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NFL Preseason Week 2 Takeaways: Chargers' Rookie LB Has Impressive Showing

Aug 20, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Darrel Williams (34) is tackled by Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Daiyan Henley (0) during the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

There was just one game on Sunday night, but there are still plenty of quality storylines to cover from the New Orleans Saints matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers. Here are the top three takeaways from the Saints’ 22-17 preseason win against the Chargers Sunday night.

Saints vs. Chargers Takeaways

Chargers’ Backup QB Job a Two-Horse Race

Easton Stick had an opportunity to put some distance between himself and rookie Max Duggan in the battle for the Charger’s No. 2 quarterback job. But his uneven performance left the question of who will be Justin Herbert’s Week 1 understudy undecided heading into Friday’s final preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Stick played the entire game on Sunday. The fifth-year player out of North Dakota State did a terrific job with his legs, rushing for 63 yards on seven carries and scoring both of the Chargers’ touchdowns.

But he was erratic through the air. He completed just 21 of 41 passes, threw two interceptions and averaged only 5.8 yards per attempt. The Saints sacked him five times, causing one fumble.

Early in the second quarter, he fumbled after being sacked by Saints DE Payton Turner, which set up a seven-yard touchdown run by rookie RB Kendre Miller.

Later in the quarter, on a first down at his own 20, Stick rolled left, attempting to hit Keelan Doss. But he never saw Saints CB Isaac Yiadom, who stepped in front of Doss and picked off the pass. That turnover resulted in a short Saints field goal.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Chargers down by five, Stick connected with WR Terrell Bynum for 39 yards on a fourth-and-23 desperation throw. Five plays later, he looked for Bynum again on a fourth-and-four at the Saints 28. But he got hit as he was throwing, and the Saints’ Lonnie Johnson intercepted the pass.

Stick has been with the Chargers since 2019, when they took him in the fifth round of the draft. But he’s played just two regular-season snaps and has never thrown a regular-season pass.

He has spent his entire career as the team’s No. 3 quarterback, first behind Philip Rivers and Tyrod Taylor (2019) and then behind Herbert and Chase Daniel for the last four years.

Stick and Duggan, a seventh-round pick out of TCU, split time in the Chargers’ first preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. Stick played the first half and completed 14 of 21 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. Duggan played the second half but only threw three passes, completing two.

Chargers' Henley Is Pushing for Playing Time

One of the Chargers’ top offseason priorities was improving the front seven of a defense that finished 22nd in points allowed (22.6) last season and last in opponent rush average (5.4 yards per carry).

They went out and signed eight-year veteran LB Eric Kendricks and used two of their top three draft picks on defensive players – taking USC DL Tuli Tuipulotu in the second round and Washington State LB Daiyan Henley in the third.

Henley’s stock rose Sunday with an impressive performance against the Saints. He had a team-high nine tackles and shared in a sack. Kendricks and Kenneth Murray Jr. likely will be the Chargers’ two season-opening starting inside linebackers. Henley is expected to be a major special teams contributor. And now, he is playing himself into consideration for some early snaps on defense.

The Chargers didn’t exercise the fifth-year option on Murray’s rookie contract this spring. This means he likely will be a free agent after this season.

But Henley could take some snaps away from Murray this year. Despite being a bit undersized – 6-foot-1, 225 pounds – Henley is a solid run-defender. This is an area the Chargers need to improve at. He’s also probably already better than Murray as a coverage backer, which was never one of Murray’s strengths.

Henley spent his first two years at Nevada, the only school that offered him a scholarship out of LA’s Crenshaw High School, as a wide receiver. He then spent a year as a defensive back before being moved to linebacker. He transferred to Washington State last year and had 106 tackles, 12 for losses and four sacks.

Saints’ Lalos Has the Quarter of His Life

Niko Lalos didn’t guarantee himself one of the 53 spots on the Saints’ season-opening roster Sunday. But he at least improved his chances a bit. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end out of Dartmouth had five tackles, three sacks and a batted pass in the Saints’ win.

The three sacks and the batted pass all came in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-three with about 12 minutes left in the game, Lalos, lining up at right end, got around Chargers LT Austen Pleasants and sacked Stick.

With about two minutes left in the game and the Chargers at their 40, he lined up at left end and batted down a pass intended for RB Elijah Dotson. On the next play, he lined up again at left end, cut inside and used a nice spin move to get around Chargers RG Zack Bailey and sacked Stick again.

On the following play, he picked up his third sack. Trying to escape a Saints rush, Stick ran into his left guard, Jordan McFadden. He bounced off McFadden and right into Lalos’ arms.

Again, it’s too early to say how much his performance Sunday improved his odds of making the Saints’ roster. He spent last year on the team’s practice squad. Worst case scenario, he’ll be back there again when the season starts.

Lalos was a first-team All-Ivy selection at Dartmouth but went undrafted. He played in six games with the New York Giants in 2020 and 2021. He spent most of those two seasons on their practice squad.

Lalos played in the XFL for the Seattle Sea Dragons earlier this year. He had 35 tackles, seven tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks. The Saints re-signed him in May.

Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.