of $3,086,045 and a dead cap value of $1,600,000. Meaning if the Chargers cut him they would save money.

Cameron Dicker was the replacement for Hopkins, and played great in his relief. Last season, Dicker connected on 19 of his 20 field-goal attempts while hitting on all 22 of his extra-point tries. It seems as though Dicker outperformed Hopkins last year, and also carries a cheaper contract. Dicker was tendered this offseason, basically coming down to him signing a 1-year contract worth $870,000, with zero dead cap if cut.

Both are intriguing players and will be a close decision for special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken and company to figure out. Do you go with the proven veteran coming off an injury and with a larger contract? Or do you go with the younger, cheaper, healthy kicker with only 11 games under his belt?

Main Photo: Kirby Lee – USA Today Sports


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