Charger rookies shine during their win over the Rams

After a year-long wait, the Los Angeles Chargers and the Los Angeles Rams have finally played a game in SoFi Stadium in front of actual fans. In the first preseason games for both teams this season, the Chargers held on for a 13-6 victory over the Rams on last Saturday Night in SoFi Stadium. A crowd of 68,791 fans witnessed the game in Inglewood.

With multiple starters on both teams sitting this game out, the game represented an opportunity for the younger players to get a chance to show what they could do, and the Charger rookies did not disappoint. Eight rookies acquired through the 2021 NFL draft played in this game and contributed to the victory. Defensive back Mark Webb, a seventh-round pick in 2021, missed the game due to an injury.

The Chargers need to establish a running game that will compliment their strong passing attack and help them hold on to second half leads. Rookie running back Larry Roundtree, a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, could be that type of player for the Chargers. Roundtree rushed for 63 yards on eight carries, including a key 25-yard run on a 4th-and-1 from the Chargers 39-yard line.

Roundtree has looked good in practice as both a runner and a receiver, with better speed than advertised. Roundtree was timed at a somewhat slow 4.65 in the forty at his pro day workout, with a vertical jump of just 30" and came in at 211 pounds, which was less than expected. As he showed Saturday Night, his forty time was deceiving.

First round draft pick Rashaan Slater saw his first game action as well and looked good. Slater started at left tackle and played on the first offensive drive only, but that turned out to be a 21 play, 73-yard drive that stalled at the Rams two-yard line and led to a Tristan Vizcaino 21-yard field goal. The opening drive absorbed 9:47 of the first quarter. Slater looked good on run blocks and did not give up a sack.

Slater was joined on the offensive line by fifth round draft pick Brenden Jaimes, who started beside Slater at left guard. On Monday at his press conference, Charger head coach Brandon Staley had this to say about Jaimes: "Brenden, I think, has done really well on the O-line. I think that he had a really nice night last week, teaming up with Rashawn on that left side."

At wide receiver, third round pick draft pick Josh Palmer led the Chargers with six receptions for thirty-six yards. Palmer looks like he can be a solid third option at wide receiver behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Both Palmer and Roundtree look like players that will contribute on offense right away and Slater will be the team's starting left tackle.

Third year quarterback Easton Stick completed 7 of 7 passes for 63 yards, including a throw on the run to wide receiver Jason Moore Jr. for an 18-yard gain, which led to a four-yard touchdown run from running back Darius Bradwell. That turned out to be the only touchdown of the night for the Chargers. Chase Daniel started at quarterback for the Chargers and completed 15 of 24 passes for 104 yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, three rookies stood out on Saturday night. Linebacker Nick Niemann, a sixth-round draft pick of the Chargers, led the Chargers defense with seven tackles and four unassisted tackles. Linebacker Chris Rumph, a fourth-round draft pick in the 2021 draft, was second on the teams with five tackles and 0.5 sacks. Cornerback Asante Samuel, the Chargers second round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, provided some tight coverage along with three solo tackles.

The performance by the rookies was encouraging, because the Chargers have a good starting 11 on both sides of the ball, but depth is always a concern in the NFL. The Chargers are currently have 85 players on their roster, a number that the NFL mandates by August 17th. By August 24th, the Chargers need to get down to 80 players. The real cuts on the roster will need to happen by August 31st, when the Chargers need to get down to 53 players on the roster.

That will be a challenge, especially at positions like wide receiver. This is where the practice squad will help. With the recent expansion of the practice squad to 16 players, the Chargers will have the option to bring back as many as 16 players after the final cuts. That includes being allowed to carry up to six players who have accrued more than two seasons in the NFL. The Chargers can protect up to four practice squad players per week from being signed by other teams.

The NFL is allowing the elevation of up to two practice squad players to the active roster, without removing any current players, before 4 p.m. eastern time, the day before a game. The elevation of an additional practice squad player within 90 minutes before kickoff in the event of a late COVID-19 positive test result is also being allowed this season. After the game, the team can return the two players elevated to the roster back to the practice squad without exposing them to waivers.

Salaries for the practice squad are divided into two categories: Category 1 is for players with no more than two accrued seasons in the NFL. Category 1 players make a minimum of $9,200 per week but can make more. Category 2 players are players with more than two accrued seasons in the NFL. They will be paid $14,000 per week.

Considering the amount of injuries the Chargers have suffered in the past few years, the practice squad can be significant resource to replenish the 53-man roster. It is also a great place to stash and develop players. Being able to use the practice squad to enhance and extend the 53-man roster will be important to the Chargers success this season.

The Chargers will take on the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, August 22nd at 4:30 pm in a preseason game. Charger fans will get their first glimpse of quarterback Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lance is battling the incumbent starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, for the starting job. Charger rookies should see plenty of action in this game as well.


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