Here’s why Chargers aren’t sweating the loss of Hunter Henry

The loss of Hunter Henry to a knee injury that will sideline one of the NFL’s most promising young tight ends for the season doesn’t have to put a crimp in the Chargers’ offense.

A team that won nine of its final 12 games in 2017 has a deep and talented wide receiver corps led by Keenan Allen, who caught 102 passes for 1,393 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, a 2017 first-round pick who missed most of his rookie season because of injuries.

Running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler can be weapons in the passing game, having combined to catch 85 passes for 755 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

The offense will be directed by one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Philip Rivers, a 14-year veteran who has thrown for 50,348 yards and 342 touchdowns and who is adept at exploiting mismatches and exposing weaknesses in a defense.


And returning to call plays for a third straight season will be offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who has spent eight of his 30 years in the NFL as a head coach.

“We’ve got a deep group of receivers — does that mean there’s more times when we’re in a three-receiver set or even four receivers? I don’t know,” Rivers said after an organized team workout in Costa Mesa on Tuesday. “I’m not giving away any secrets, but those are all thoughts that you have.

“There are a lot of different things you can do. Those things don’t have to be decided right now. You kind of see things take form in training camp, and I’m certainly confident with our staff and players’ ability to adapt and go.”

Tight end Virgil Green, who signed a three-year, $8.6-million contract in March, is more of a blocking specialist who did not catch more than 22 passes in any of his seven seasons with the Denver Broncos, but Whisenhunt believes Green can assume a larger role as a receiver.

“That’s what we have to find out,” Whisenhunt said. “I’ve seen him make some plays in the pass game when he was in Denver.”

Tight ends Braedon Bowman, Sean Culkin, Cole Hunt and Ben Johnson will get more reps in practice, but the group has combined for zero NFL catches.

“We have faith in those guys, otherwise they wouldn’t be here,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “But we’re looking at that position, looking at some other options.”

One of those options is Antonio Gates, who caught 927 passes for 11,508 yards and 114 touchdowns in 15 seasons with the Chargers. In April the team cut ties with Gates, who will turn 38 next month, but both Lynn and Rivers said they spoke to the free agent in the past week.

“I would be excited if he walked back in the door, obviously,” Rivers said. “That’s something for Tom [Telesco, general manager], John [Spanos, president of football operations] and coach Lynn to discuss, but certainly, he would get my vote. I’m sure he’s in shape and will be ready if called on.”

However the Chargers replace Henry, who caught 45 passes for 579 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games in 2017, and whatever changes they make in the scheme to help compensate for Henry’s void, they should benefit from having more than three months to make those adjustments.

“If it was the middle of the season and we brought somebody in, yeah, that could be an issue just because you don’t know the intricacies of how they sit in a zone, or how they run an out [pattern] when they’re trying to lean in on a guy and get out,” Whisenhunt said.

“But I think you see enough of that out here in OTAs, and even in training camp, where you can get a feel for it, and Philip always has a great feel for these guys and where they’re going to be.”

Room to roam

The addition of first-round pick Derwin James, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound defensive back from Florida State, could push Jahleel Addae from strong safety to free safety, where Addae would be more of a center fielder and last line of defense instead of an inside-the-box defender.

That shouldn’t be a problem for Addae, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan in 2013 and has developed into a hard-hitting tackler.

“I’m like Batman and Robin — I can do whatever you want me to do,” Addae said. “I played free safety my first four years here. Last year was my first season solely in the box. If they want me at the free, I can do that; if they want me in the box, I can do that, too. I would just be more of a ball-hawk back there, making up-field tackles and being the eraser.”


Mike Williams sat out Tuesday’s practice because of a mild hamstring strain. Lynn indicated that the injury wasn’t serious. “We just kept him out because we can right now,” he said. … Allen and cornerback Trevor Williams had to be separated after a heated argument over what Allen thought was holding on Williams, a scuffle Rivers saw as a positive sign. “We’ve got a bunch of competitive guys out there who care about what they’re doing,” the quarterback said. “This is no knock on our previous teams, but you always want to try to get as many competitive, really good players on the field every year. You’ve kind of seen it grow in these last few years.”

Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna