The Chargers have the highest-paid player in the NFL by average annual valor as quarterback.
Still, the way they run the ball in 2023 is a better indicator of their success.
During a joint practice session with the New Orleans Saints on Friday, the Chargers’ game looked better on the ground.
That was the positive on a day when Justin Herbert and the pass attack struggled to make bold statements.
Austin Ekeler broke a big hole on the first play in an 11v11 game. Joshua Kelley followed immediately with another solid lead, and the Chargers were literally on the rise.
Coach Brandon Staley said afterwards: “We’ve definitely formed the identity that we want to play with.”
Only two teams — Tampa Bay and Houston — rushed fewer yards than the Chargers last season. They averaged 89.6 yards per game, which was less than Josh Jacobs and Derrick Henry.
In their first preseason game, the Chargers threw up 214 rushing yards against the Rams, but that was behind most of the reserves down the offensive line and without Ekeler’s effort.
Their performance against the Saints felt more authentic as both teams used their starters over longer distances.
Along with the repeated efforts of Ekeler and Kelley, Isaiah Spiller managed to convert a third and one. The Chargers even performed a sweep with wide receiver Mike Williams for positive yards.
Under new coordinator Kellen Moore, the Chargers are expected to have a more explosive offense focused on acting between tackles and being more determined.
The second of two joint training sessions for the teams took place on Friday. The Chargers and Saints are scheduled to play a preseason game Sunday at 4 p.m. at SoFi Stadium.
The NFL, Chargers and Saints were scheduled to discuss the threat of Hurricane Hilary in a conference call Friday afternoon. The storm is approaching Southern California. The rain is expected to start late Saturday and continue through Monday.
Due to the situation, there is a possibility that Sunday’s game could be cancelled.
Also notable developments on Friday included:
hard air day
Early in the first 11-on-11 period, Herbert partnered with Gerald Everett for a decent lead as the veteran tight end grabbed an excellent lead in close coverage.
The pass offensive hardly had any other highlights. Keenan Allen caught to convert a fourth down and had another good gainer on the right touchline.
Everett caught a five-yard touchdown, completing a three-play possession that began at the Saints’ 25-yard line.
Otherwise, Herbert would not have been able to flaunt his large right arm, which landed him a five-year, $262.5 million contract extension last month. Six of his 11-on-11 finishes went to running backs.
Work on trust
Like several of his offensive teammates, wide receiver Quentin Johnston was having a quiet day.
The rookie first-round pick ended in the 11-on-11 game without catches as he was targeted once each by Herbert and his substitute Easton Stick.
Staley emphasized that Johnston “must keep learning, keep trusting in Justin and earning his trust, which is so important.”
Herbert’s confidence is likely to be one of the biggest hurdles for Johnston, who also suffered two losses in the Chargers’ pre-season season opener. Without that confidence, Johnston will struggle to find his place on offense.
“He’s going to play a part,” Staley said. “He will be an important part of our way of playing. But how much he plays will depend on his performance. He must continue to earn a living at the practice site.”
The veteran Dustin Hopkins was in charge of the ball, scoring eight of nine field goal attempts from 46 yards. His miss sailed wide to the left from 52 yards.
After missing several practice sessions and the first preseason game due to an undisclosed injury, Hopkins returned to practice this week.
In his absence, Cameron Dicker put in a consistent performance that included a successful 50-yard attempt against the Rams.
Staley hinted Thursday that the two kickers still have time to fight for the job.
Security guards Alohi Gilman (bruised knee) and Mark Webb Jr. (groin) did not train. Linebacker and special teams player Nick Niemann (unknown) returned in a limited capacity. He did not take part in team exercises. … Staley indicated that Stick will start Sunday, followed by rookie Max Duggan.