He has received praise for his strength, his demeanor and his intelligence, Zion Johnson to date looking very much like a first-round draft pick.
Yet until the Chargers face another team, no one can be exactly certain what they have in their rookie right guard.
“Everybody looks good in their underwear Olympics, right?” offensive line coach Brendan Nugent joked Saturday. “He has done a nice job so far.”
The Chargers used the 17th overall pick in April to secure the player they immediately plugged in as their starting right guard.
Johnson, 22, has looked impressive in one-on-one drills and appears to be settling in with the first team, playing between center Corey Linsley and tackles Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins III, who are battling for the starting job.
“Tough dude, strong dude,” left guard Matt Feiler said. “He is one of those guys that is going to be a lock-down guard. I see good things coming.”
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 opportunity to confirm that he belongs on a line charged with protecting Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert and opening space for running back Austin Ekeler.
In training-camp practices, the Chargers don’t tackle to the ground, which can make evaluation more difficult.
Also, the sessions are generally scripted, meaning players aren’t required to make significant adjustments from snap to snap.
“When you’re going against another team, they might do something we haven’t scouted,” Nugent said. “ ‘How do you react? What do you go back to? Where does your mind go to solve this problem?’ Those are things we need to see.”
At 6-foot-3 and 316 pounds, Johnson has the body type for the assignment. Nugent described Johnson as “built to last,” specifically mentioning his thick lower body and broad chest.
“He’s built like a fire hydrant, to be honest with you,” Nugent said. “Those guys, they can take the beating, the pounding of a 17-game season as long as they maintain it.”
A year ago, the Chargers received a major boost along their offensive line when rookie tackle Rashawn Slater quickly emerged in training camp and eventually earned Pro Bowl honors.
Slater was taken No. 13 overall as the Chargers benefited from a draft that saw only one offensive lineman taken among the first dozen picks.
Johnson said Slater’s standout performance should have no impact on what’s expected of him.
“He’s Rashawn Slater,” he said. “I’m Zion Johnson. We’re different people. We’re good at different things. But I think I can play at a high level, as well.”
Johnson did suggest the two young linemen have extensively discussed life in the NFL.
“He’s talked to me a lot about game day,” Johnson said. “The feelings. The emotions. The hype behind it. He’s another person who’s helped me with little tips and things to stay calm. He’s just a great resource for me.”
DeAndre Carter’s roles
The Chargers signed receiver DeAndre Carter in April to be their kick returner. But, entering his fifth season, the veteran also figures to be deployed on offense, something that has been on display during training camp.
“I can definitely foresee a role on offense for him,” coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “We’ll define that more as we go on. But you can already start seeing what’s forming.”
Carter had 24 receptions for 296 yards last season for Washington and has 58 career catches. He also rushed 10 times for 89 yards a year ago.
Lombardi said Carter possesses “route savvy” and “short-area quickness.” He said the trust that the team’s quarterbacks have in Carter has been visible since offseason workouts.
Donald Parham Jr. injured
Tight end Donald Parham Jr. injured a leg toward the end of practice and did not return. He had the back of his upper left leg wrapped afterward.
Parham has been productive through the first nine training-camp sessions since coming back from a concussion that ended his 2021 season in Week 15.
Head coach Brandon Staley wasn’t made available to the media Saturday, so the Chargers had no update on Parham. Staley is scheduled to speak to reporters Sunday.
Some observations from the Chargers’ Saturday practice:
- J.C. Jackson had an interception for the second consecutive day when he picked off a Herbert pass near the goal line in seven-on-seven play. Herbert attempted to hit tight end Gerald Everett in heavy traffic.
- Herbert threw a second interception in 11-on-11 play when backup linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga got him 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 Adderley ended up on the ground as Allen caught a pass from Herbert.