The Chargers’ quarterback needed only one series to impress Saturday night, firing a 41-yard touchdown pass in the game’s first four minutes.
It must be noted, however, that this was only the preseason and the quarterback wasn’t Justin Herbert.
Among the projected regulars who did play for the Chargers were wide receivers Jalen Guyton, DeAndre Carter and Joshua Palmer; cornerbacks Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr.; and safety Nasir Adderley.
Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery also started after not playing in the preseason a year ago.
Daniel added a second touchdown pass just before halftime, connecting with Michael Bandy for a 16-yard score as the Chargers pulled even 14-14. Daniel finished 11 of 17 for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
Easton Stick, who played in the second half, finished 16 of 23 for 119 yards and one interception.
One of the early standouts on defense for the Chargers was backup edge rusher Chris Rumph II, who had a sack and another tackle for loss in the opening quarter.
In the battle for the No. 1 right tackle spot, Trey Pipkins III started and played the first two series before Storm Norton came on for the next three.
Rookie Zion Johnson, a first-round pick in April, opened at right guard, where he has been the penciled-in starter since being drafted.
The Chargers have touted Johnson’s physical style, the 6-foot-3, 316-pounder in practice proving capable of competing against the likes of Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa.
“He puts his head down every day and he works,” coach Brandon Staley said. “We’re sure glad that we have him.”
The Chargers had a similar situation last preseason, when their top pick also was an offensive lineman.
Left tackle Rashawn Slater, taken 13th overall, was a starter from the moment he joined the team and eventually became a Pro Bowl player.
“I think that was something for Rashawn, being able to come in with some veteran guys that have played a lot of football and really help him along and find his way,” Staley said. “Normally, it’s not big things, they’re just little things. Just be yourself. I see that exact same thing happening with Zion. It’s cool now that Rashawn can impact Zion.”
The Chargers also love Johnson’s intelligence, both on and off the field.
He graduated from Boston College with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s in cybersecurity policy and governance. “Talking to him is like talking to a CPA,” offensive line coach Brendan Nugent said. “I want to say, ‘Hey, can you do my taxes?’”
Third-year pro Joshua Kelley started at running back Saturday as the Chargers search for a primary backup to Austin Ekeler.
Kelley had a notable opening drive, carrying twice for 11 yards and catching two passes for 17 more.
Larry Rountree III, entering his second season, took the next reps at running back before rookie Isaiah Spiller was summoned. Spiller had a team-high 34 yards in 10 carries.
The Chargers drafted Spiller in the fourth round — No. 123 overall — not just because of his abilities as a runner but also as a receiver.
He caught 74 passes for 585 yards during three seasons at Texas A&M.
Over the last three years, Ekeler, has been targeted an average of 6.4 times per game. He had 70 receptions a year ago.
In practice, Spiller has shown an ability to be elusive and powerful once he has the ball in his hands. But, before Saturday, the Chargers hadn’t seen him in a setting where the opposition was tackling live.
“I think what we’ve seen in him is his competitive nature come out through camp,” Staley said, “trying to become a complete running back, taking pride in all of the little things that make good runners.”
The Chargers have been searching for a reliable combination of running backs since Melvin Gordon departed in free agency after the 2019 season. In the two years before Gordon left, he and Ekeler complemented each other.
“The good thing is, we know that there’s a floor with all those guys that’s not bad, if that makes sense,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said of the three competing for the No. 2 running back job. “You’re hoping someone kind of separates themselves where you feel real good about them.”
The Chargers will resume practices Tuesday in Costa Mesa before the Dallas Cowboys visit for joint sessions Wednesday and Thursday.
The two teams will then meet in a preseason game that kicks off at 7 p.m. on Aug. 20 at SoFi Stadium.
After that game, the Chargers will move their practices to their training facility in Costa Mesa in preparation of their preseason finale Aug. 26 in New Orleans.
The deadline for the first round of roster cuts is Tuesday, when the NFL mandates that teams move from 90 to 85 players.
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