Jason Verrett knew he would play only two series in a game that didn't count, but as the Chargers cornerback prepared to take the Coliseum field against the Rams on Saturday night, his emotions caught him by surprise.
"Man, I almost got a little teary eyed during the national anthem," Verrett said after the Chargers' 21-19 preseason victory. "I've been away from the game for so long … it just felt good to be out there."
Verrett, 26, was a first-round pick out of Texas Christian in 2014 but missed 10 games as a rookie because of shoulder and hamstring injuries.
He was a Pro Bowl selection in 2015, when he made 42 tackles, returned one of his three interceptions for a touchdown and received the highest coverage grade per snap among all NFL cornerbacks from Pro Football Focus.
Four weeks into 2016, Verrett suffered a partial tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and underwent season-ending surgery. The Chargers were careful not to rush Verrett's rehabilitation, holding him out of their first two exhibition games.
When Verrett finally took the field Saturday, he had an immediate impact, reacting to an underthrown pass from Rams quarterback Jared Goff and stepping in front of receiver Sammy Watkins for an interception near midfield with 6 minutes 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Chargers converted the turnover into a nine-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that gave them a 21-0 lead.
"Most definitely," Verrett said, when asked whether the play was a confidence-booster. "That was the first target I had in the game. I was excited to make the play."
Was it a good read on his part or a bad pass from Goff?
"A little of both," Verrett said, "but when the quarterback makes a mistake, you try to capitalize on it."
Verrett and Casey Hayward, a Pro Bowl selection last season, could give the Chargers one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL, but the two have not played a preseason snap together this month. Hayward missed the last two games because of a right-hamstring injury.
Verrett is not expecting to play in Thursday night's preseason finale at San Francisco — coach Anthony Lynn said he will bubble-wrap his first-team units, holding most, if not all, of his starters out of the game — but Verrett is confident he'll be ready for the Sept. 11 season opener at Denver.
"We'll get a lot of reps in practice and a little extra conditioning," Verrett said. "I know it's gonna be a battle, but I'm up for it."
McCain is able
Chris McCain, a 6-foot-5, 236-pound defensive end with the wing span of a power forward, continued his push for a roster spot with a strong second half Saturday night, making two tackles, hurrying the quarterback once and batting down one pass. He has also excelled on special teams.
"He's long, he uses his hands well, and he's got great speed," starting end Melvin Ingram said. "He and I talk every day, and he's got the potential to be a great player in this league. The way he comes and works every day, I respect everything about his game."
McCain, who played college ball at California, appeared in 18 games for Miami in 2014-2015 and two games with New Orleans in 2016 before spending the second half of last season on the Chargers' practice squad.
In Ingram and fellow edge rusher Joey Bosa, the 2016 NFL defensive rookie of the year, McCain has two high-achieving role models. Bosa sacked Goff in the first quarter Saturday night, forcing a fumble that Ingram returned 76 yards for a touchdown.
"They're arguably the best pass-rushing tandem in the league," strong safety Jahleel Addae said. "One strip-sacks the quarterback, and the other one picks it up and scores. You can't put that out there any better."
Cardale Jones completed nine of 13 passes for 74 yards against the Rams, a performance Lynn described as "a step forward" for the quarterback who is trying to beat out veteran Kellen Clemens for the backup job behind Philip Rivers.
Jones, acquired from Buffalo in the first week of training camp, was intercepted when he forced one pass — on a quick slant to Travis Benjamin — into tight coverage in the second quarter, but showed a quick release, more touch on medium-range passes and better overall accuracy on short passes.
Jones was sacked four times in the second preseason game against New Orleans, but he benefited by playing behind the first-team offensive line in the second quarter Saturday night.
"In the beginning, I was pretty far behind," said Jones, the Ohio State product. "Naturally, you feel like they've got to, kind of, spoon-feed you in the beginning. But I'm feeling more comfortable. Putting in the extra work with [quarterbacks] coach [Shane] Steichen and getting more reps in practice goes a long way."