An increased role threatens to rip him from his roots, and Adrian Phillips is saying this week that he won’t surrender without a fight.
He’ll take over at strong safety for the Chargers to start the season in the absence of Derwin James. The move could lead to Phillips giving up time on special teams, where he excelled so much in 2018 that he earned All-Pro recognition.
“I still want to be a part of that,” Phillips said. “If our coaches feel like, ‘Hey, we might need to go a different route to conserve you,’ then I’ll fight them on it. They have the best interests for me. So we’ll see what happens Week 1.”
Special teams mean a lot to Phillips and could mean even more to a few of his teammates Saturday night when the Chargers meet Seattle at Dignity Health Sports Park. With only two preseason games remaining and the final few roster spots still undecided, the ability to play on various kick and coverage units could be a determining factor.
“Special teams is huge,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “If you can play your position, multiple positions … On defense, if you’re a linebacker [and] can line up in all three spots and play special teams, that’s valuable.”
Phillips is entering his sixth season in a career founded on special teams. After signing as an undrafted free agent in 2014, he was cut eight times by the Chargers over the next two years before establishing himself.
A year ago everything jelled as he set career highs for tackles, tackles for loss, passes defensed and special teams tackles.
“That’s what got me here,” Phillips said. “That’s what got me these six years in the league. … So I still love special teams.”
There are players who could be facing a similar desperate situation, hoping for the sort of opportunity Phillips was able to seize. Take the Chargers’ wide receiver room, for example.
With the signing Thursday of Dontrelle Inman, there probably is space for two more receivers on the 53-man roster. The top three contenders appear to be Geremy Davis, Artavis Scott and Andre Patton.
Davis proved his worth on special teams last year and, through two preseason games, has played 19 special teams snaps. Scott has played 11 and Patton, who missed the preseason opener, four.
How each is used — and performs — on special teams against the Seahawks could be telling.
“I think things are going good, but I’m pretty hard on myself,” Davis said. “I think I always strive for being better, on offense and special teams. I want to progress from last year. I want more tackles on special teams and a role on offense.”
Troymaine Pope and Detrez Newsome are battling for the No. 3 running back spot. Pope had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown Sunday against New Orleans, evidence that he can contribute on special teams. But Newsome has been one of the most active Chargers on special teams, totaling 22 snaps through two games.
“I could do all that,” Pope said when asked about special teams. “Wherever the coaches put me, I’m going to go out there and make a play.”
Inman joined the Chargers for practice Thursday, wearing No. 16, which formerly belonged to Tyrell Williams. In his first go-round with the team, Inman wore No. 15, which now belongs to Patton.
He played parts of four seasons with the Chargers before being traded to Chicago in October 2017. Lynn said he was unsure if Inman would play Saturday.
“He’s very familiar with our quarterback,” Lynn said. “We just wanted to get more depth … veteran guy who’s been there and done it. To come in and compete with some of these younger guys in the next couple of weeks, I thought it was a good pickup.”
Rivers will sit
Many of the Chargers veterans won’t play against the Seahawks, including Philip Rivers, who will finish the preseason having taken zero snaps. Rivers said during training camp that the Chargers’ four joint practices were enough preparation.
Most of the quarterback snaps figure to go to Cardale Jones and Easton Stick, who are fighting for the No. 3 job. Backup Tyrod Taylor has started the first two preseason games.