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Which Young Playmakers Will Make Their Mark in Season Finale?
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It’s no secret the Chargers have suffered a rash of injuries this season decimating their ranks.
While it’s difficult to see a silver lining when players go down, it’s undeniable that injuries do yield opportunity.
Some young playmakers like Denzel Perryman, Kyle Emanuel and Jerry Attaochu have been able to play significant snaps the majority of the year. Now, with one game remaining in 2015, even more will have a chance to make their mark in the season finale.
That is especially the case for the Chargers defense as Eric Weddle, Sean Lissemore and Darrell Stuckey joined Corey Liuget, Brandon Flowers and four other defenders on the “Reserve-Injured” list this week.
Already given increased roles down the stretch, many of these youngsters have already flashed.
One such player is Damion Square, who was claimed off waivers last season by the Kansas City Chiefs in November but remained inactive the entire year. Released after the final preseason game in September, he was a member of the practice squad before being promoted Week 9 vs. the Chicago Bears. In five games, the 6-2, 293-pounder has posted four tackles and two pressures, but his impact has gone far beyond his stats.
“He’s a guy that’s always been a great technician,” Defensive Coordinator John Pagano said. “He plays with good fundamentals, sound pad level, is strong and can eat up double teams. It’s something he’s always had a knack for and good awareness. The thing with Damion is taking advantage of that opportunity. He’s had a great opportunity, and we like how he’s playing right now.”
Adrian Phillips is another Charger who has bounced between the practice squad and active roster. After appearing in three games last year, the safety has played in eight games this season with one start, totaling 16 tackles and one tackle for loss. Phillips figures to see the biggest uptick in playing time this Sunday with both Weddle and Stuckey on IR, and Head Coach Mike McCoy is fully confident he’ll continue to make the most of his opportunity.
“He’s done a great job. He’s been in (Weddle’s) hip pocket, and been his caddie the entire time he’s been here. I think (it’s impressive) when you have a young player like Adrian that learns from a veteran, and does everything the right way with attention to detail. The extra work he always puts in whether in the weight room, the practice field or the film room. Even when he was on the practice squad, you see the way he is on game day and things like that. He’s learned to be a true pro, and I’m very happy for him for the opportunity he’s had to play with us on the active roster.”
“Number one, he’ really smart,” Pagano added. “He does a great job of all the calls of being able to communicate. He gave us the ability (where) he is a real pro. He’s learned. He played the nickel for us last week. It’s unfortunate on that third down he tipped the ball that the receiver (still was able to catch), but it shows the awareness of all those guys in the back end about having the ability to know what everybody’s job is. How other guys play it. At times you’re going to have to go do those things, and I was proud how (he) responded.”
Two draft choices battling injuries have also seen an uptick in playing time. Third-round pick Craig Mager has been hampered by an ailing hamstring that’s limited him to just nine games and one start. The cornerback has posted 10 tackles and two passes defensed in limited action. Meanwhile, sixth round pick Darius Philon suffered a hip injury in practice prior to Week 5 that forced him to go on IR; Designated to Return. In seven games, the defensive end out of Arkansas has six tackles, one tackle for loss, three pressures and two QB hits while rotating in and out up front.
“He’s doing (well, but) there’s always that learning curve for a rookie,” Pagano said of Philon. “Just going out there and being able to get his feet wet to do the things he needs to accomplish. But the one thing about him is he’s got his strength back. He’s big and he’s physical. He can create speed to power, as you saw on his sack he had a couple games ago that was unfortunately taken away from him (for a teammate’s penalty). But it’s a great accomplishment that shows the work ethic. It’s unfortunate (because) it would have been nice to have him for all 16 games.”
Meanwhile, Greg Ducre has spent the vast majority of the past couple seasons on the Bolts’ active roster and practice squad. After appearing in five games with one pick last season with the Washington Redskins, he saw the first true significant action with the Chargers at cornerback last week against the Oakland Raiders. The 5-10, 183-pounder impressed Pagano, who said he didn’t alter his game plan one bit with him on the field.
“He did great. I would have loved it if he didn’t slip on the tackle toward our bench on that third down, but I thought he was awesome. I thought he was outstanding. I love how he competes. I love how he’s a great competitor of just ‘give me that opportunity.’ I didn’t blink. The biggest thing in this profession is about trust. It’s trusting the guys out there on the field to do their job. It’s the 11 out on the field trusting one another. They have the utmost respect and trust in a young player like that.”