Chargers safety Derwin James will miss several weeks because of foot injury

Chargers safety Derwin James, shown in 2018, is expected to miss several weeks after injuring his right foot Thursday during practice.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A Chargers training camp already notable for the players absent suffered its biggest blow yet when Derwin James was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot.

The dynamic safety was coming off an All-Pro rookie season and was expected to continue to establish himself as a team leader and one of the NFL’s elite defenders.

The Chargers announced that the injury, which occurred Thursday during a joint practice with New Orleans, is to the fifth metatarsal of James’ right foot, with further evaluation planned before determining a course of treatment.


“With his production, his intangibles, we’re going to miss him a lot,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “But we’re a team. I think we have a good team. We have guys who will step up.”

Lynn said he could offer no timetable for James’ return, explaining that it was too early in the process. He also said he did not know if surgery would be required.

Such stress fractures often are treated by inserting a stabilizing screw in the foot to ensure complete healing.

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If the situation calls for James to be placed on injured reserve to start the season — a possibility Lynn acknowledged, depending on the severity of the damage — he would not be eligible to return until Week 9.

“I’d like for him to play in 2019,” Lynn said, when asked directly if James would be available this season. “But I don’t know that for sure.”

The Chargers have been without Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon, who has not reported because of a contract dispute.


They also are missing left tackle Russell Okung, a two-time Pro Bowler, because of a pulmonary embolism that developed in June.

They lost another Pro Bowler when wide receiver Keenan Allen hurt his ankle on Wednesday. Allen’s injury is not considered serious, although he might be held out of the team’s final three preseason games.

All of this has come at a time when the Chargers are attempting to be more conservative with their starters. Before camp opened, Lynn said his No. 1 goal was to make it to the regular season with a healthy, intact roster.

“It doesn’t matter how much effort you put in to saving guys and keeping guys fresh and healthy,” he said. “It’s football, and things are going to happen. Like I said, we’re a team and we’ll overcome it as a team.”

Adrian Phillips, a Pro Bowl special-teams player last season, will take over for James at strong safety.

The Chargers also have Rayshawn Jenkins, a former strong safety who is expected to be the starter at free safety.

Jenkins has dropped weight for this season in anticipation of playing a position that requires more speed and quickness.

“I love what he’s done with his body,” Lynn said. “He lost weight. He’s doing a heck of a job at free safety. I’m not sure I necessarily want to make two moves.”

Chargers safety Adrian Phillips celebrates after intercepting against the Baltimore Ravens last season.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers’ depth at safety includes Jaylen Watkins, who has played various secondary positions during his career and is coming back after missing 2018 because of a knee injury.

Second-round pick Nasir Adderley was expected to complete for time — and perhaps the starting job — at free safety but has been out for most of training camp because of a hamstring issue.

Undrafted safeties Adarius Pickett and Roderic Teamer also are on the roster.

“What’s new?” Lynn said, when asked about his team’s training camp woes. “I tell myself everyday, there’s going to be three or four things that happen that you don’t expect that you have to overcome. And we’ve had them.”

This will be the second consecutive season that the Chargers open play minus a significant defensive piece because of a foot injury.

Joey Bosa missed the nine games to start last season after being hurt early in training camp. The Chargers went 7-2 without him.

“We lost Joey last year,” Lynn said. “We were fine until we got him back. We’ll be OK.”

Bosa said he spoke to James and even suggested a foot doctor James could contact if necessary.

“There’s nothing you can say,” Bosa admitted. “Everyone’s walking up to him and asking him, ‘Oh, how you doing? Blah, blah, blah.’ I mean, there’s really nothing you can say to make a guy feel better in that situation.

“So you just got to let him know that you’re there for him. Offer him any help if he needs it. I just really feel for him.”

Bosa’s injury was the result of an awkward step he took during practice. He said James was injured the same way.

Near the end of the session with the Saints on Thursday, James intercepted a pass and appeared to be fine running downfield.

“He looked like he was flying around there the very last play,” Bosa said. “I wouldn’t have guessed anything was wrong with him. But football’s a pretty crazy sport. You take one wrong step … he just took a funny step.”

Bosa did, however, suggest there was reason for optimism regarding James, without providing details.

“It’s a bummer,” Bosa said. “I think we got some pretty good news today. I’m not exactly sure of his situation, but I don’t think it will be too serious.”

However serious the injury turns out to be, the Chargers’ defense has a huge hole to fill until James can return.


After two days of joint practices, the Chargers and Saints will play a preseason game at 1 p.m. Sunday in Carson. It remains unclear how many of the starters will be active.

Lynn did confirm that quarterback Philip Rivers will not play. Rivers was held out of the Chargers’ preseason opener in Arizona. This week, he suggested he could be ready for Week 1 without taking a preseason snap.