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COSTA MESA — What, Zion Johnson worry?

“At the end of the day, I’m just out here playing football,” said Johnson, a 22-year-old offensive lineman who was the Chargers’ first-round draft pick (17th overall). “It’s definitely different going from college to the NFL, but at the end of the day, I’m still an offensive lineman and my job is still to block people.

“I’m glad to do my job every day.”

Maybe he should be nervous or worried or concerned. After all, he has one of the most important jobs on the squad. He’s got to create time and space for quarterback Justin Herbert to work his magic in the pocket and for running back Austin Ekeler to dart through the opposing defense.

There is a great deal of responsibility on his mammoth shoulders.

If there is pressure to perform at a high level as a rookie, it’s difficult to tell.

“I don’t,” Johnson said when asked if he’s feeling any pressure in his first NFL camp. “I’m playing football. I love the game. I want to win. I want to be here. I want to win the games. I don’t feel the pressure. There may be some, but at the end of the day I’m just playing the game with my teammates.”

Perhaps it has helped Johnson’s transition from Boston College to the Chargers to have veterans such as center Corey Linsley and guard Matt Feiler, two linemen who have pretty much seen it and done it all during their careers, toiling alongside him in the trenches and serving as mentors.

It also could be helpful to have followed in the rather large footsteps of Rashawn Slater, a second-year tackle from Northwestern, who excelled last season after he was drafted in the first round in 2021. Slater has stood where Johnson has stood, and it remains fresh in his mind.

Johnson and Slater have spoken often during camp.

“He’s talked to me a lot about game day, just the feelings, the emotions, the hype behind it,” Johnson said of his conversations with Slater, 23. “He’s another person I talk to who helps me get little tips to stay calm, to really focus on my job. He’s just a really great resource for me.”

Joe Lombardi, the Chargers’ offensive coordinator, referred to Johnson as “a real mature player.” Listed at 6-foot-3, 316 pounds, Johnson would appear to the untrained eye to be a fully-formed adult. But there’s some polishing that still must be done before he’s a fully-formed NFL lineman.

“Physically, I don’t think there are any questions,” Lombardi said. “It’s just recognizing stunts and working with the guys next to you, learning the combinations. It’s that maturity level that comes with the reps of playing next to guys, working with the guys next to you, that’s where we’re really hoping to see growth.”


The Chargers will shift from a morning session to an evening one Sunday, increasing the tempo, length and physicality of their practice when they hold an intrasquad scrimmage at 5 p.m. at Jack Hammett Sports Complex. It’ll be only their fourth time in full pads.

It looms as a chance for players such as rookie running back Isaiah Spiller to cement his status as a backup to Ekeler. Spiller, the Chargers’ fourth-round draft pick from Texas A&M, is locked in a camp battle with Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III for the No. 2 running back spot.

Spiller might have the edge, but nothing’s been settled.

“With all of the running backs, the story is yet to be told,” Lombardi said. “I really like (Spiller’s) route-running and his gap instincts. He knows where to take the ball. You can see his short-area quickness and some elusiveness. He’s a really smart guy. I’m impressed with how he is picking up our third-down protections.

“I’m excited where he is at, but I still think there is a lot to find out with all of these runners.”


The Chargers’ scrimmage figures to be a dress rehearsal of sorts for their exhibition opener next Saturday against the Rams at SoFi Stadium. It will be a chance to accomplish more than during a typical practice, and also an opportunity to evaluate the team under less-scripted situations.

“It won’t be full tackle to the ground, so it’s still not 100 percent football yet,” Lombardi said. “We’re going to run more plays than we normally do in a normal practice, and it’s going to be unscripted. … So, it will just be more game-like as far as the operation is concerned.”

Chargers rookie Zion Johnson feeling no pressure in 1st training camp

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