Anthony Lynn labeled his versatility “huge,” likened his presence to being “a coach on the field” and called him “the captain of that secondary.”
The Chargers lost all that Sunday when safety Adrian Phillips suffered a broken right arm.
An All-Pro player on special teams in 2018, Phillips will be placed on injured reserve and, therefore, miss at least the next eight weeks.
Lynn said he does believe Phillips will be able to return at some point this season.
They now have seven starters either out or dealing with injuries that have cost them games.
That group includes left tackle Russell Okung (blood clots), tight end Hunter Henry (knee), cornerback Michael Davis (hamstring) and kicker Michael Badgley (groin).
Only Badgley is considered close to returning.
“We’re going to compete every single week,” Lynn said. “That’s one thing we’re going to do. We’re going to try to get those guys healthy and maybe get them back later.”
Under league rules, only two players can return after being placed on IR. The Chargers are saving one of those spots for James. The other, presumably, would go to Phillips, depending on how he recovers from this injury.
He was hurt in the fourth quarter of the Chargers’ 13-10 loss at Detroit. Later in the same series, the Lions scored the winning touchdown on a 31-yard reception by Kenny Golladay.
Phillips started the first two games at strong safety in place of James. On Sunday, he also was charged with calling the defensive signals.
After Phillips departed, he was replaced by starting free safety Rayshawn Jenkins and Jaylen Watkins entered at free safety.
Lynn said that’s not necessarily how the Chargers will proceed for their game Sunday against Houston at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“We’re looking at different combinations to see what best fits our team,” he explained, before adding, “We’ll do what’s best for our defense, I can tell you that.”
Nickel cornerback Desmond King also has played safety. Undrafted rookie Roderic Teamer “absolutely” is an option, Lynn said, although Teamer has been dealing with a hamstring problem.
The Chargers used a second-round pick on free safety Nasir Adderley in April. Adderley, however, missed most of training camp and has played only one snap on defense so far.
“There’s a lot he doesn’t know,” Lynn said of the rookie. “Once the season gets going, it’s hard to get a player caught up.”
The injuries have mounted after the Chargers adopted a conservative approach by holding out many starters during the preseason, a tactic they employed in an attempt to keep their most important players healthy.
“Unfortunately, when you have cracked fibulas and cracked forearms, I don’t know of anything you can do to avoid that,” Lynn said. “It’s just part of the game. These are really tough injuries.”
Lynn dismissed the notion that the Chargers are in a bad place because of all the players they’re missing.
“For right now, we have enough,” he said. “I like to say all we’ve got is all we need.”
But he did admit there’s a toll that losing so many so soon can take.
“It creates a lack of depth,” Lynn said. “We can’t continue down this road. Right now, we’re pretty thin at certain positions.”
Austin Ekeler’s fumbles a concern
Among the many mistakes that cost the Chargers in their loss to the Lions, Austin Ekeler’s goal-line fumble in the third quarter particularly stood out.
The play marked his fourth career regular-season fumble. Ekeler also fumbled at the goal line in the preseason.
“It’s a concern because you don’t like to see patterns,” Lynn said. “But Austin’s a heck of a football player. He’s a smart young man. We have to learn from our mistakes.
“Unfortunately sometimes, that’s a process. You have to go through those growing pains when you’re a young player. But I believe he’ll learn from it and he’ll be a better running back because of it.”
Ekeler also fumbled on another notably frustrating afternoon for the Chargers, a 20-17 loss at Jacksonville in November of 2017.
Lynn said the defeat Sunday was reminiscent of that game and also the Chargers’ 23-22 home loss to Denver last season.
“For whatever reason, those types of games, they show up once a year,” he said. “I don’t like it, and it’s my job, when I see it happen, to stop it. Just didn’t get it done (Sunday).”
The Chargers lost two touchdowns against Detroit on plays that were nullified by penalties, a holding call on wide receiver Dontrelle Inman and an illegal block on tackle Sam Tevi.
Immediately after the game, Lynn was asked about the legitimacy of the infractions.
“I did not get a good look at them,” he said. “The guys upstairs did. They had their own opinion about those two calls.”
On Monday, Lynn admitted both penalties occurred, but he said they didn’t necessarily deserve flags.
“I can’t argue with the official on that,” he said of the call involving Tevi. “His hands were on his back. Did it affect the play? No. But his hands were on the defender’s back.”
Of the Inman play, he said, “You hate to see it called, but you can’t argue with the official because it was there.”