Los Angeles Times
Rookie’s as good as advertised
Rashawn Slater earns rave reviews for his performance in first game for Chargers.
He was one of the NFL’s most-talked-about players Monday — one day after barely hearing his name.
Rashawn Slater was so good in his NFL debut that it took 24 hours for everyone to notice.
Accomplished offensive linemen want it that way, and Slater, the Chargers’ rookie left tackle, accomplished plenty in the team’s season-opening 20-16 victory at Washington.
“He was outstanding,” coach Brandon Staley said. “When you don’t talk about him a lot that means he probably performed at a high level. And that’s what the film told us. I’m really proud of him. Not surprised, but really proud of him.”
Slater starred on a day when the Chargers’ offensive line starred. That’s right. The Chargers’ offensive line.
After back-to-back seasons of injuries and inconsistency, a rebuilt front gave quarterback Justin Herbert enough time to seize control from the impressive opening drive to the final, clockdraining kneel down.
And Slater — all 6 feet 4, 315 pounds of him — was a massive contributor.
“He’s got outstanding movement for the position,” Staley said. “He can really unlock power from the ground. … He’s got very strong hands.”
Herbert was sacked twice but for losses totaling only three yards. He was officially hit three other times.
The Chargers gained just 90 yards on the ground but were able to rush the ball 29 times, a real enough threat to keep Washington’s defense thinking.
Thirty of those yards rushing came on the first drive as the Chargers ran Austin Ekeler and Larry Rountree III behind Slater with success.
“If you can get yourself into a good rhythm early, that’s good to create confidence the rest of the way,” Staley said.
Slater surrendered zero pressures on 49 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He was called for no penalties while playing in his first game since November 2019. Slater sat out his final season at Northwestern because of the pandemic.
Former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz took to Twitter on Monday to proclaim Slater a future All-Pro and say he was “in awe watching him play.”
Staley praised Slater for his physicality and fundamentals, his understanding of the offense and his awareness.
“When you factor that into his brain and how smart he is,” Staley added, “he can just truly play the game under control and with a lot of power and velocity.”
This is what the Chargers envisioned when they drafted Slater at No. 13 overall in April. The offensive line played a critical role Sunday in allowing the Chargers to run out the final 6:43, Herbert completing passes to convert four third downs.
“If you look at all four of those third downs, those were a lot of clean pockets,” Staley said. “That group on defense had to defend a lot of plays. I felt like they were tired. … Our energy was good at the end of that game.”
Standing on the sideline, Chargers safety Derwin James was convinced the offense could run out the clock because of how Slater and his linemates were playing.
“Once we saw the type of time Herbert had back there and the way [wide receiver] Keenan [Allen] and all those guys was running around,” James said, “we already knew what time it was.”