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Chargers' passing attack goes a long way in teaching revamped secondary some lessons

With a breeze at their back Friday, Philip Rivers and several fast receivers gave Chargers teammates on defense a plausible foretaste of what the swift Kansas City Chiefs will roll out in the Sept. 9 season opener.

The speedsters ran deep, and Rivers heaved the ball — again and again and again.

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A few breakdowns plagued a pass defense that, for now, lacks an established free safety. Hesitation was evident more than once.

Receivers Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams and Artavis Scott hauled in passes of some 40 yards. Rivers was on the mark, but on two receptions the defender trailed by several yards.

Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was seen smiling and chatting with Rivers after one of the home runs.

“We love that; we need that,” Bradley said he told Rivers.

Bradley termed the series of deep passes “very, very good work” that yielded “some great teaching moments” ahead of Saturday’s scrimmage and coming practices against the high-powered New Orleans Saints.

Several defenders have played free safety in training camp as a potential replacement to Tre Boston, who had 15 starts and five interceptions last year. Boston signed with the Cardinals last month.

Bradley said he doesn’t know who the starting free safety will be … yet.

Rookie Derwin James, drafted 17th out of Florida State, is working as a close-to-the-line safety from the mold of versatile Adrian Phillips, a safety who saw extensive duty as a “dime” linebacker last year.

James is faster and bigger than Phillips, who is filling both safety roles this month.

A free safety who broke up a pass Friday and drew praise from the coaches is versatile newcomer Jaylen Watkins, who joined the team on a one-year contract with a $880,000 guarantee.

Watkins, 26, worked often at cornerback spots with the Philadelphia Eagles the past few years and had a taste of playing safety.

“He’s got really good speed,” Bradley said of the 5-foot-11, 194-pounder, who ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash entering the draft in 2014.

“Very steady,” head coach Anthony Lynn said. “He’s a captain back there.”

Long-ball defense is a key element against the Chiefs, whose staple is the West Coast offense but who led the NFL in several deep-ball statistics last year.

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Kansas City has added speedster Sammy Watkins to a pass-catching corps headed by burner Tyreek Hill, who had a deep scoring catch in both victories over the Chargers last year.

Benjamin gave teammates a taste of burner speed Friday. “We had some guys that kind of underestimated Travis Benjamin’s speed,” Lynn said with a whiff of incredulity.

Beathard Hall bound

Excited for Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Beathard, the architect of four NFL champions and the only Chargers team to reach a Super Bowl, a group of Chargers executives and former players headed to Ohio to attend Beathard’s induction ceremony Saturday in Canton.

“Look at all he accomplished in the game, yet Bobby had no ego,” said Chargers executive Ed McGuire. “He was selfless.”

Beathard, now 81 and living in Franklin, Tenn., was hired by team owner Alex Spanos and was general manager of the San Diego franchise from 1990 through 2000.

Early in his Chargers tenure, Beathard hired head coach Bobby Ross, drafted Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau and signed quarterback Stan Humphries, among other key acquisitions. The three led the 1994 team that would upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship game at Pittsburgh.

The San Francisco 49ers routed the Chargers in the Super Bowl, but before Beathard took over as GM, the San Diego franchise had reached just two AFC title games in 27 years.

This is the second straight year a representative of the team that played in San Diego from 1961 through 2016 will be honored in Canton. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson was inducted last summer.

Etc.

Rookie receiver Dylan Cantrell didn’t practice after exiting with a knee injury. Lynn said he had no details on the injury. Cantrell, a sixth-round pick out of Texas Tech, was coming off a strong showing Friday. … Scott made a spectacular catch of a deep pass. Undrafted out of Clemson in 2017, he was a standout in the recent spring camp, safety Jahleel Addae said. Rivers said Scott is improving at a fast rate. … Bradley deemed the play of cornerback Craig Mager “much, much better” thanks to familiarity with hand usage emphasized last year in Bradley’s first season with the team. The coach said cornerback Michael Davis, who’s 6-1½, “is using his length more” in comparison to last season as a rookie.

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