August 18, 2018.
It was then that Jaylen Watkins suffered an ACL injury in the Chargers’ second preseason game against the Seahawks and was subsequently placed on the reserve-injured list the following day.
Fast forward a year to the day, and Watkins not only had his first game action since the injury, but had a key red-zone interception in the second quarter.
It all came full circle for the safety.
“It’s good to see him healthy and back on the field,” Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn said of Watkins after Sunday’s game. “He’s a versatile athlete. He can play corner, he can play nickel, he can play safety and he does some things on special teams.”
“The biggest step for me (Sunday) was play one that I got on the field,” Watkins said. “Just seeing the process of re-thinking of all the rehab and all that and getting back out there. The first play I think I was out there with (Adrian) AP (Phillips) and all them, it just felt really good.”
Along with the pick, Watkins finished the game with one tackle on defense, one pass defensed and two tackles on special teams.
Watkins admitted he learned a lot over the past year. Specifically, he learned how to handle adversity.
“I have (handled adversity) in the past, but I’ll say this is the big one for me just because of the stigma behind an ACL (injury),” he mentioned. “I know guys right now that haven’t bounced back and texted me after the game just like, ‘It was great to see you out there. Wish I could.’ So, getting all that and inspiration from a couple guys in Philly that tore their ACLs last year. Just getting texts from them (and telling them), ‘keep pushing,’ and, ‘(I) appreciate you,’ because it’s giving them a chance to know they can come back and play.”
Watkins’ attitude is something that fellow safety Adrian Phillips recognized and realized it would take Watkins a long way.
“To come back on Sunday, have an interception, and play well — it was good for him,” Phillips said. “It was a big confidence builder for him. Some people, when they get hurt and say, ‘Why me?’ He went back to the drawing board, started working and made himself better than what he was before.”
Now healthy, Watkins is looking forward to the remainder of the preseason to show what he can bring to the secondary. One of the best parts about his game is his ability to play at multiple spots and he’s eager to showcase that over these next couple weeks.
“He’s a versatile guy,” Phillips explained. “At Florida, he played a bunch of positions, and then even at (the Philadelphia Eagles) he played a bunch of positions. To have that here is going to make our job a lot more manageable because we can still do the same things we want to do, and we can still get the same things done that we want to get done. It’s great having him.”
“Last year before I got hurt, I was playing a little bit strong safety, free safety, nickel,” Watkins mentioned. “Before Derwin (James) went down, again, I was playing at nickel and free. I’m pretty sure my reps at strong will increase, but they do a good job of cross-training a lot of us. Our defense is pretty symmetrical. A lot of us can be put in different spots and play well.”