With a new coaching staff, Quentin Johnston hopes for a turnaround with Los Angeles Chargers

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Sanjay Lal’s first bit of coaching to Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Quentin Johnston didn’t have to do with route running or hand placement when vying with a cornerback while being covered.

It was to focus on a fresh start after struggling as a rookie last season.

“I wasn’t coaching him. I wasn’t here, so I don’t know the circumstances,” Lal said Tuesday after the Chargers began their third week of offseason practices. “To take a player back to that, especially if it’s a negative. I don’t see any purpose.”

Johnston, the 21st overall pick in last April’s NFL draft, did not have many highlights to look back on in his rookie season. He finished with 38 receptions for 431 yards and two touchdowns, but three dropped passes loomed large.

A drop on a critical third-down pass, which would have put the Chargers in range for a tying field goal during the fourth quarter of a Week 11 game at Green Bay, has motivated Johnston throughout the offseason.

“At the catch point, taking my eyes off it instead of looking at it all the way in. I feel like it was a lack of focus altogether,” Johnston said. “It was straight-up unacceptable. I always go back to that moment when I step back out on practice or if I’m feeling a certain way at practice, I always go back to that. Okay, if I take a day off here, it’ll correlate or wind down into a game like that, which I do not want again.”

Johnston said all of his drops last season were caused by taking his eye off the ball and looking to run upfield instead of making sure he had it first.

In addition to concentration, Johnston has been working on refining his route running and ensuring he is more in synch with quarterback Justin Herbert.

Fundamentals and attention to detail have been the primary themes stressed during Jim Harbaugh’s first offseason as Chargers coach. Lal pointed out a couple of instances where Harbaugh would stop an install meeting to ensure everyone was on the same page.

“We’ll stop, go into the minutiae, detail it and then move on. Very unique that way where, sometimes in football, you’re so pressed for time — we have to get this meeting done in this time,” Lal said. “We’ll just stop it and make sure it’s right and that everyone understands.”

As an assistant with Seattle last year, Lal had scouted Johnston extensively going into the draft since wide receiver was an area of need.

Lal is using some of the same drills with Johnston that he did with DK Metcalf. That includes maximizing speed and breaking out faster the first 10 steps in a route.

“He’s got a lot of juice. He almost bounds when he runs,” Lal said of Johnston. “Working on his body positioning is one of the biggest things we’ve done. He’s improved some of his stop-type routes, like keeping his shoulders over his feet longer and not looking early. That’s a big jump he’s made so far.”

Harbaugh and Lal also hope that Johnston can make significant strides in his second season. With the departures of Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, Johnston and Joshua Palmer will be counted as two of the Chargers’ primary receivers going into training camp.

Los Angeles also added Ladd McConkey and Brenden Rice in the draft. Even with the addition of DJ Chark, Lal acknowledged it is the youngest wide receiver room he has had in his 18 seasons as an NFL assistant coach.

“It’s different, for sure, but that’s just them making room, I guess, for us to step up and grow up a little bit quicker as a leader,” Johnston said. “We still have guys like Josh. It’s still been steady. It’s still good. We all are in there day-in and day-out, learning from each other, bouncing ideas off each other.”


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