Chargers Aim to Clip Hawks' Feathers Again
While training camp is undoubtedly important, the preseason is where players really start opening eyes. A few big plays in game-time situations can make a lasting impression on coaches trying to whittle the roster down to 53 players.
Quite a few young players impressed in the Chargers’ preseason opener against the Cowboys on Thursday, perhaps none more so than first-year wide receiver Javontee Herndon.
Getting reps as a kick returner for the resting Jacoby Jones, Herndon had three punt returns for 63 yards — including an impressive 30-yard return — and one 22-yard kickoff return in front of a crowd of over 58,000 at Qualcomm Stadium. Herndon has been getting increased reps as a returner in practice recently and they appear to be paying off.
However, as impactful as Herndon was in the return game on Thursday, the opposite could be said for his impact as a receiver. The former Arkansas Razorback was targeted only once and ended with no receptions against the Cowboys’ reserves.
During practice on Saturday, Herndon was again quiet on offense. During 11-on-11s, the 6’0″ receiver caught a nice pass from reserve QB Brad Sorensen over the middle while working against CB Richard Crawford. However, he later had a one-handed drop that should have been an easy catch.
Overall, the last few days have been out of character for Herndon, who has had such a strong camp up until this point. In practice, Herndon has been a go-to target for both Kellen Clemens and Sorensen during 11-on-11s and has caught nearly everything thrown his way during individual drills.
During this years’ Fan Fast, Herndon put on a clinic for the fans, catching three of the four passes thrown his way, including an impressive grab deep against veteran safety Darrell Stuckey. Last Monday, Herndon scored a touchdown on a wide receiver sweep, showing both speed and agility during 11-on-11 red zone drills.
To be fair to Herndon, his lack of production as of late may be more indicative of the ineffectiveness of the quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Clemens and Sorensen completed only 50 percent of their passes for a combined 55 passing yards during the preseason opener. They did not look much better in practice Saturday, where Herndon was open a few times but was overlooked by Clemens.
Still, Herndon is going to need to get back on track as a receiver, as it is unlikely he will be able to make it on the roster based on his skills as a returner alone. Besides veteran Jacoby Jones, who was signed this offseason to improve a return game that averaged only 22.2 yards per kick return last season, the Bolts also have experienced returners in wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Branden Oliver, as well as reserve corner Chris Davis.
Herndon will have to earn a spot through his merits as a receiver, where he faces stiff competition at the bottom of the roster.
Veteran receiver Austin Pettis has been consistent, if not spectacular, and both Torrence Allen and Titus Davis — who hauled in a nice touchdown during Saturday’s practice –have shown a lot of promise. Also, at 6’4″ and running a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, undrafted rookie Tyrell Williams has flashed an ability to make big plays, if not consistent hands.
As a rookie last season, Herndon had five receptions for 59 yards during preseason action. This did not land him a place on the roster, but did earn Herndon a spot on the practice squad.
If Herndon wants to carve out a spot on the active roster this year, his training camp success will not be enough. He will have to continue to make an impact as a returner and likely improve over his preseason production from a year ago. Even if Herndon does improve this preseason, the depth the Bolts have at wide receiver may make a second season on the practice squad more likely.
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Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has also been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Footballinsiders.com and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @NFLinsider_Mike.