Justin Herbert’s protector Zion Johnson deserves praise from Chargers

He received praise for his strength, demeanor and intelligence, Sion Johnson to date looking very much like a first-round pick.

Yet until the Chargers against another team, no one can be sure exactly what he has in his rookie right guard.

“Everyone looks good in their Olympic underwear, don’t they?” offensive line coach Brendan Nugent joked Saturday. “He’s done a good job so far.”

Chargers used the 17th overall pick in April to secure the player they immediately plugged in as the starting right guard.

Johnson, 22, has looked impressive in one-on-one practice and appears to be settling with the first team, playing between center Corey Linley and takes on Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins III, who are battling for the starting position.

“Tough guy, strong guy,” left guard Matt Feiler said. “He is one of those guys who is going to be a lockdown keeper. I see good things happening.

The Chargers have an intrasquad scrimmage scheduled for Sunday, but won’t see an opposing team until their first preseason game next weekend against the Rams.

That’s when Johnson will have his first chance to confirm that he belongs on a line tasked with protecting the Pro Bowl quarterback. Justin Herbert and an opening space for the running back Austin Ekeler.

During practices at training camp, the Chargers don’t tackle the ground, which can make it harder to assess.

Additionally, sessions are typically scripted, which means players aren’t required to make significant adjustments from one click to the next.

Chargers center Isaac Weaver, left, and offensive guard Zion Johnson participate in drills during minicamp on June 1.

Chargers center Isaac Weaver, left, and offensive guard Zion Johnson participate in drills during minicamp on June 1.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

“When you play against another team, they might do something that we haven’t spotted,” Nugent said. ” ‘How do you react ? What are you coming back to? Where does your mind go to solve this problem?’ These are things we need to see.

At 6-foot-3 and 316 pounds, Johnson has the body type for the mission. Nugent described Johnson as “built to last”, specifically mentioning his thick lower body and broad chest.

“It’s built like a fire hydrant, to be honest with you,” Nugent said. “These guys, they can take the beating, the hammering of a 17-game season as long as they keep it going.”

A year ago, the Chargers received a major boost to their offensive line when rookie tackle Rashawn Slater quickly showed up in training camp and eventually earned Pro Bowl honors.

Slater was ranked No. 13 overall as the Chargers benefited from a draft that saw only one offensive lineman among the top twelve picks.

Johnson said Slater’s outstanding performance should have no impact on what is expected of him.

“It’s Rashawn Slater,” he said. “I am Sion Johnson. We are different people. We are good at different things. But I think I can also play at a high level.

Johnson suggested the two young linemen had a long chat about life in the NFL.

“He told me a lot about game day,” Johnson said. “The feelings. The emotions. The hype behind it. He’s another person who helped me with little tips and things to stay calm. He’s just a great resource for me.

The roles of DeAndre Carter

Chargers kick returner DeAndre Carter conducts a drill at training camp on July 29.

Chargers kick returner DeAndre Carter conducts a drill at training camp on July 29.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

The Chargers signed receiver DeAndre Carter in April to be their kick returner. But, entering his fifth season, the veteran should also be deployed in attack, which was demonstrated during training camp.

“I can definitely foresee an attacking role for him,” said coordinator Joe Lombardi. “We will define that more as we go along. But you can already begin to see what is forming.

Carter had 24 receptions for 296 yards last season for Washington and had 58 career catches. He also ran 10 times for 89 yards a year ago.

Lombardi said Carter possessed “road sense” and “short-area quickness.” He said the confidence the team’s quarterbacks have in Carter was visible from practice this offseason.

Donald Parham Jr injured

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. makes a catch during practice June 15.

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. makes a catch during practice June 15.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Tight end Donald Parham Jr. injured his leg late in practice and did not return. He had the back of his upper left leg wrapped afterwards.

Parham has been productive through the first nine sessions of training camp since returning from a concussion that ended his 2021 season in Week 15.

Head coach Brandon Staley was not available to the media on Saturday, so the Chargers had no update on Parham. Staley is scheduled to speak to reporters on Sunday.

Camp Observations

A few observations from the Chargers’ Saturday practice:

  • JC Jackson had an interception for the second straight day when he caught a pass from Herbert near the goal line in a seven-on-seven game. Herbert tried to tag tight end Gerald Everett in heavy traffic .
  • Herbert threw a second interception in an 11-on-11 game when backup linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga got it on another pass for Everett near the goal line.
  • During one-on-one drills, wide receiver Keenan Allen put a move on safety Nasir Adderley that was so effective that Adderley found himself on the ground as Allen caught a pass from Herbert .

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