Continuing on with our post-NFL Draft coverage, it’s time to highlight Rashawn Slater. Last week, InsideNU spoke with Doug Lesmerises of cleveland.com to discuss Greg Newsome’s fit with the Cleveland Browns. This week, we had the honor of talking to Gilbert Manzano of the Orange County (O.C.) Register to talk about how Slater fits in with the Chargers.
Manzano has been covering the Chargers since 2018 and has worked for both the O.C. Register and Los Angeles Daily News. You can follow him on Twitter @GManzano24.
Inside NU: Why did the Chargers take Slater in the first round?
Gilbert Manzano: “It was kind of a perfect pairing between need and best available player. I think the Chargers are probably still surprised that Rashawn Slater was available at 13 to fill a gigantic need at left tackle. With the draft, you always hear the phrase “you don’t want to reach for need,” so you start thinking maybe the Chargers won’t get an offensive tackle because Rashawn Slater won’t be there, Penei Sewell won’t be there. They were picking at 13, so I started thinking, “Okay, those guys are gonna be top 10 picks, so what do you do at 13? How much do you value a left tackle? Are you gonna reach or not?” I started thinking that, and then Slater fell. When he was at 13, I thought there was no way the Chargers could blow it. You get the best available player, who was a top 10 player in my opinion, and you fill a big need. I think it was a no brainer from everybody in the front office, to the coaches, to the reporters. I don’t think anybody had a complaint about Rashawn Slater.”
INU: What’s the word around the Chargers organization regarding Slater? Are they excited about him?
Manzano: “I think they’re excited because, again, you have a high prospect to fill a need at left tackle. I think a year ago the Chargers gambled a lot. They needed a left tackle a year ago and didn’t draft an offensive tackle at all in the draft, which didn’t do any favors for Justin Herbert. Everything you heard in the pre-draft report for Slater was that [he’s] a technician with polished skills. He’s a pro already with All-Pro potential. You hear some of the knocks: his arms are not as long as you want them to be at 33 inches, and all these thresholds that you hear scouts saying, but he makes up for that with his skills, quick feet and athletic intensity. He has that competitive side, he finishes plays. Obviously we saw that in the game where he went against Chase Young. It’s kind of funny, Slater’s gonna go against Young week one when Washington plays the Chargers. I saw day one at rookie minicamp with the Chargers that it was a learning process for him, which you expect from a rookie on his first day. He had the coaches telling him, “Hey you don’t do this, you don’t do that this way, in the NFL, you got to do it this way.” But he’s a quick learner, he processes things fast. Not only that, he learns it so fast he’s able to teach other people. By the end of the practice I saw him teaching some undrafted rookies who needed a little more help and a little more guidance. It’s going to be a process for Slater, and maybe the arms might be an issue to kind of get a feel for it, but after a game or two, this guy has proven to be a quick learner and his skills and fundamentals are what he leans on.”
INU: How does Slater fit into the Chargers culture?
Manzano: “With the Chargers, they don’t really go after players that have a bad reputation off the field. If there’s a player that’s talented and got released for a reason [like that], they usually stay away. The Chargers want squeaky clean but they don’t say that. In terms of that same culture that they had with Anthony Lynn and the years before, and now with Brandon Staley, Slater fits all that. He seems like a very outgoing guy. It’s funny because he’s very nice to the media, he’s talkative, outgoing and very relaxed, but then you see that weightlifting video that went viral at his pro day and that’s the intensity you want to see on the football field. He can flip that switch, and he told us the first time we spoke to him that he can be nasty on the field. But off the field and when football isn’t going on, he’s a very nice guy and he seems like a leader too. It seemed like the right fit for the Chargers.”
INU: What was the fan base’s immediately reaction to the Chargers selecting Slater?
Manzano: “It’s so rare when you get people to agree on something, especially nowadays with social media. I think when they chose Slater everybody agreed with it. A year ago, there are so many mixed results about Herbert. Some people didn’t want Herbert, they wanted Tua Tagovailoa or they wanted Isaiah Simmons. There was a lot of groaning with Herbert and there was also some, “Okay, we’ll give this guy a chance.” With Slater, it was the total opposite. They needed to fill that hole at left tackle, and with Herbert being there as the franchise quarterback, we need to protect the guy. Who better to do it than Rashawn Slater?”
