Friends Storm Norton, Trey Pipkins batting for same Chargers job

Only one offensive tackle dropped more sacks than Storm Norton last season.

Only one gave up more pressure.

These stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

The rest of the story of Norton’s performance in 2021 — that he was the weak link in an offensive line tasked with protecting franchise quarterback Justin Herbert — came courtesy of everyone else.

On an offense by the Chargers, which ranked among the top 5 in points and yards in the NFL, no player was scrutinized more than the right tackle.

“As an offensive lineman, you kind of hear it throughout your career,” Norton said. “You can’t control what people put out there. But I have a great support system that always encourages me. I am really grateful for that.”

As 2022 begins, right tackle is the only open issue for this team among starters, with Norton battling Trey Pipkins III for the No. 1 job.

Injuries are likely to affect rotation among inside linebackers, and certain roles in the secondary are still being phased out.

But for now, at least, Norton vs. Pipkins is right up there in terms of old-school first-team training camp scuffles.

The two have been teammates since the Chargers signed Norton in Spring 2020. They are “good friends” and “locker neighbors” – Norton’s words – and “kinda wired alike” – again Norton’s words.

“Storm’s my type,” Pipkins said. “We have built a good relationship. We both understand the competition. It’s not like there’s anything uncomfortable off the field. We both know how that works, what that means for both of us.”

Chargers offensive tackle Storm Norton (left) and offensive guard Matt Feiler participate in mini-camp drills June 1.

Chargers offensive tackle Storm Norton (left) and offensive guard Matt Feiler participate in mini-camp drills June 1.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

The rest of the Chargers’ offensive line consists of accomplished veterans at center (Corey Linsley) and left guard (Matt Feiler) and first-round picks at left tackle (Rashawn Slater) and right guard (Zion Johnson).

Norton and Pipkins both came to the NFL from smaller schools and as projects, not prospects.

Norton, who was not drafted from Toledo in 2017, mostly clung to the fringes of various practice groups before joining the Chargers after XFL operations ceased.

Pipkins was selected in the 2019 third round by the University of Sioux Falls, the only place that offered him the opportunity to play after high school.

During the offseason, Norton moved with his wife, Breanna, and their two young children — Ryker, 4, and Kasen, 9 months — within walking distance of the Chargers’ headquarters in Costa Mesa.

He trained with the team’s training squad and spent time delving deeper into the playbook and his own game.

“I wanted to try to be in the facility as much as possible,” Norton said, “whether that meant recovery, bodywork, or just being close to everyone to show how much that means to me.” It’s something I’m really committed to.”

In addition to participating in the team’s offseason activities, Pipkins traveled to Texas to work with Duke Manyweather, a recognized offensive line guru whose program has become very popular with NFL players.

Pipkins said the experience made him stronger and well conditioned, but more importantly made him wiser. He explained that being around so many accomplished linemen allowed him to broaden his horizons.

“All the O-line knowledge from the vets that go there is invaluable,” Pipkins said. “It’s the little things I learned playing O-line, the little technical things that I definitely feel are helping me now.”

Chargers offensive tackle Trey Pipkins III (79) participates in drills June 1.

Chargers offensive tackle Trey Pipkins III (79) participates in drills June 1.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

Norton wasn’t supposed to be the starter last season, but he was after Bryan Bulaga was injured in the opener.

Starting in Week 2, he played every offensive snap except for Week 17 when he missed a game against Denver due to COVID-19.

Norton gave up nine sacks and 60 pressures. Among all NFL tackles, he ranked 25th in run blocking but 125th in pass blocking, according to the PFF.

Pipkins began the season as the Chargers’ big tight end, being used as an additional offensive lineman, typically deployed in short-range situations.

Still, he struggled so much with that limited role that he lost the job and was inactive for four games as of late October.

“It was definitely a low point in my career,” Pipkins said. “But that happens. Everyone has a low point. It’s really about how you recover from it. I didn’t want to sulk.”

Pipkins rebounded, stepping in first for Slater in a left tackle in Week 15 and then for Norton in a right tackle in Week 17.

According to the PFF, he gave up no sacks and three pressures in 74 drop backs against Kansas City and Denver.

“That was very encouraging,” said Brendan Nugent, first-year Chargers offensive line coach. “He went out and played well. As I looked at the tape, I was like, ‘Okay, it’s in there. We just have to find a way to make it consistent.’”

Nugent said he had similar thoughts while watching video of Norton’s game from last season, explaining that both tackles continue to look for more even production from snap to snap.

Asked last week about the competition in proper tackle, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said nothing will be known until the Chargers face another team, adding, “The story of that has yet to be told.”

The Chargers open their preseason calendar against the Rams on Saturday. Then they have joint practices with Dallas on August 17-18 before facing the Cowboys in an exhibition.

The next two weeks will tell a lot about the Chargers’ right tackle history.

“You hope that sooner or later a guy breaks up because then you can get these five guys to work together in advance,” Nugent said. “But I don’t think it’s going to hurt if it doesn’t happen that way. Maybe both will show up. We wouldn’t mind having that problem.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-08-08/storm-norton-trey-pipkins-chargers-offensive-tackle-starting-job Friends Storm Norton, Trey Pipkins batting for same Chargers job

Emma Bowman

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