Here’s what we learned, what we heard and what comes next after the Chargers completed their preseason with a 27-10 loss Friday to the Saints in New Orleans that gave them a 0-3 record in exhibition play:
TURNING THE PAGE
The Chargers hardly played any of their starters in their exhibition losses against the Rams, Dallas Cowboys and Saints, so it was sometimes difficult to determine what sort of team they had going into the regular-season opener Sept. 11 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
On paper, they look great.
But since the games aren’t played on paper, it was often a chore to determine how the Chargers might look when they play against the Raiders at SoFi Stadium. Some players, especially wide receiver Michael Bandy, stood out. But some others did not in any meaningful way.
Training camp and the exhibition games were more about evaluation, according to Chargers coach Brandon Staley.
“I think there is a lot to be decided here, especially at the back half of our team,” Staley told reporters Friday in New Orleans. “We have to make sure that we take a good, hard look at it. Then we have to take a look at the rest of the NFL. That’s what we’re going to try and do, try to put our best group together.
“Then you also know that it’s never over. It’s a long season. But I like this football team. I think that we’re a lot better football team than we were at the beginning of training camp. Now, we’re ready for what’s next.”
So, how did the evaluations go?
“I like the way that we came together as a football team,” Staley said. “I think that our team has improved from the first day of practice (July 27) until now. I think that we got full evaluations, which is what we were after in these three preseason games. Now, we’re ready to get on with it.”
Bandy caught 18 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns in three exhibitions, leading the Chargers in receiving. He also returned kickoffs and punts and generally made it difficult for the coaches to cut him before the final 53-man rosters must be submitted to the league Tuesday.
Running back Joshua Kelley stated his case to be the Chargers’ backup running back behind Austin Ekeler by gaining a team-leading 40 yards on six carries in the first half Friday against the Saints. He was in competition for the job with several others, including rookie Isaiah Spiller.
Safety JT Woods’ athleticism was difficult to miss during camp and exhibition games, but he missed a number of tackles after getting into prime position to make them. It was a bit of a head scratcher for Woods, who was the Chargers’ third-round draft pick after a standout career at Baylor.
Right guard Zion Johnson, the Chargers’ first-round draft pick, didn’t play many downs in the preseason, but he was impressive in joint practices with the Cowboys. He follows in the sizable footsteps left tackle Rashawn Slater made during his rookie season in 2021.
WHAT COMES NEXT?
The Chargers must trim their roster from 80 players down to 53 before Tuesday’s deadline. Then they’ll have less than two weeks to prepare for their season-opening game against the Raiders. Some cuts will be harder to make than others, but moves must be made nevertheless.
So, who goes and who stays?
Bandy is most likely the odd man out in a deep wide receiving corps. Woods probably makes the team in a secondary loaded with talented players. Chase Daniel and Easton Stick are likely to join Justin Herbert as the Chargers’ quarterbacks, per general manager Tom Telesco’s recent TV interview.
It’s expected that Chris Rumph II will win a camp battle as a backup edge rusher behind Pro Bowl selections Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. Rumph made some impressive plays during the exhibition games, including several tackles for losses against the Rams and Cowboys.
All will be revealed sooner rather than later.