The Chargers have become increasingly alarmed with the physical status of wide receiver Nate Lewis. As a result, the team has placed the wide receiver position on its wish list as it explores the possibility of trading unhappy nose tackle Joe Phillips.
Lewis dazzled Coach Bobby Ross with his off-season improvement, and it looked as if he had locked up the No. 2 wide receiver position opposite Anthony Miller.
But then Lewis suffered a hamstring pull in the team’s first mini-camp and a quadriceps muscle pull in the following mini-camp. He has been unable to practice for more than a week because of problems with his quadriceps muscle.
“Quite honestly, I’m becoming a little concerned,” Ross said, “because I was initially told it wouldn’t be but a day or two and it hasn’t gotten to that point yet. We’ll see where we are Monday on it, but I don’t think we can sit around on that one too long.
“It’s been one or the other (hamstring or quadriceps) ever since I’ve been here. . . . It might be numerically that we have to look at some possibilities.”
Numerically speaking, the Chargers have only two other legitimate candidates (Miller and Shawn Jefferson) on their roster to catch passes against NFL-caliber cornerbacks.
There has been a lot of positive talk recently about veteran free agent Walter Stanley, but Washington, Miami, Detroit and Green Bay didn’t release him because he was a consistent performer.
Yancey Thigpen, the team’s fourth-round pick last year, is still looking for his first NFL catch although he’s the leading choice to work behind Miller, Lewis and Jefferson. The team likes ninth-round pick Johnnie Barnes, but Barnes probably will be released on the final cut and re-signed to the team’s developmental squad.
The Chargers need a healthy Lewis in the lineup, and Lewis said he will be ready in due time. “The sore muscle is not allowing me to explode and accelerate for the deep ball,” Lewis said. “But it’s getting better and it’s getting stronger. I’ll be there.”
The Chargers, however, are worried. They have begun studying a few veteran wide receivers around the league, but they do not anticipate such a player becoming available until later in exhibition play. At the same time, General Manager Bobby Beathard said the team’s inclination now is to wait a little longer before seriously pursuing a trade of Phillips.
Anthony Shelton, who started the first three games last season at strong safety, will undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery Monday.
Shelton suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery Nov. 24 and has continued to have problems with it in training camp.
Ross said the team’s medical staff has not determined how long Shelton will be sidelined.
Kickers John Carney and Carlos Huerta squared off from various distances Friday morning and matched each other kick for kick, including miss for miss.
“They were short from the 36-yard line, which would have been a 53-yard kick,” Ross said. “From the early stages things look real close with those two.”
Carney and Huerta were successful from 41, 45 and 49 yards before falling short.
In the afternoon, Carney hit from 53 yards, and Huerta was wide right.
Linebacker Billy Ray Smith continues to stand on the sideline with a torn calf muscle, but he said he is on his way to recovery and dismissed suggestions that this injury might be the harbinger to a retirement announcement.
“I’m concerned and I guess we’ll find out in the next three or four weeks,” Smith said. “But it’s getting better every day. I’m jogging on it and doing a lot of work on conditioning while I’m waiting for the leg to be able the weight again and the pressure.”
The Chargers have not done a good job in recent years of recognizing their former players. Quarterback Dan Fouts, tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Charlie Joiner are among a group of standouts who have yet to win admission to the Chargers’ Hall of Fame. Fouts, who is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the end of this season, might earn that recognition before becoming one of his own team’s honorees.
The last Charger Hall of Fame inductee was defensive end Earl Faison in 1986.
However, the team has indicated it wants to include its former performers in their plans. They invited a group Friday to watch practice and join the team for dinner at UC San Diego.
Ross had each of the former players speak to his team.
Among those in attendance were wide receiver Lance Alworth, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978, Faison, center Don Macek and defensive tackle Gary (Big Hands) Johnson.
“It’s been something I’ve done at every level I have ever been,” Ross said. “Every program has traditions, and every program has people who have been a big part of it. If you have ever been an ex-player, they really enjoy being a part of it. I think they are important to our club and to the Chargers.”