COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Los Angeles Chargers rookie Zion Johnson carries himself with an aura of calm, a trait not necessarily associated with offensive linemen.
That mentality showed in the training camp. Johnson’s continued progress has strengthened the first-round draft pick’s bid to become the Chargers’ starting right guard.
“I’m going to pick one thing and get better every day,” Johnson said. “If I want to work on my hands and legs or do something specific in a specific game, I pick this thing. I work on it every day. And it helps me focus on how I’m tracking how much better I’m doing.”
After struggling to consistently pass the ball last season, the Chargers looked to improve the inside of their offensive line by picking Johnson with the 17th overall pick in the draft. The Chargers averaged 107.9 yards rushing per game at 4.34 yards per carry last season.
The first returns were promising. Johnson, a four-year college starter who excelled at Boston College after transferring from Davidson, has meshed well with veteran center Corey Linsley and left guard Matt Feiler.
“You can just feel the line of scrimmage moving in the running game and in the passing game you can feel a really stable pocket inside,” said offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. “I was really happy with these guys.”
Johnson possesses top-notch physical tools at 6-foot-3 and 316 pounds and can dominate defenders in individual periods.
Johnson sometimes struggled to learn stunts and lightning. Lombardi said that’s to be expected from a rookie, no matter how strong or fast he is.
Offensive line coach Brendan Nugent believes Johnson’s willingness and desire to improve should help him overcome those issues in a short period of time.
“He wants to do exactly what you ask him to do, almost to the point of failure at times,” Nugent said. “But you know, he’s strong, athletic. Often this can get him out of some traffic jams. But he’s working on refining his technique and everything else to make it a little bit easier for him.”
It didn’t take long for Johnson to realize that it takes a different focus to succeed at this level.
“You know, in college you get away with things sometimes. In the NFL you have to be detailed and specific at all times,” he said. “It’s something that’s a different adjustment, but I feel like I kind of took the initiative with this adjustment and I went well with it.”
To bridge the gap, Johnson has leaned on Linsley and Feiler to answer any football questions he might have about scheme or approach.
When it comes to managing the mental portion of the game, Johnson turns to sophomore left tackle Rashawn Slater.
“He really talked to me a lot about the game day, you know, the feelings, the emotions, the hype behind it,” Johnson said. “He’s another person that I sort of talk to, he helps me with little tips and things to stay calm, to focus on my job. He’s just a great resource.”
Although there are external expectations that Slater’s brilliant rookie season will be followed by his own, Johnson isn’t concerned.
“I don’t feel the pressure,” he said. “There may be some, but at the end of the day, I only play the game with my teammates.”
NOTES: S. Derwin James remains on hold while seeking a contract extension. On Saturday, too, he limited his participation in training to stretching and conditioning exercises. James is in the fifth and final season of his rookie contract after being drafted 17th overall in 2018. He has not taken part in any individual or team phases during the training camp so far. … TE Donald Parham Jr. left practice early after sustaining a left leg injury.
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