Chargers confident Rashawn Slater will keep pass-rushers at an arm's length

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- They say arms are important. They hold up your hands, embrace people in hugs, push off and push back. For months -- maybe a year -- so many were concerned about Rashawn Slater's arms.

It didn't matter than the rookie offensive tackle was third team All-Big Ten as a sophomore at Northwestern and honorable mention as a junior, or that he made the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy and was preseason first-team All-Big Ten prior to his senior season. He had shorter than normal arms for his 6-foot-4 ¼, 304-pound frame. And he was asked about that -- a lot.

"It definitely got tiresome," the Los Angeles Chargers' first-round draft pick said. "But at the end of the day, through my meeting with coaches, I knew that they valued who I was as a technician, and as a person, so I wasn't too hung up on it."

Others were, though. His arms measured 33 inches. He did great in other relevant metrics -- running a 4.88-second 40-yard dash and 7.48 in the cone drill while his hands measured 10 ½-inches. But they couldn't get past the 33-inch arms.

And yet there were those who overlooked the arm issue and found him to be the most talented offensive lineman in the draft -- even above Oregon's Penei Sewell, whose arm length also raised eyebrows at 33 ¼ inches. He was taken by Detroit with the seventh pick, thanks in part to his 6-5, 331-pound size.

Chargers GM Tom Telesco wanted Slater all along and didn't budge an inch (pun intended) at Slater's (lack of) arm length.

In fact, Telesco had been scouting Slater on the sly since he was a junior, before he opted out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"He had three years of game film at Northwestern," Telesco said. "I'll tell you what, [Northwestern coach] Pat Fitzgerald does a tremendous job with that program. The culture they've created there, the players that come out of there are football smart, they're tough."

So pencil Slater in at left tackle, filling one of the Chargers' primary needs of the offseason -- protecting second-year star quarterback Justin Herbert.

Slater's father, Reggie, was an undersized (6-7) power forward who lasted eight seasons in the NBA on seven teams and played two more overseas. He taught Rashawn and his oldest son, R.J. Slater (who played at Air Force), footwork and basketball drills, which made them agile on their feet -- skills which apply to football as well.

"My dad is amazing," Rashawn said at his pro day at Northwestern. "Throughout my life, he's always been that athletic influence ... He was definitely a grinder and taught me everything I know about his work ethic and being able to battle through adversity."

When the pandemic hit, Slater sat the year out, opting out when the Big Ten initially decided to postpone its season this past August before reversing that stance later. But he didn't sit idle.

He worked out like a madman and is now leaner and, he says, meaner. And he plans to hit the Chargers practice field with a vengeance.

"Just so much more refined in all of my techniques," Slater said. "My understanding of leverage and angles. My ability to change direction. It's all just taken two steps up."

Said new Chargers head coach Brandon Staley: "[Slater] has outstanding balance and body control. ... He understands angles, the front structures that he's playing against. ... He has the physicality to play the position from an outstanding level. He comes from an outstanding family ... we're really excited about him."

Besides the physical ability, Slater has the versatility necessary to play any position on the offensive line. And he fit the Chargers' objective.

"Our goal going into this offseason was to become a line-of-scrimmage team, a bigger team, a more athletic team," Staley said right after Slater was selected. "Certainly we achieved that tonight.

"He's a great fit for what we're trying to build here up front."

Even with shorter than normal arms.