Chargers’ Jennings looking to prove he can excel at receiver

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Darius Jennings has displayed his ability on kick returns but he is hoping the Los Angeles Chargers will finally let him show what he can do at wide receiver.

Jennings signed with the Chargers during the offseason after playing the last two seasons with Tennessee and is part of the competition for the third receiver spot along with Jalen Guyton and rookies Joe Reed and KJ Hill.

“My position isn’t a kick returner but I’m a receiver first,” Jennings said “I came to make plays and get past people.”

The Chargers are looking for a slot receiver with lots of speed, which is something they lost when Tyrell Williams signed with the Raiders last year.

At Tennessee, Jennings mostly lined up in the slot in 2018 but was mainly positioned on the outside last season. During his two seasons with the Titans, he was targeted 20 times and had 13 receptions for 118 yards. His best year as a receiver was as a rookie with Cleveland in 2015, when he had 14 catches for 117 yards,

“Darius has been good so far and it’s been a good battle at receiver,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “I mean, those guys are playing well right now. It has been exciting to see.”

Jennings’ experience could also move him up the depth chart. He has seen some first team snaps and could get more with Mike Williams shut down for at least the next week due to a shoulder sprain.

But the Chargers also need to make upgrades in returning kicks after they were 26th in the league last season, averaging only 20.7 yards per return.

The stats that gives special teams coach George Stewart the most angst, though, is that the Chargers’ average starting position last season was their own 23 and that 13 of the 35 kicks they returned didn’t get past their own 20.

Jennings averaged a league-best 31.7 yards on kick returns in 2018 with Tennessee.

With Tyrod Taylor expected to take over at quarterback after the departure of Philip Rivers, Stewart is hoping most drives can start at least at the Chargers’ own 30.

“We know our field position is critical. We’re looking for a guy that once he catches the football he has great vision to find the proper lane,” Stewart said.

Jennings has excelled on returns where he has found lines near the sideline or up the middle, which is why Stewart has been trying to scheme to play to Jennings’ strengths.

“For me I’m a speed guy and hitting the crease downhill,” Jennings said. “It is all about hitting it with blind faith and trusting the 10 guys in front of me to do their jobs.”

Notes: C Mike Pouncey has missed the last two days of practice while he attends a family funeral in Florida. There is no word yet on how long he might have to self-quarantine due to coronavirus concerns. … DE Joey Bosa, CB Chris Harris Jr. and RB Austin Ekeler got a veteran’s day off Monday as coach Anthony Lynn used most of the practice to evaluate younger players.

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