Chargers safeties Phillips, Watkins ready to step up
As the Chargers wrapped up training camp on Thursday, James was undergoing surgery for a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal. The procedure was performed by Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The Chargers will place their All-Pro safety on injured reserve when final roster cuts are made after next week’s final preseason game. James — who would have the designation to return — is likely to miss three months, meaning he may not return until the final five games of the regular season.
“We’ll just hold the fort down until he gets back,” Phillips said. We have (defensive backs) who are interchangeable, versatile and can play many different positions. That’s what helps put us in winning positions late in the game. We just roll with the punches and just keep going.”
Phillips has moved into the starting spot at strong safety and Watkins will be the backup at both safety spots after he missed last season with a knee injury. Both are expected to see playing time on Saturday when the Chargers host Seattle in their third preseason game.
Phillips is one of the league’s top special-teams players. He led the league in tackles last season and was a first-team, All-Pro selection as a specialist. But he has also proven to be valuable in the secondary with 11 starts over the past two seasons.
In last season’s AFC wild-card round win over Baltimore, Phillips had an interception and a fumble recovery as the Chargers used eight defensive backs for all but one play.
“It’s not necessarily thinking of replacing Derwin. It’s, ‘Hey, there was a little bump in the road. We have to fix it, whatever it may be,’ and then keep it moving,” Phillips said. “When you start thinking like you’re replacing somebody or you have to live up to what somebody has done, that’s when all the bad stuff starts to happen.”
Watkins is having a strong camp after tearing the ACL in his knee during the preseason last year. He was in for 28 snaps last Sunday against New Orleans, which came a year to the day he suffered the knee injury.
The fifth-year defensive back celebrated his return in style with an interception at the Chargers 3-yard line as the Saints were driving. He was getting reps at free safety and nickel corner before James’ injury, but has started to see time at strong safety this week.
“I saw myself as a true corner coming out of college. Tackling in college was a little different than the NFL, but when I was in Philly I did a good job at honing in on my safety and getting better at tackling,” he said.
Even though Rayshawn Jenkins has solidified his starting spot at free safety, the Chargers are eager to see what second-round pick Nasir Adderley can do. The rookie has been sidelined most of training camp because of a hamstring injury, but has started to see some snaps in practice.
Coach Anthony Lynn said it was unlikely Adderley would play on Saturday with the hopes of getting him on the field for the Aug. 29 preseason finale at San Francisco.