Chargers fullback Derek Watt is embracing budding role at tight end
It was only his ninth catch in 52 games, so Derek Watt wasn’t going to go down easily.
Instead, the Chargers fullback dropped his shoulders and plowed into Miami cornerback Eric Rowe.
“Anytime you get the ball in your hands, you have to try to make a play,” Watt said. “He was standing in my way, so I tried to make a play.”
The result Sunday was a 21-yard gain, the third-longest career reception for Watt, on a drive that ended with a touchdown en route to the Chargers’ 30-10 victory.
As a bonus, Rowe was penalized for lowering his head to initiate contact, even though he was the one who clearly absorbed the worst of the collision.
“I didn’t necessarily know what they called at the time,” Watt said. “Watching it on film, there was not much he could do, really. It wasn’t a dirty play by any means. It’s football. It’s tough. Technically, by rule, it’s a penalty.”
Melvin Ingram, Dontrelle Inman and Sean Culkin are the latest players to suffer injuries for a battered Chargers team aching to get healthy.
Watt is the classic throwback at his position and proud of it. He even owns a baseball cap that reads “Make Fullbacks Great Again.”
As such, he’s typically employed as a blocker, which makes any yardage he can produce an unexpected surprise.
Before the game against the Dolphins was over, he contributed in another way that no one foresaw — as a tight end.
After Sean Culkin suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon, Watt lined up for a few plays in the vacated spot, starting from a two-point stance just off the line of scrimmage.
“It looks very similar to what I do at fullback, so it’s not a big change,” Watt said. “There’s a lot of carryover. They called plays where I could go in there and do what had to be done without thinking too much about it.”
Injuries have forced the Chargers to lean heavily on contributions from players who normally don’t play big roles in the offense.
The Chargers have been stressing position versatility, particularly since the start of their most recent offseason program. Having more players who can line up at more positions is one way to combat injuries.
The team has suffered significant injuries and finished the game Sunday with only one healthy tight end. That was Lance Kendricks, who wasn’t even a Charger until two weeks ago.
“Derek has done a nice job of playing fullback and tight end,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “I tell him all the time, ‘You’re going to be our Dallas Clark.’ He can block on the line of scrimmage. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield.”
In recent weeks, Watt has been playing some tight end in practice, including working on the scout team. The idea was to prepare him for situations exactly like the one in Miami.
“The coaches have said they trust me to do it,” Watt said. “I’ve tried to continue to earn that trust. First and foremost, I have to do my [fullback] job. From there, if I can expand my role, I’m definitely going to try to do it.”
The Chargers lost starting tight end Hunter Henry to a knee injury after the season opener. Virgil Green moved into the lineup but sat out the Miami game because of a groin injury.
Culkin and Kendricks were splitting time Sunday until Culkin was injured after making a 12-yard reception early in the fourth quarter. The Chargers placed him on injured reserve Tuesday and promoted Stephen Anderson from the practice squad.
The 6-foot-3 Anderson has appeared in 28 NFL games, making five starts for Houston in 2017. He has 36 receptions for 435 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s crazy,” Watt said of the pieces the Chargers are without. “It’s obviously a physical game. But we’ve had some weird injuries and some really unfortunate ones.”
The Chargers brought back Antonio Gates just before the start of last season because of an injury to Henry. Even though Gates had publicly talked about wanting to continue playing, the team decided during the offseason to move on in 2019 from the 39-year-old franchise icon.
Geremy Davis emerging
The mounting injuries have given some Chargers reserves opportunities, and receiver Geremy Davis capitalized Sunday by catching two passes, doubling his career total.
Davis has emerged over the last two seasons as a dependable special-teams player but has had few chances on offense. His most recent reception had come Oct. 11, 2015, with the New York Giants.
“Geremy is another guy who works hard on this football team,” Lynn said. “These guys are out there every day. Geremy, I gotta kick him out of the building sometimes.”
Sharing the load
The Chargers worked in linebackers Drue Tranquill and Jatavis Brown on defense against Miami. Tranquill, a fourth-round draft pick in April, had played only on special teams. Brown, in his fourth year, had the start of his season delayed because of an ankle injury.
Veteran Thomas Davis, who is tied for seventh in the NFL in tackles, sat out 11 snaps Sunday. He played every defensive snap through the first three games.
“We want him for the long haul,” Lynn said. “You’re talking about a 36-year-old linebacker. He’s a good one. We want him for all 16 games. Whenever we can share his load with someone else, we’ll do it.”
The Chargers are looking at adding a kicker, with rookie free agent Chase McLaughlin the likely choice.
Ty Long has been kicking along with punting in the absence of Michael Badgley, who has yet to play this season because of a groin problem. Long hurt his left (non-kicking) foot Sunday while warming up in Miami. He was limping noticeably during the game but still made three field goals and three extra points without a miss.
McLaughlin, who played collegiately at Illinois, spent the preseason with Buffalo. He was three for three on field goals, with a long of 54 yards, and five for five on extra points.
The Chargers made a number of practice squad moves, adding defensive back Quenton Meeks, tight end Matt Sokol and defensive end Jeff Holland, and releasing offensive lineman Chris Brown and safety Adarius Pickett.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.