INU: How do you think Slaters’s overall college game translate to the NFL level?
Manzano: “I think that Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach so I’m sure Slater’s ready for the NFL level. Playing in the Big Ten, he has a lot of experience going against top edge rushers like Young. It’s kind of interesting because before the draft, coaches try to not to give away too much, they don’t want to tip their hand. For Brandon Staley, we asked him what he was looking for at offensive tackle and he said you need to be able to defend these edge rushers who are long, lanky and athletic. That made us think he likes linemen with long arms, and we looked at Slater and thought maybe he’s not into him, maybe he likes Penei Sewell a little more. His arm length could be a concern, but he makes up for it so much with his skills that I think in terms of all the prospects, including Sewell, he might be the most pro-ready. The arms could be an issue because you want to keep these long guys away from the quarterback, but he’s so quick with his feet that he gets a good get-off. Maybe he’s losing the battle on the length but he knows how to recover with his feet and he has the tenacity and intensity to finish. I think all of these things he does makes up for the size.”
INU: Were there any general concerns about the fact that Slater did not play in the 2020 college football seasons?
Manzano: “Not really. I thought that was going to be more of an issue across the board for the draft but nobody really cared. Everybody understood it was a weird year. You haven’t seen these guys play in almost two years, so that may be a little strange, but you’ve got the tape there for Slater for three years already. That good matchup against Young really helped out. Just from talking to Slater, he was smart about it. He was learning about the business side of the NFL. He was getting an agent, he was learning about marketing, he’s sponsored by Raising Cane’s. I think he took that year to really kind of settle into the NFL lifestyle and to kind of get a jumpstart on that.”
INU: The Chargers backfield is obviously very crowded. What is the likelihood that we’ll see Rashawn Slater clearing the path for a Justin Jackson touchdown this year?
Manzano: “With Justin Jackson, the backfield is crowded because they also drafted another running back in Larry Rountree in the sixth round. There’s Larry, there’s Joshua Kelley, there’s Justin Jackson and there’s Austin Ekeler, but we got to keep in mind that besides Ekeler, there’s a new coaching staff, so they need to prove themselves. Kelley was a fourth round pick in 2020, but that’s because Anthony Lynn loved him, so he has to prove himself. Same thing with Jackson. The previous coaches loved him, but he was always hurt and they couldn’t rely on him, so that’s why they drafted Kelley. Jackson’s a great player, but he just can’t stay healthy. Ekeler needs a big bodied running back to compliment him, and I think that’s why they drafted Rountree, to compete with Kelley. Now with Jackson, he doesn’t have that big body type, so maybe that doesn’t work out for him, but again when he’s on the field, he’s a playmaker. In 2019 before he got hurt, he was averaging like eight yards per carry, and you want that on your team. If Jackson’s healthy and he’s able to compete with the running backs, that’d be kind of fun to watch, Jackson and Slater out there together. He has some work to do, it’s the final year of his rookie deal and with a new coaching staff, you’ve got to stay healthy. He has a lot to prove and he has he had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but I think if he’s healthy, he’ll find a way to get some snaps out there.”
INU: What does Rashawn Slater have to do to be successful in the Chargers organization?
Manzano: “I think overall, as a team, you’ve got to be patient. You’re going to start this left tackle day on. It’s already his job. This is not a competition. Linemen, especially tackles, take a while to develop. While everybody is happy about the pick, he’s going to struggle out there. Pretty much every team in the NFL has their own top edge rusher and you have to go through those guys on the daily, starting with Young. There’s going to be probably a potential pro bowler or all-pro every weekend and to be starting at left tackle, that’s a big job as a rookie. He just needs to go through the motions, and again, it was a good sign that he’s a good processor and a good learner, but I think that first month might be rocky. I think it’ll be okay because, again, his track record says that he knows how to get better and improve and that he has a competitive fire to learn. He doesn’t like to get beat. I think it’s just patience all around from the coaching staff, and I think they know that too. I think overall he just needs to be patient for himself, as does the coaching staff.”