Sideline to Sideline: Q&A with Chargers senior writer Eric Smith

Another AFC West game is on deck, as the Raiders and Chargers prepare to go to battle on Sunday.

Before the matchup, we caught up with Los Angeles Chargers senior writer Eric Smith for an insider’s look at the opposing team.

How would you describe the team’s mentality at this point, three games in?

Resilient. The Chargers have played a whirlwind trio of games so far, with all three coming down to the final minute. They lost the first two by five combined points but hung tough by getting a Week 3 win in Minnesota, which is one of the loudest road venues in the league. The Bolts certainly haven’t been perfect through three games but they have shown plenty of fight and grit that should sustain them the rest of the season.

Mike Williams is out for the season with a torn ACL. How does that impact the Chargers offense?

The loss of Williams is a tough one. The wide receiver is beloved in the locker room and is obviously a key piece of the Chargers’ passing attack. And it will be on everyone to step up just a little bit more to offset his loss. The wide receivers, of course, will be in the spotlight. I expect Keenan Allen to see more double coverage. That means bigger roles for Joshua Palmer and Quentin Johnston, the Chargers’ 2023 first-round pick. Given the talent in their wide receiver room, the Chargers wanted to bring Johnston along at his own pace this season, but that timeline is now expedited with Williams out for the year.

What is the latest update on Austin Ekeler?

Ekeler is trending in the right direction as he was a limited participant Wednesday in practice. Ekeler said Wednesday that he tests his ankle injury every day but added that he hasn’t gone 100 percent quite yet. If Ekeler does play, that is certainly a big boost to the offense. If he doesn’t, the rest of the running backs will have to pick up the slack.

The Chargers have a lot of talent on defense, yet have struggled early, especially with pass defense. What adjustments do you see the defense making heading into Week 4 as they prepare for Jimmy Garoppolo (if he is cleared from concussion protocol) and the Raiders’ receiving corps?

The Bolts know the challenge that awaits Sunday, particularly with Davante Adams on the other sideline. The Chargers defense has improved in certain areas over the first three weeks of the season, whether that be in the red zone or with points allowed. But the pass defense is still a work in progress. Expect the Chargers to keep emphasizing the need to prevent explosive plays through the air.

Who is an under-the-radar player who might make an impact Sunday?

Tuli Tuipulotu. Although we might be getting to a point where the Chargers’ rookie outside linebacker isn’t under the radar anymore. The Bolts drafted Tuipulotu in the second round in the spring and loved his motor and physicality. And with Joey Bosa playing limited snaps of late with a hamstring injury, Tuipulotu has essentially played starter snaps the past two weeks. He is thriving in that role, as his 13 quarterback pressures are the most by a rookie edge rusher through three games since Nick Bosa (17) and Josh Allen (15) in 2019. That stat was highlighted by a 10-pressure performance Sunday in Minnesota. Tuipulotu currently leads all rookie edge rusher players in pressures and sacks (2.0). It’s early but it looks like the Bolts hit a home run with this pick.

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