Jaylen Watkins works toward his long-awaited Chargers debut
He was back on the field at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday night, Jaylen Watkins taking another step toward what he hopes is his ultimate return.
For the record, the defensive back never has played in a real game for the Chargers. His most recent NFL appearance came in the Super Bowl after the 2017 season.
He was a champion that night, Watkins playing mostly special teams for Philadelphia in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over New England. He signed with the Chargers two months later, tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason four months after that, and basically disappeared.
Watkins returned home to Florida for the majority of his rehabilitation and watched from afar as the Chargers went 12-4 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
“I’ve never missed a season since I was 5 years old,” he said. “That was my first year trying to figure out what I was going to do after rehab. Usually, it’s hanging out with the guys or watching other games.
“[But] it was tough to watch games and watch guys. I had a baby boy, so I was able to spend a lot of time with him and [he] kind of kept me going and focused.”
Watkins was out there Saturday in a 23-15 exhibition loss to Seattle, entering at free safety in the third quarter after the Chargers began the game with their starting secondary.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck says an unrelenting cycle of injuries spurred his decision to retire from football at age 29.
The appearance was the second of the preseason for Watkins after he sat out the opener. He played last weekend against New Orleans and had an interception deep in Chargers territory to halt a Saints threat on the anniversary of his torn ACL.
Watkins said he realized it was exactly a year to the date when he walked into the home team training room and began to recall the last time he had been in there.
“It kind of made me happy because when it happened, you think it’s over,” he said. “Then fast forward a year, you’re back in the same spot getting ready to play. I don’t think it gets better than that.”
Entering training camp, Watkins was expected to battle for the No. 1 job at free safety, where starter Rayshawn Jenkins has refused to budge.
Watkins’ potential to play a role increased last week when Derwin James suffered a stress fracture in his foot, an injury that will sideline the All-Pro strong safety three to four months. Watkins, a veteran of 36 NFL games who has the versatility to also play cornerback, is among the group vying to help fill the void created by James’ absence.
“Some people, when they get hurt [they] say, ‘Why me?’” safety Adrian Phillips said. “[Watkins] went back to the drawing board, started working and made himself better than what he was before.”
The year was not an easy one for Watkins, who said the most difficult part of rehabbing was “not being around ball.”
He’d watch the Chargers games on television and send text messages that his teammates would find waiting for them when they returned to their lockers.
Following his interception against New Orleans, he said he received congratulatory texts from friends who’ve had ACL injuries, some of whom still haven’t made it back.
Drew Brees leads a scoring drive in his 2019 preseason debut as the New Orleans Saints defeat the New York Jets on Saturday.
“How to handle adversity,” Watkins said when asked what he learned while sitting out. “I have in the past, but I’ll say this is the big one for me just because of the stigma behind an ACL.”
Outside of the secondary, several starters on the Chargers’ defense didn’t play Saturday, including Joey Bosa, Thomas Davis and Melvin Ingram.
With those notable absences, the unit struggled mightily trying to contain the Seahawks. Russell Wilson led Seattle to a pair of second-quarter touchdown drives, covering 84 and 45 yards.
Seattle finished the first half with 225 total yards and 15 first downs. The Seahawks also averaged six yards per rush on 21 attempts.
Offensively, the Chargers sat Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen and continued to have a hard time executing in short-yardage situations, something coach Anthony Lynn is particularly interested in given the youth along his offensive line.
They failed to convert twice in the first half on fourth and short, quarterback Tyrod Taylor fumbling the exchange on the first attempt and Troymaine Pope losing two yards on the second as the offensive line crumbled.
“I’m really disappointed in the fourth and ones,” Lynn said. “Those are gotta-have-it situations. You’re No. 1 in the league last year in that category. We’re a little behind right now.”
In his first action since suffering an ankle injury in last year’s regular-season finale, linebacker Jatavis Brown looked fresh, finishing with seven total tackles. … Wide receiver Dontrelle Inman, who signed Thursday, entered the game in the first quarter. ... Fifth-round pick Easton Stick hit Andre Patton for an eight-yard touchdown and scored on a four-yard run in the fourth quarter. ... Former Chargers backup quarterback Geno Smith scored a touchdown for Seattle on an eight-yard run in the third quarter.
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