Chargers rookie WR Josh Palmer aims to seize opportunity in Keenan Allen's absence

COSTA MESA, Calif. — It’s been a roller-coaster ride for the Chargers this season, alternating wins and losses in their last six games following their Week 7 bye. The last time Los Angeles racked up a winning streak was in Weeks 3-5, beating the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns.

Though drifting away from that streak as of late, the Bolts are looking up, especially after a dominant performance in their 19-point road win over Cincinnati in Week 13.

Preparing to square off against the 4-8 Giants this Sunday, head coach Brandon Staley explained what it takes for this team to find its rhythm.

“The little things are what have made the big difference in the second half of the season. When we’ve performed well, we’ve taken care of a lot of those little things,” Staley said at Friday’s press conference. “In the games that haven’t gone our way, the little things have gotten away from us. We’re putting our emphasis and focus there, and really doing it together as a team.”

A big storyline for this week is whether the Chargers’ top wide receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, will be able to take the field Sunday. Allen was placed on the reserve/COVID list on Monday after testing positive for COVID-19. Williams, along with cornerback Chris Harris Jr., were close contacts of Allen and were placed on the reserve/COVID list on Wednesday.

Staley ruled out Allen on Friday, but left the door open for Williams and Harris barring any setbacks.

“I think that Keenan [Allen] and Scott [Quessenberry] will be out for the game,” Staley said. “Mike [Williams] and Chris [Harris Jr.] have continued to test negative. As long as tomorrow goes OK, they should be good for the game.”

Allen and Williams are one of three pass-catching duos in the NFL who have recorded 800-plus receiving yards each. Not having them could pose a problem for the Chargers offense not only through the air but on the ground as well.

Much of the relief will continue to lay in the hands of Justin Herbert. Despite cleaning up some messy areas in his game, including interceptions on deep passes in two straight outings (bringing his INT total to 11 on the season), the Chargers’ star quarterback ranks top five in the league in both passing yards per game (295.6) and passing touchdowns (27). The second-year QB said regardless of Allen’s status this week, they’re approaching game day as if his go-to target would not be available.

“Keenan’s a very special player and obviously a huge part of our offense, but we have to prepare as if he’s not going to play,” Herbert said. “We have to have the guys step up. We believe in that receiver group and all of their depth. They’ve done an incredible job so far this week.”

One of those guys the Bolts may look toward is Josh Palmer, a third-round rookie out of Tennessee. The Ontario, Canada native has been targeted 21 times this season, catching 15 of those balls for 168 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said earlier this week that “the arrow is pointing up” on Palmer. The Chargers QB agrees.

“Josh Palmer has really stepped up. We knew how special he was going to be during fall camp, just with how he’s been able to adapt and pick up the offense so quickly,” said Herbert. “Everything that we’re asking him to do — to play inside, to play outside — it’s a lot on the plate for the rookie, but he’s done and incredible job so far.”

Palmer, however, doesn’t look at himself as a rookie.

“I’ve pretty much prepared the same way when I first came here, just in case for the opportunity for me to step in,” Palmer told “I always like to prepare as if I am starting already.”

Palmer explained how his relationship with both Allen and Williams is vital to his growth in his first year as a pro. Learning from one of the top duos in the league helps him with his own game.

“Whether they know it or not, Keenan has been a role model, ” Palmer said. “Been a big brother to me. He’s helped me a lot in terms of the offense and becoming a better receiver. Mike [Williams] as well.”

The 22-year-old said he doesn’t hesitate to raise his hand, desiring any feedback they may have to help improve his game.

“I ask Keenan a lot of questions,” Palmer explained. “We usually go back and forth between how we run a certain route, but I watch him a lot and he usually gives me a lot of feedback. Mike, I just study — the way he’s able to trap the ball in the air, especially because he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

But ultimately for Palmer to remain confident in his role, he said it’s all about doing the little things, as Staley had mentioned, to remain successful.

“I’ve been doing the jug machine since my sophomore year [of college] everyday after practice,” mentioned Palmer. “I’ve been doing that for the past four years. I always push myself to do extra because that’s what I feel like got me here.”

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