As nice as it was for Chargers defensive back Jaylen Watkins to play 15 defensive snaps and eight special-teams plays in the season opener, the afterglow of a 30-24 overtime win over Indianapolis might have been more satisfying than the game itself.
“It was good to come to the locker room and celebrate a win,” said Watkins, who missed the entire 2018 season because of a knee injury. “I went to the [playoff] game in Baltimore last year, and seeing the win and everybody excited was great, but I wanted to feel sweaty. I wanted to feel dirty.”
It had been 19 months since Watkins played in an NFL game that counted, his last action coming mostly on special teams for Philadelphia in the Eagles’ 41-33 Super Bowl victory over New England after the 2017 season.
Watkins, 27, signed with the Chargers two months later, tore a knee ligament in the preseason and returned home to Florida to rehabilitate from surgery.
He made it through training camp and the preseason intact and has assumed an expanded role this season. A safety by trade, Watkins is filling in at free safety, strong safety, cornerback and slot corner.
“He’s kind of our new A.P.,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said, referring to Adrian Phillips, the plug-and-play defensive back whose versatility has been invaluable. “He gives us a backup at all of those positions in case of emergency.”
Watkins, a 5-foot-11, 194-pounder from Florida, believes his is equipped for the job. Though he’s not quite as physical against the run as Phillips, who has played middle linebacker and both safety spots, he has the quickness and instincts to beat ball-carriers to the point of attack.
“This year, with the way the roster shook out, I’m kind of back to my jack-of-all-trades role, which is what I did in college,” Watkins said. “My physique, my skill set, allows me to do a lot of different things. And I have a great football mind, so they can never put too much on me. I can handle it all.”
Kicker Michael Badgley, who missed the opener because of a right-groin injury, said he felt “better” kicking in practice Friday but is listed as questionable for the game at Detroit.
The second-year pro out of Miami, who made 15 of 16 field-goal attempts last season — including a franchise-record 59-yarder against Cincinnati — said his biggest challenge this weekend will be balancing his desire to play with the potential for hurting the team if he is not 100 percent.
“It’s one of those situations that kind of makes you grow up pretty quick because you have to listen to your body,” Badgley said. “It’s not high school or college anymore. You have to think about what’s best for the team. If you’re going to go out there and be an absolute liability, that’s not good for anybody.”
The Chargers also don’t want Badgley to risk aggravating his groin and having an injury that could linger throughout the season. If Badgley can’t kick, Ty Long will handle punting and kicking duties, as he did against the Colts.
“You don’t want to push anything too crazy,” Badgley said. “It stinks not being out there; it’s tough watching from the sidelines, but you don’t want to force this thing and miss more time than you really should.”
Receiver Mike Williams, who sat out practices Wednesday and Thursday because of a right knee injury, was a limited participant Friday and is listed as questionable for the game. “He’s better today,” coach Anthony Lynn said, “but he’s still a game-time decision.” … Defensive lineman Isaac Rochell (concussion) and receiver Geremy Davis (hamstring) were full participants Friday but are questionable for the game. … Linebackers Jatavis Brown (ankle) and Denzel Perryman were limited Friday and also are questionable for the game. Cornerback Michael Davis (hamstring) did not practice all week and is doubtful, and tight end Hunter Henry (knee) is out.