The emotional toll cornerback Jason Verrett’s Achilles tear has had can still be heard on the eve of training camp.
“It broke a lot of our hearts,” cornerback Casey Hayward said.
But while the team is devastated for their teammate – someone who had worked incredibly hard to recover from two lost seasons thanks to knee injuries – their plans for the upcoming season haven’t changed. The football part, they expect, will be fine.
And, Trevor Williams has a lot to do with that.
The Chargers’ third-year cornerback has replaced Verrett in the starting lineup over the past two seasons and become a valuable piece in the defense, a player who has won the respect of his teammates and opponents with a no-nonsense style that was born long before he reached the Chargers’ roster.
Williams, an under-recruited three-star player who landed at Penn State before going undrafted, carries those scars with him every time he walks onto the field, like he did Saturday before the second day of the team’s training camp.
“That’s still my motivation each and every day I come out here – I was undrafted,” Williams said after Saturday’s practice. “I felt like I should’ve been picked. It’s a chip on my shoulder that I come out with every day. I just turn that into grit, being doubted and underestimated – people sleeping on me.
“I’m kind of tired of it. I just want to showcase what I do year in and year out.”
In two seasons, Williams has started 20 games – tied for eighth-most starts among cornerbacks from the 2016 rookie class. Only one of those players with 20 or more starts was taken outside of the first three rounds.
“He’s amazing,” Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen said.
Last season, he had a breakout performance in his second year in the league, ranking as the NFL’s 10th-best cornerback according to Pro Football Focus.
“The best part of his game is that he competes. He competes at a high level and he accepts the challenge,” Hayward said. “No matter who we go up against, he wants those balls thrown at him. Last year, he got an opportunity … It doesn't matter who he's on, if he gets a target, then he is going to make the best of it.”
But the Chargers couldn’t have expected that out of Williams when he joined the team in training camp three years ago. Sure, they thought he was a draftable talent, but for some reason, Williams slipped through the cracks on everyone’s draft board.
But instead of fighting solely to make a roster, Williams worked to be in the exact position he’s in now.
“Coming in, even during that first training camp, as soon as I walked into the door, I had the mind-set that I would be a starter. I don’t have a No. 2 or back up mind-set,” Williams said. “I train and work hard to be the best I can be. I’m a competitor. It’s nothing new to me. It’s something I’ve been used to. I’m just going to continue to prove what I can do.”
And soon, everyone will know what he already does.
“They’re going to try him again (this season),” Allen said. “And if he can come back and do it again, word will be out.”
Gates would be welcomed back
Philip Rivers has fired passes to his tight ends Virgil Green, Sean Culkin and Braedon Bowman over the first two days of training camp while Hunter Henry, fresh off of knee surgery, has watched from the sidelines.
Rivers’ other likely target, Antonio Gates, remains an unrestricted free agent, though his longtime quarterback wouldn’t mind having him back in camp.
“I’d be super excited if (Gates) trotted back out here at some point,” Rivers said Saturday. “…I don’t like speaking ‘what ifs’. We could be talking about something that never happens, but certainly if ownership, (general manager) Tom (Telesco) and coach (Anthony Lynn) feel strongly enough and he is back, then there’s certainly no doubt I believe he can still help us.”