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Chargers get star safety Derwin James back for Broncos game, but who else?

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. warmed up in Houston last week but was unable to play because of a hamstring injury.
Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. warmed up in Houston last week but was unable to play because of a hamstring injury. He will return Sunday to face Denver.
(Justin Rex / Associated Press)

The Chargers are playing for their playoff lives Sunday against Denver, coming off a bewildering loss and amid swirling uncertainty brought on by COVID-19.

All of which had coach Brandon Staley acknowledging how much is, indeed, beyond his team’s grasp right now.

“You can control your energy,” he said. “You can control your focus. You can control your togetherness. That’s what we’re going to focus on.”

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On Friday, starting tight end Jared Cook was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list, joining nine of his active-roster teammates. Staley said Cook is “unlikely” to play against the Broncos.

The Chargers still face several decisions on potential COVID activations for this weekend. Those who remain on the list include cornerback Chris Harris Jr., safety Nasir Adderley and right tackle Storm Norton, all starters.

Teams have until 1 p.m. Saturday to set their rosters.

Coming off a disappointing loss to the Texans, the Chargers are facing a must-win situation against a Broncos, a team they lost to earlier this season.

On the plus side for the Chargers, Pro Bowl safety Derwin James Jr. will return after sitting out two games and being limited in a third because of a hamstring problem.

James’ absence was glaring last weekend when the Chargers lost at Houston 41-29, a defeat that knocked them out of a postseason position. They now will need help to advance.

“I feel like we’ve stayed connected,” Staley said. “We’ve hung tough. I still think that our best is out there as a team.”

Kicker Dustin Hopkins and long snapper Matt Overton also remain on the COVID list, along with key reserves in edge rusher/linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. and safety Alohi Gilman.

Trey Pipkins III, the Chargers’ backup offensive tackle, also is on the COVID list. If Norton and Pipkins are unavailable, Staley said the Chargers would start rookie Brenden Jaimes against Denver.

A tackle in college at Nebraska, Jaimes has been moved to guard as a pro. Staley said the Chargers could shift Jaimes back to tackle Sunday or start him at left guard and move Matt Feiler to right tackle.

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners of Week 17 of the 2021 NFL season.

For the second consecutive week, the Chargers and their opponent are dealing with issues relating to the virus.

Over the last three days, Denver has put 13 players on the COVID list, including wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick, outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, right tackle Bobby Massie, cornerback Bryce Callahan and nose tackle Mike Purcell.

Broncos coach Vic Fangio told reporters Friday that wide receiver Courtland Sutton could be added to the list as well.

Denver also will be without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who remains out because of a concussion. Drew Lock will start in Bridgewater’s place.

Among the Chargers who sat out the game in Houston but have since returned from the COIVD list are edge rusher Joey Bosa and center Corey Linsley, both Pro Bowl selections. Running back Austin Ekeler and wide receiver Mike Williams, both Pro Bowl alternates, also are back.

Those four have been practicing this week, unlike the others who remain out. With the team anticipating activating more players Saturday, Staley said playing time could be adjusted as the game progresses.

“That’s going to have to be a minute-by-minute, play-by-play, series-by-series operation between the player and the coaching staff,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to have to really be connected and why several people within those position groups have to be ready to play.”

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The Chargers probably will be without starting inside linebacker Drue Tranquill, who suffered an ankle injury against Houston. If Murray clears COVID protocols, Staley said he’d replace Tranquill.

Also out for the Chargers is backup tight end Donald Parham Jr., who is on the injured reserve list because of a concussion.

That left Stephen Anderson and Tre’ McKitty as the only tight ends on the active roster Friday. Hunter Kampmoyer, a former teammate of quarterback Justin Herbert at Oregon, is on the practice squad.

The Chargers also could use fullback Game Nabers in some tight end situations against the Broncos.


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