His position coach called him “so, so serious,” adding that Joshua Palmer is “straight-laced” to the point where it becomes “almost too much.”
To be more businesslike on the field, Palmer would have to line up in a three-piece suit.
Yet before opening his second training camp with the Chargers last week, the 23-year-old wide receiver was heavily into his emotions.
Palmer’s childhood friend, John Metchie III, had just revealed that he’ll likely miss his rookie season with Houston after being diagnosed with leukemia.
“You hear about these things, but it never hit so close to home,” Palmer said. “I was just speechless. You don’t know what to say or how to say it.”
Palmer and Metchie grew up together in Canada, in a town called Brampton, a suburb of some 600,000 northwest of Toronto. Their friendship goes back so far that Palmer said, “I don’t remember not knowing him.”
Both eventually moved to the United States to pursue football and ended up in the SEC.
Palmer played at Tennessee before being drafted by the Chargers in the third round last year while Metchie at Alabama before the Texans took him in the second round in April.
They were scheduled to share the field again this season in Week 4, when the Chargers play at Houston. But their next reunion is on hold indefinitely.
“John’s a solider,” Palmer said. “Right now, he’s just in a different camp, a different camp that he has to get through. He’ll come out with a full head of steam next season.”
With his friend on his mind, Palmer arrived in Costa Mesa for what the Chargers hope is a season of significant development. After Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, there’s a need for more consistency at the team’s third wide receiver spot.
Palmer finished his rookie season trending upward. Starting in Week 14 against the New York Giants — a game Allen missed because of COVID-19 — he had 18 of his 33 receptions and three of his four touchdowns.
He caught a 23-yard scoring pass from Justin Herbert to convert a fourth-and-21 play late in the fourth quarter of the Chargers’ dramatic season finale in Las Vegas.
“That Giants game was a huge boost for him,” Chargers wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said. “He was able to do multiple things in Keenan’s role and see, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ Now, he has the confidence and it’s more about mastering what he wants to do.”
Beatty almost worked with Palmer long before the two came together with the Chargers. He was an assistant at Maryland and recruited Palmer out of Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas High.
Palmer also nearly played in Southern California long before he was a Charger. Before committing to Tennessee, his college visits included a stop at UCLA, where a higher source evidently intervened.
“Someone told me it doesn’t rain in California,” Palmer said. “The one time I was there, it rained the whole weekend. So I took that as a sign.”
Palmer’s serious nature showed itself when he left Canada for South Florida to finish high school, St. Thomas Aquinas a traditional football powerhouse. At the time, he described it as “a business decision.” He was 15.
At a position that famously can produce divas and distractions, Palmer retains something closer to tunnel vision. His personality, Beatty explained, is the quietest among the Chargers’ receivers.
“He’s different like that,” Beatty said. “He balances the room. You can’t have all comedians in there. With Josh, everybody else is joking and he’s over there looking at his iPad.”
That’s not to suggest Palmer lacks a lighter side. Asked if he played hockey growing up, he said only the street version before adding, “I could skate. I just couldn’t stop.”
Palmer is an athlete who prefers to remain locked in. At Tennessee, Palmer prepped for the NFL on and off the field. He said during his final year of college he pretended he already was in the league.
He became a harsher self-critic. He studied more film. He started taking better care of his body and tried to develop the routine of a professional athlete.
Beatty praised Palmer’s approach and commitment but admitted there are times when he can dig in too deeply. The coach offered the example of Palmer trying to improve on an otherwise perfect route because the ball didn’t come his way.
“He’s just really so straight ahead, which is good in a lot of ways, but sometimes you overthink things,” Beatty said. “That’s kind of where he is, trying to learn how to get out of his own way a little bit.”
The one thing Palmer has mastered entering this season is perspective, the situation involving Metchie and how his friend is handling it are both reminders of what’s most important.
Palmer said the two have been in touch, adding that Metchie already is bouncing back.
“The whole thing is hard to describe in words,” Palmer said. “But John’s going to be fine. He’s going to get through this.”
The Chargers signed tight end Sage Surratt, a former undrafted free agent who most recently played in the USFL.
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