Chargers take on the Rams after a successful Fan Festival practice

After playing eight regular season games in front of empty seats in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Los Angeles Chargers finally got to feel the experience of playing in front of fans when they hosted the Fan Fest and Open Practice last Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. A crowd estimated at about 30,000 was treated to a concert and a Chargers practice that highlighted the talents of quarterback Justin Herbert and a talented group of receivers.

Herbert was thrilled to be back, playing in front of fans. "It's awesome," stated Herbert after the practice. "It's great to be back out here, playing football. To have fun and to have their support means everything to us. As tough as the year was last year, for them to show up and continue to support us, I'm really looking forward to this year."

Herbert threw touchdown passes to wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and connected for a touchdown with tight end Jared Cook, who was acquired as a free agent during the spring. Allen and Cook both played in the 2020 Pro Bowl together, with Allen catching four passes for 50 yards for the all-stars from the AFC and Cook three passes for 84 yards for the all-stars from the NFC.

Williams led the NFL in yards per reception in 2019, averaging 20.4 yards per reception. Both Allen and Williams went over 1,000 yards in receiving in 2019. In 2020, wide receiver Tyron Johnson was second in the NFL with a receiving average of 19.9 yards per reception (based on a minimum of twenty receptions). Wide receiver Jaylon Guyton was fourth in the NFL in yards per reception at 18.3 yards per reception.

Johnson has 4.34 speed in the forty and Guyton has run a 4.35 forty, and combined with Herbert's ability to throw deep, the Chargers can stretch a defense vertically. Cook and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi got a close up look at Herbert's arm talent in a Monday Night game last season in New Orleans against the Saints. Cook was the starting tight end for the Saints and Lombardi was the quarterbacks coach for the Saints.

In that game, Herbert completed 20-of-34 passing, for 264 yards and four touchdowns. He became the first rookie quarterback to throw four touchdown passes in a Monday Night Football debut. The Chargers lost that game in overtime, but Herbert made a positive impression on everyone, and the talent of the receiving group did not go unnoticed, either.

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said of this talented group of receivers, "Since I have been in the NFL, this is the deepest Receiving Corp that I have ever been a part of. This will be a strength of our team." That would obviously include a talented Los Angeles Rams group of receivers, since Staley was the defensive coordinator of the Rams last season.

The Chargers also have an abundance of receiving talent at running back, led by Austin Ekeler. He has scored twenty-five touchdowns in the NFL in his four-year career, with sixteen coming on touchdown receptions. He also has 212 receptions in his four-year career. Ekeler will be a high draft pick in fantasy football this year with his combined rushing and receiving skills. Staley is impressed with the overall talent at running back.

"I think we've got backs that bring a little bit something different to the table," said Staley. "We really believe in having that diversity, that variety of runners that can really change based on the defense. I think that we have got backs that can really catch the football out of the backfield and be a real matchup issue whether they are split out wide or running routes from the backfield. We feel that we have got different styles of running backs, based on what the run scheme is, based on what team we are playing."

While Staley did not call this the best group of running backs he has ever been a part of, they are clearly better than the current group of running backs with their cross-town rivals, the Rams. With the loss of starting running back Cam Akers to a torn Achilles, the Rams are not as deep and as talented as they would like to be at the running back position.

Speaking of the Rams, the Chargers will open their three-game preseason schedule on the road at SoFi Stadium against the Rams. The Rams are the home team for this game between the cross-town rivals. The game is set to start at 7:00 pm on Saturday Night. Coach Staley indicated that some starters could pay on Saturday Night.

"Our plan is the players that we need to evaluate on our team are going to play in that game," Staley said. "The players that we really need to evaluate. Some of our starters are going to play in that game because we need to evaluate them. Right now, there could be a couple of positions that are co-starters, where we kind of feel like we have two guys. You have to let that competition sort itself out. That's how we're looking at the preseason."

The Chargers had the worst special teams in the NFL last season and Staley indicated that the kickers are in fierce battle for a job. "We're in a competition. Those guys are going at it. What we wanted to do today was make sure that all three of them had an opportunity to compete, making sure that they had a consistent holder, a consistent snapper, so that we could evaluate them accordingly. We're at the beginning of that. The other thing, it's not just the field goals, it's kickoffs."

Staley added: "That's a big component to the game of field position. We're planning on scoring. Our kickoff coverage is a big component of that position, too. We're at the beginning of that evaluation. The good news is that we have three more games to evaluate against other people. I was excited for them to get as many kicks as they did today."

Saturday Night's game should be interesting to watch for the position battles among the Chargers. The stars will be on the sideline, as Rams head coach Sean McVay has already signaled that quarterback Matthew Stafford will not play. Expect the Chargers to keep Herbert on the sidelines as well. But it still should be an interesting battle between two talented football teams with playoff and Super Bowl aspirations.


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