Much-maligned Elvis Patterson was scratched from the Chargers’ starting lineup Wednesday.
Coach Al Saunders announced that Patterson, the Chargers’ regular left cornerback since midseason of last year, had been benched for Sunday’s game against the Seahawks in Seattle. Saunders said Gill Byrd would shift from right cornerback to Patterson’s position, and that Sammy Seale would move up to Byrd’s spot.
Patterson took the news in stride, attributing the change to a shoulder injury suffered in the Denver game Oct. 2. The injury kept him out of the next game, but he has played in two games since.
“I think it’s a decision they had to make to get a healthy body on the field,” he said.
But Saunders spoke as though the injury was only a secondary reason.
“We need more stability at cornerback,” Saunders said. “The consistency hasn’t been there. His injury is a factor, and this will give it a chance to heal. Sammy (Seale) has the speed, and he has played real well.”
Saunders added that Patterson would now be the nickel back in passing situations, as Seale had been since he was signed as a free agent Sept. 13 after his release by the Raiders. Both Patterson and Seale are fifth-year pros.
When Patterson was with the New York Giants, he was nicknamed “Toast” because of a perceived tendency to be burned by opposing receivers. He was waived by the Giants after the first game last season and joined the Chargers during the players’ strike.
“I’ve been criticized quite a bit,” Patterson said. “But if people evaluated the overall picture and the way I play the game, they would treat me with more respect.
“Toast is a two-dimensional name, but everybody takes it in a negative way. It can be taken in a positive way, too, but nobody ever reads about that.”
Asked what the positive connotation might be, Patterson said, “I have to be a strong-minded player to keep a name like that and try to turn it around.”
Elaborating on his injury problem, he said, “After I got hurt, my game dropped off. I’m not the same cornerback I was in the first 4 games of the season. The pain I have caused me not to be able to run as fast as in the past.
“I play a very physical game, and the physical part of my game is no longer there because of the pain. I’m not one to make excuses. I just think it’s best if they put me down and let me watch for a while and get well.”
Had he sensed a change coming?
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “I figured it was only a matter of time. Ron Lynn (defensive coordinator), and I talked about it off and on, but it wasn’t my decision.
“I don’t consider it a knock. I think it’s a positive move for the team. And don’t count me out. I’ll be back.”
Said Seale: “This is my opportunity to start, and I’m not going to give it back. But it’s no big fuss with me. I’m here to help San Diego win, no matter who plays.”
Seale said he was surprised to learn of his promotion.
“It came all at once today,” he said. “I kind of thought Elvis was getting better. It’s great for me. I started the last 5 games with the Raiders last year, and I feel I can start here.”
Byrd, playing his sixth season with the Chargers since being drafted in the first round from San Jose State, will be returning to the position he played in the first 4 games last season.
“It won’t be a big problem,” Byrd said. “There will be different reads and different techniques, and I’ll have to face the receivers from my left side instead of my right, but I’ve done it before.
“Actually, I’ve played every position in the secondary. I played left corner my first 2 years, then strong safety, then free safety, then right corner for half a year, then left corner for half a year and right corner since then.”
Asked which he preferred, Byrd said, “It doesn’t matter. I just like the challenge of being out there on the field.”
Inside linebacker Chuck Faucette, the Chargers’ leading tackler, was declared out for the season Wednesday because of a cracked vertebrae in his neck. Faucette’s injury is not considered career-threatening. He was credited with 62 tackles, 5 more than free safety Vencie Glenn. Faucette’s expected replacement in the lineup is Jeff Jackson. After Faucette is placed on injured reserve, inside linebacker Cedric Figaro or defensive end George Hinkle will replace him on the roster. Figaro (back) and Hinkle (foot) are on injured reserve. . . . Running back Curtis Adams also will go on injured reserve, the result of a knee injury that will keep him out indefinitely. Barry Redden, who has been on injured reserve all season with a wrist injury, will be activated. . . . Coach Al Saunders said defensive end Leslie O’Neal definitely would not play in Seattle Sunday because of the danger of further injury on artificial turf. O’Neal has played in the past 2 games after being out since Nov. 30, 1986, with a knee injury. Said Saunders: “Leslie’s knee is a little swollen and a little painful. It’s nothing we didn’t expect. After 23 months of not playing, we have to be realistic. He won’t play at Cincinnati (Dec. 4), either. It’s not playing on the turf that’s dangerous; it’s the residual effect.” . . . Reserve guard James FitzPatrick missed Wednesday’s workout because of an ear infection, but is expected back today. . . . Lionel James, who was replaced by Darren Flutie as the Chargers’ punt-returner late in the Indianapolis game last Sunday, blamed himself for the demotion. He said, “I’ve been trying too hard to make big plays instead of just getting the job done. There’s a fine line between hero and goat, and bad things can happen when you struggle to make extra yardage. I would have made the decision, too.”