The “next man up” mantra is a common rallying cry for all teams during the rigorous NFL season. Injuries are inevitable, and some teams are more prepared for them than others.
For the 2018 Chargers, depth comes with starter-level experience at several key positions. Let’s take a look at five players that, when called upon, have proven to be reliable NFL first-teamers.
CB Trevor Williams: When Jason Verrett was lost for the 2017 season (knee) after Week 1, cornerback Trevor Williams was responsible for replacing his Pro Bowl counterpart for the final 15 games. With just five career starts under his belt, it was reasonable to wonder whether Williams, an undrafted free agent with limited NFL snaps, would be able to hold his own on the other side of the team’s other Pro Bowl cornerback, Casey Hayward.
Williams not only kept up, he played well enough to be recognized by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the 10th-highest graded cornerback in the league (88.5). His 13 passes defensed and two interceptions helped the Chargers finish with the NFL’s No. 3 passing defense.
With Verrett slated to return in 2018, the 24-year-old Williams gives the Chargers three cornerbacks with at least 20 career NFL starts. In a league where teams can never have enough quality corners, Los Angeles has the ability to go four-deep at the position when also factoring in second-year player Desmond King. The 2017 fifth-round pick made four starts last season as a rookie and appeared in all 16 games.
C Spencer Pulley: The Chargers’ offensive line gave up the fewest sacks in the NFL last season (18). While that statistic can also be attributed to quarterback Philip Rivers’ ability to get rid of the football, the fact remains it was the fewest times No. 17 has never been sacked in a single season.
Perhaps the Chargers’ biggest offseason move was the signing of center Mike Pouncey to further bolster the unit. Pouncey, a three-time Pro Bowler, had 93 starts in seven seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
That leaves Spencer Pulley, who started all 16 games for the Chargers last season, as Pouncey’s backup. Pulley can also play guard when needed. At the beginning of organized team activities, Rivers praised the job that Pulley did in 2017 and expressed the importance of having two dependable centers.
“If you go back years, we had Scott Mruczkowski behind Nick (Hardwick), and how valuable that was to have a center that you knew played and knew it all,” Rivers explained. “So to have Spence in the fold is a big plus also.”
Los Angeles is the only NFL team to currently roster two centers that started every game in 2017.
G/T Michael Schofield: One of the most valuable traits an offensive lineman can possess is positional versatility. In Michael Schofield, the Chargers have a player who can step in at either guard or tackle.
In four NFL seasons (three with the Denver Broncos), Schofield has 34 career regular season starts. He also started all three of the Broncos’ postseason games in 2015 at right tackle, including Super Bowl 50.
Schofield filled in five games for the Chargers at right tackle last season in place of an injured Joe Barksdale. He signed a two-year deal with the team this offseason.
DB Adrian Phillips: Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley opted to play with six defensive backs quite a bit last season. NFL Films’ Greg Cosell took notice, specifically of No. 31 in the secondary.
“I remember watching Adrian Phillips at Texas and thinking ‘there’s a place in the league for this guy,’” Cosell said back in February at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Now, I didn’t know exactly how it was going to play out, but I thought he was a really nice dime defensive back, and they were a predominant dime team. They didn’t play a ton of nickel.”
According to Football Outsiders, Phillips was on the field for 49.5 percent of the Chargers’ defensive snaps in 2017. Yes, there were injuries at the linebacker position, but Phillips flashed when given his opportunity. Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come.
“In this era of football where running backs as receivers are so critical, and where you work the middle of the field against inside linebackers, [Bradley] may decide that Adrian Phillips is a better option, or that kind of player is a better option than another linebacker,” Cosell said.
Phillips signed a one-year deal this offseason. The five-year veteran started four games and played in 15 last season.
TE Virgil Green: Hunter Henry’s season-ending knee injury during OTAs was a blow to an offense that had grand plans for one of the NFL’s top young tight ends. And while there is no silver lining to a player injury, the Chargers are fortunate to have signed a veteran tight end with postseason experience this offseason.
Virgil Green started 49 games for the Broncos over the last seven seasons, including 16 starts in 2017. Green was also a member of the Denver’s Super Bowl 50 team. Primarily known for his run blocking, he should get opportunities to flash his potential in the passing game during training camp. It’s not all on him, though.
“It’s next man up,” Green said during minicamp last month. “Everyone in that room has to contribute. Whether you’re No. 1 on the depth chart or last on the depth chart, you got to contribute to the team in some way and that’s the motto we have.”
The Chargers’ 2018 training camp schedule is official, so mark your calendars to watch the Bolts prepare for the upcoming season! The team will hold 14 practices open to the public between July 28 and August 23. For more information, please visit www.chargers.com/camp.