The Chargers held their third annual joint practice against the New Orleans Saints in Costa Mesa on Thursday morning. This gave the Bolts a second joint practice look at one of the best teams in the NFC this training camp, having faced the LA Rams two weeks ago.
“If you want to evaluate yourself and see where you are, it’s good competition. That’s what I tell the guys,” explained head coach Anthony Lynn.
The Saints had one of the best offenses in the NFL last year. Future hall of fame quarterback Drew Brees guided his unit to 31.5 points per game, which ranked third in the league. Los Angeles’ defense could now benefit from having faced the No. 2 and No. 3 scoring offenses in the last two weeks. The Bolts already had a quality group, which held opponents to 20.6 points per game, good enough for eighth in the NFL.
“It’s always good to go against those teams, especially teams like those two,” said cornerback Casey Hayward. “That game could’ve gone either way. We’ve played against — practiced against — two Super Bowl-caliber teams. Drew Brees is going to help us out, especially on the defense. They run a multi-defense type of scheme and I’m pretty sure that’ll help our offense as well.”
Brees was the Chargers’ quarterback during the building years from 2001-2005, until management decided to let Brees walk, and enter the Philip Rivers era. Rivers quarterbacked the 2006 team to the divisional game; led the 2007 team to the AFC Championship game on a torn ACL; and got the franchise to the divisional round in 2008 and 2009.
The 16-year veteran knows what it’s like to play for a championship contender. He believes the Chargers are on that level once again.
“I feel like we’re in that window. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to just happen, but I do feel like we’re in that window capability-wise. We know what this division is. Kansas City has kind of had it the last couple of years, they’re going to be unbelievable. Denver and Oakland are going to be teams to deal with. I think we have the toughest division in the whole league. That’s where it starts for us, finding a way to win the division.”
Every team in the AFC West added valuable pieces during the offseason, headlined by the Raiders’ addition of All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown. Meanwhile the Broncos added former Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco. The Chiefs have reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes, who is expected to improve in his second year as Kansas City’s starting quarterback.
As everyone got better in the division the Chargers, as of right now, have holes to fill. They are missing left tackle Russell Okung because of a blood clot. Their most notable void during camp is at running back. Pro Bowler Melvin Gordon is in San Diego working out instead of in training camp because of a contract dispute. His quarterback showed him some love on Thursday.
“Are we better with Melvin? Heck yeah, we are. Hopefully, we have him in addition to these other guys. Then, it will be one of the saltiest running back groups around. Again, I’m in no place to speak for the organization, but I know no player is in a panic right now. We want to support him and wish he was here, but we also know that it’s August  and everything is okay at this point.”
‘Okay’ will not be enough for the Chargers to reach their ultimate goal. The players, and head coach Anthony Lynn know that their best chance of winning is with Gordon in the backfield.
Nuts N’ Bolts
· Chargers receiver Keenan Allen sat out Thursday’s joint practice with what Coach Lynn described as “soreness.” ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Allen has an ankle injury that is not serious but will keep him off the field for the remainder of the preseason. Allen has been the best player on the field this preseason and should rest up for a long season.
· The third annual quarterback challenge took place Thursday with the Chargers quarterbacks taking home the win, but tomorrow is the final to see who breaks the tie between the teams.
· Bolts defensive backs were the talk of practice today. They picked off the Saints twice, with one of the interceptions coming from undrafted cornerback Kemon Hall.
· After practice Anthony Lynn was asked who stood out these last few days and he pointed at second-year linebacker Uchenna Nwosu.