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Rams-Chargers preview: 3 key questions about the ‘other team’ in SoFi Stadium

Get to know our opponent before Saturday night’s matchup

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers Training Camp Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Let the battle for Los Angeles commence! The Rams will kickoff preseason play at 7 p.m. PDT Saturday night against their City of Angels counterpart (and annoying roommate) the Chargers. This matchup will determine who gets SoFi Stadium all to themselves from here on out.

Just kidding, although that would make the game a lot more intriguing to watch. Don’t worry Chargers, we’ll save those humongous stakes if the Rams ever play you in a Super Bowl someday.

While the Bolts get used to playing in front of an actual fanbase, let’s take a look at the biggest headlines coming out of our little brother’s training camp.

Where have all the stars gone?

Don’t expect to see three out of the four players in the tweet above Saturday as Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Derwin James and Keenan Allen will be sitting out all of preseason according to new Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley. This was a great decision considering the team has had poor injury luck the last several seasons.

“Our practices are going to be a lot more like games than these preseason games,” Staley said when explaining his reasoning of sitting stars like James. “The environments that we create on our practice fields is where the real action is in the preseason for guys like him.”

Derwin has faced the brunt of the injury bug as he’s played in only five games since being named a First-team All-Pro in 2018, his rookie season. James has been a star all offseason long and confidence in him returning to form have become more frequent around the league. Most notably, DeAngelo Hall from NFL.com has rated the top 10 safeties in the league for the 2021 season, with James sliding in at number eight.

“I understand that James has missed 27 games over the last two seasons. But when he’s healthy, he’s just different. Honestly, he reminds me of the late, great, Sean Taylor, who was a big safety but moved like a cornerback. James doesn’t shy away from a challenge, which is likely the result of going against route-runner extraordinaire Keenan Allen every day in practice. James started off playing in ex-Chargers coordinator Gus Bradley’s Cover 3 system, and I’m interested to see just how he is used by new coach Brandon Staley. If I were in Staley’s shoes, I’d be using James in every way possible.” (DeAngelo Hall/NFL.com)

Hall’s confidence in James is not hard to see if anyone has been fortunate to see how he’s fared against Keenan Allen in practice:

As for quarterbacks, Chase Daniel will start the game and will split reps between teammates Easton Stick and rookie K.J. Costello. Daniels spent the last two seasons in quarterback purgatory, oops, I meant Chicago. Stick is the only quarterback remaining outside of Herbert to throw a pass for the team last season. Costello, an undrafted rookie, threw 55 touchdowns against 29 interceptions during college stops at Stanford and Mississippi State.

How has Herbert been performing this offseason?

Justin Herbert has one of the greatest seasons by a rookie quarterback in NFL history. Completing nearly 67 percent of his passes for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns, Herbert won Offensive Rookie of the Year and my fantasy league with ease last year. That last part may sound braggy but my team would’ve blown out all your leagues and that’s a straight-up fact.

Anywho, Herbert has been a standout at camp after setting the league ablaze as a rookie last season. He’s even been trying out a new position so Tim Tebow, you’ve got some company! The second-year star played his heart out during Chargers Fan Fest on Sunday. Justin never disappointed, throwing touchdowns to wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams along with tight end Jared Cook all while making the most of his scrambling abilities as well.

Herbert’s season will be placed under a microscope as there will be the typical concerns of a sophomore slump. It’s also worth mentioning that he will be playing under a new offensive play caller in former-Saints quarterbacks coach, Joe Lombardi. Both him and Staley are hellbent at developing Justin into one of the most dangerous passers in the league, emulating prolific signal callers they’ve seen during their careers.

“What makes those two guys [Brady and Rodgers] specifically unique is that you’re eliminating one of the variables in the equation,” Staley said. “When they don’t need the coach, when they are the coach, that’s a much more dangerous person to have to defend, because you’re not waiting for the coach to help them. They know how to help themselves. And that’s what I think we’re trying to achieve.”

Who have been the standouts at camp?

Rookie receiver Josh Palmer out of Tennessee has been making a lot of strides in camp, so he should be expected to have a fair share of playing time against the Rams. Los Angeles is attempting to put him into a Michael Thomas type of role as Lombardi had seen in New Orleans. Palmer has been showered with praise and makes up what Staley believes is the deepest receiving corps he’s seen in his five years in the league.

During his time at Tennessee, Palmer played in 47 games, catching 99 passes for 1,514 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 15.3 yards per catch. Another receiver besides Palmer who will earn a lot of reps Saturday will be Tyron Johnson. Johnson has been known to get behind the defense in practice and is the perfect compliment to a deep arsenal of playmakers.

If he continues making big splash plays like he had against the Bucs, Johnson will have no trouble establishing a connection with Herbert this season. Most of the league would drool over a variety of weapons that Justin will have this season. However, I think the Rams would like to say they probably have the better group.

Oh well, the battle for great LA will never settle down will it?