COSTA MESA, Calif. — Brandon Staley was pretty clear on Wednesday afternoon when he said he feels like this rookie class will help, in some capacity, this team this season.
They drafted a receiver, a pass rusher, and a linebacker. Tuli Tuipulotu and Daiyan Henley were necessities, while Quentin Johnston was a future pick who could have an immediate impact.
It is time to review how each has performed as training camp just closed, and the final preseason game is on the horizon.
Johnston has impressed at times during camp. His get-off speed as the ball is snapped is impressive, while his actual speed is something not seen on this team in a while.
“He practices really hard,” Staley said. “He’s studying. He’s learning how to study and prepare. The learning curve is huge coming from college for that position. He’s just stayed steady. Working through the mistakes, but I think you guys have seen. His ability to consistently make plays at this level is exciting.”
His catch radius has been on display during practices with diving catches, long receptions, and potential. But….BUT there have been most mistakes.
“When I went back and looked at the tape, I obviously had a few drops,” Johnston said. “That was something in my book that’s unacceptable, especially at this level. I took that hard. I went to practice the next week harder than I did the week before.”
He has had some drops during games and practice.
“Honestly, just a lack of focus,” Johnston said. “Really, no excuse there.”
It was a knock coming out of TCU, but Johnston has been working on it. For him to improve, he believes consistency in practice, repetition, and the jug machine are critical.
The Chargers are playing the long game with Johnston because he won’t need to jump straight in and contribute. They can ease him in and help him get better. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Josh Palmer are the starters, but make no mistake about it, Johnston could be a game-changer.
He needs to focus on the drops. The good thing is that he doesn’t get caught up on them.
“Myself about three or four years ago, yeah,” Johnston said. “Now, I realize that the game is much bigger than just that drop. It’s how you bounce back from that drop.”
Staley didn’t say if the first-year receiver will play on Friday against the San Francisco 49ers, but it could be one series and out, but it gives him another chance to prepare for this season.
Moving on to the second-round pick, Tuipulotu has shown a lot of promise. Last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, there was a run play when the rookie pass rusher did a swim move on Trevor Penning to get a tackle for loss.
“I just felt like he overshot it, so I just gambled to the B-gap and had to get vertical,” Tuipulotu said. “I was supposed to be in the C-gap. I was supposed to be outside, but I just took a gamble and made the play.”
Fans on social media got excited about the potential of the rookie from USC. In his last year in college, he had numerous tackles for loss, including sacks—something the Chargers desperately need.
They have Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, but they have needed depth, which he adds. Both Pro Bowl pass rushers have been complimentary of Tuipulotu.
Just like Johnston, it is unknown if he will play on Friday, but more than likely, it will be three to four series on a limited basis just to give him one more warm-up.
“I feel way more comfortable compared from the first game to the second game,” Tuipulotu said. “Hopefully, I’ll just keep building and keep getting better.”
Lastly, third-round pick Daiyan Henley is coming off a strong game against the New Orleans Saints. He did well against the run, accumulating nine tackles.
The most impressive part was when he shot in and got half a sack on Jameis Winston.
“Being able to be out there and get into the motions with my teammates and be able to have that communication, I think those have been the biggest parts,” Henley said. “It’s helped slow things down, for sure.”
His role is unknown coming up when the season is back, but more than likely, he will be a special teams player with maybe some snaps on defense if Kenneth Murray or Eric Kendricks need a breather.
That is why these preseason games and the joint practices have been essential for Henley; it gives him a chance to see what real game action will be like if he needs to come in during the season.
“I definitely would say I’m a trial-by-fire type of guy,” Henley explained. “I love the action. I feel like the best way to learn is to make mistakes because, for me personally, when I make a mistake, I don’t want to do it again. You don’t want to repeat the same mistake. You want to learn from it. You want to grow from it.”
He may see the most playing time on Friday out of the three top draft picks. He could use the snaps to continue helping with his growth.
All three players will be asked to contribute to the team in some way this season. The team’s belief is that the talent is there now. It is time to put it together.
“I would definitely say that we have the ability and that we’re looked at as a team that’s supposed to win, I think that’s what we’re going to try to do,” Henley said.