The Chargers’ worst fears were confirmed Saturday when they learned Derwin James will be sidelined deep into the regular season.
The team’s All-Pro second-year safety will undergo surgery next week to repair a stress fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot.
A more definitive timeline should be known after the procedure, but James has been told he’ll need a recovery time of three to four months.
Based on that projection, he’ll be out at least until mid-November. The Chargers play Kansas City in Mexico City on Nov. 18 during Week 11.
They then have their bye and return for their 12th game of the season Dec. 1 at Denver. That date would mark roughly 3½ months from surgery.
James was hurt Thursday during a joint practice in Costa Mesa with the New Orleans Saints.
Near the end of the training session, James intercepted a pass and then broke into an animated celebration with several of his teammates, offering no evidence that he was hurting.
“It happened at some point in practice … but this could have been something all along and happened kind of slowly,” coach Anthony Lynn said Friday. “Yesterday, it just came to a head. We’re going to miss him while he’s out. We’re going to try to get him well and back on the field as soon as we can.”
Adrian Phillips, a Pro Bowler on special teams, will replace James at strong safety on a Chargers defense that is expected to be among the league’s best. James’ extended absence will now test that defense’s depth.
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Phillips also plays linebacker in the team’s dime package, meaning someone will have to take over strong safety in that alignment. Rayshawn Jenkins, who is projected to be the starter at free safety, is one possibility.
In that case, the Chargers’ primary options at free safety would include Jaylen Watkins, who is coming back after missing 2018 because of a knee injury, and second-round pick Nasir Adderley, who has been out for most of training camp because of a hamstring problem.
“It’s next man up …” Lynn said. “We’ll figure it out in the next three weeks.”
The Chargers have three preseason games remaining, starting at 1 p.m. Sunday when they host the Saints in Carson.
Many of the starters are expected to play only a little, if at all. Quarterback Philip Rivers will not play. Instead, Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones and Easton Stick will be the Chargers’ quarterbacks.
A young offensive line — principally tackles Trent Scott and Sam Tevi and guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney — will continue to receive snaps.
“They’ve grown,” Lynn said. “You can see it just in the games in the communication with the other linemen, which is important to get them in there .… They’re going to play more than most starters, I can tell you that, but they won’t play as much as last week [against Arizona].”
James’ injury continued what has been a trying camp for the Chargers. Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen has been slowed by knee and ankle injuries and might not play in the preseason.
Left tackle Russell Okung is sidelined indefinitely since developing a pulmonary embolism in June.
Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon is holding out because of a contract dispute. Negotiations on an extensionhave featured little movement on either side.
James, a first-round pick out of Florida State, emerged as one the NFL’s bright young defensive stars in 2018.
He finished with 109 total tackles, 3½ sacks and three interceptions. No rookie in franchise history ever had been credited with as many as 100 tackles.
James played 1,027 snaps, the most of any Charger on either side of the line of scrimmage. His blossoming versatility allowed the team to line him up in a variety of positions.
“God gifted him with a lot of talent,” tight end Hunter Henry said. “He also works extremely hard. He loves the game of football. When you have those ... things going for you, you’re going to be a really good player.”
Last year, the Chargers were without Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa because of a foot injury until the 10th game of the regular season.
He was replaced largely by Isaac Rochell. But James, with his playmaking ability, was a primary reason they were able to absorb Bosa’s loss.
“Just how Isaac stepped up and filled the spot last year, we’ll have another guy step up and fill the void,” Bosa said. “To see it’s a … foot injury, the same as mine, it’s a bummer.”