Tyrell Williams called his good friend and fellow wide receiver Stevie Johnson the other night to find out how his surgery went.
Johnson didn't even answer his question. Instead, he gave the wideout a pep talk about stepping up to fill his role.
"I asked him how it went and he just told me it's time to go," Williams said. "He never even (acknowledged) the surgery. He was focused on telling me to be ready and have a good season. It stings that he won't be out there on the field. It's hard to describe what he brought to us, which was a cool confidence. It's a big blow, but I think we'll be able to rally around it."
Mike McCoy confirmed Thursday afternoon that Johnson will miss the 2016 campaign following his knee injury on the second day of camp. The head coach passed along the receiver's message to the entire time after, which is similar to what Williams conveyed.
"I had a great conversation with Stevie about what happened and his mindset last night," he said. "Like I told the team, he said to me (how) it's an opportunity for somebody to step up. It's dead on. That's perfect right there. And that's the message he wanted me to relay to the team. We are going to miss him playing with us but give him credit for his mindset. …We are going to figure out who will fill that role over time and how we are going to serve different personnel groups."
Who will fill Johnson's role will likely be determined over the next few weeks, including the four preseason games starting Saturday in Tennessee. However, it won't just be the wide receivers who must pick up the slack with Johnson sidelined, as the team has always been creative about getting the ball to running backs like Danny Woodhead and to tight ends including Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry.
Still, it's only natural to focus on wide receivers. Candidates include cagey veterans like recently signed James Jones and up and comers earning praise over the start of training camp including Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Isaiah Burse and many others. No matter who emerges, Philip Rivers has proven in the past that he will trust them to make a play.
Williams is one player who has seen increased time with the first team following Johnson's injury on the second day of training camp. It's clear that number 17 believes he is ready to answer the call.
"Each day you are seeing Tyrell make plays," he said. "He is getting more confidence, and a belief and trust that he can make (a big play) and will make it. He's off to a heck of a start. It's been a good training camp so far for him, and now he'll have these preseason games where he can get in the flow. There is no doubt in my mind Tyrell is going to be a factor for us this season."
Another wideout who has proven ability is James Jones. The 32-year old has caught 433 passes for 5,861 yards and 51 touchdowns in 136 career games. He appeared in all 16 games for the Green Bay Packers last season, posting 50 receptions to lead the team in receiving yards (890) and touchdowns (eight).
"James again is a guy who has been in Green Bay obviously (most of his) career. He has been in a certain system, so I think he is still learning how we do things (with) all the different route combinations. He is improving every day as far as that goes."