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Derwin James’ knee surgery means Chargers will be minus safety again this season

Chargers free safety Derwin James.
Chargers free safety Derwin James will have surgery on his right knee and miss the season.
(Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

The Chargers have lost standout safety Derwin James, likely for the season, because of a right knee injury that will require surgery.

The 2018 All-Pro went down Sunday during a scrimmage in Costa Mesa and hobbled off the field.

James underwent tests immediately afterward and again Monday, the latter round confirming the extent of the damage.

Pending the results of surgery, he is expected to need six to eight months to recover, meaning he should be ready for the 2021 season.

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The injury continued a tough stretch for James healthwise. He missed the first 11 games last year after hurting his foot in a joint training camp practice with the New Orleans Saints.

Before news of James missing the season broke late Monday afternoon, coach Anthony Lynn spoke with reporters and said he made a point to spend time with James after his latest injury.

The Chargers did not hold their first scrimmage at SoFi Stadium as originally scheduled Thursday in response to the Jacob Blake shooting.

“I just wanted to be there present with the young man,” Lynn said. “This could be tough for him. … He’s a strong-minded young man. He’s going to be fine.”

In replacing James, the Chargers have multiple options. Starting free safety Rayshawn Jenkins used to play strong safety. He could shift back to the position, with Nasir Adderley taking over at free safety.

Adderley was a second-round pick in 2019 out of Delaware and was expected to provide the Chargers with a much-needed ball hawk. But a hamstring injury limited him to four games last season, the majority of his time coming on special teams.

Desmond King, who has played mostly nickel in his career, also has trained at safety. He is coming off a down year after being an All-Pro in 2018. Rookie Alohi Gilman, a sixth-round pick in April, had been backing up James in practice.

“I like the depth we have in our secondary,” Lynn said. “We have to make some different combinations. We have some good players in that secondary.”

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James’ loss is a particularly tough one for a defense that is trying to bounce back from a season in which it produced only 14 turnovers, last in the NFL. James is one of the Chargers’ top playmakers. As a rookie in 2018, he started all 16 games and finished with a team-high 109 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. James started the Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro.

Chargers defensive back Desmond King.
Defensive back Desmond King, normally a slot cornerback, has played some safety for the Chargers.
(Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

“I’d say I’m a pretty passionate player, but he’s a passionate player as well,” Gilman said. “He comes to work with a lot of energy. He puts a lot of work in. … It’s pretty tough. My prayers go out to him.”

One possibility the Chargers apparently aren’t considering is free agent Earl Thomas, who was released by Baltimore last week. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Thomas would be familiar with the Chargers’ system since he played in the same one during his time with Seattle. Lynn downplayed the idea of signing Thomas.

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“We have a lot of guys in this camp that know our system really well,” he said. “Since you guys are consistently telling me how stacked we are in the secondary, why the hell would I be looking anywhere else?”

In September 2016, while playing at Florida State, James suffered what was reported to be torn meniscus in his left knee. He underwent surgery and initially was expected to miss five to seven weeks. He ended up not returning until the next season.

James’ foot injury a year ago knocked him out until Week 13. After returning in early December, he finished with 35 tackles in five games. The Chargers were 4-7 and essentially eliminated from playoff contention when James returned.

Shorthanded

The Chargers also are missing wide receiver Mike Williams, whose status for the start of the season is in doubt because of a shoulder injury. Williams is coming off his first 1,000-yard season and led the NFL with a 20.4-yards per-catch average in 2019.

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So, less than two weeks before their season opener Sept. 13 in Cincinnati, the Chargers are minus two of their most dynamic players, one on each side of the ball. And it doesn’t end there ...

Darius Jennings was among the Chargers who didn’t participate in the team’s light practice Monday. He is dealing with a leg issue that arose Sunday. Without Jennings and with Williams uncertain for the start of the season, the Chargers are left with a wide receiver group that includes Pro Bowl pick Keenan Allen and a lot of questions.

Two weeks into first NFL training camp, Chargers QB Justin Herbert continues transition from college star to pro prospect. He’s still getting accustomed to calls at line.

Jason Moore is the only other receiver on the roster with an NFL catch, and he has two, both last season. Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson also have been working with the first team in practice. Both were mostly practice squad players last season.

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The Chargers drafted two receivers in April — Joe Reed (fifth round, Virginia) and K.J. Hill (seventh round, Ohio State).

Perryman sits

Veteran linebacker Denzel Perryman did not play any defensive snaps in the scrimmage Sunday, something Lynn called a “coach’s decision.”

He was replaced by rookie Kenneth Murray Jr. at the starting middle linebacker spot. Murray was the 23rd overall pick in the 2020 draft.

“We know what Denzel can do,” Lynn said. “I wanted to see some of the younger guys play. … Denzel’s been sore a little bit too. So I’m watching his health.”

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Etc.

Lynn said the Chargers might return to SoFi Stadium for a workout before the start of the season. They were scheduled to scrimmage there last week, but the event was called off in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting. … Running back Justin Jackson was limited Monday because of a foot problem. … Lynn said right guard Trai Turner is OK after missing time Sunday because of a leg issue.


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