COSTA MESA – Chargers coach Anthony Lynn wasn’t ready to make a decision about whether to call Austin Ekeler and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. would trigger for Sunday’s road race against the Buffalo Bills, but he sparked some optimism.
“I won’t say there is a good chance, but there is an opportunity,” Lynn said on Friday afternoon of the two starting players.
Many Chargers fans were probably hoping to hear more optimism from Lynn after the team released the final injury report for week 12. Cornerback Casey Hayward and defensive goals Uchenna Nwosu and Melvin Ingram were ruled out.
The confidence came two hours after Lynn spoke to reporters, when the team announced that Harris had been activated for the 53-man roster. But to make way for Harris, the Chargers put Ingram on the injured reserve, who sidelined him for at least three games.
The Chargers will take on MVP candidate quarterback Josh Allen and his high-octane offense without their number 1 cornerback and two of their top three pass rushers, but they will at least have some reinforcements in Harris, their best slot cornerback.
Having Ekeler on the field to keep up with the Bills’ attack would certainly help, but Lynn will wait until Saturday afternoon to make that decision. Ekeler would return from the injured reserve this week. He hasn’t played since he injured his hamstring in Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’m just going to rely on the information I get from trainers, our doctors and watch these young men move on the field (Saturday) and see who can play and help us if they can play at all,” said Lynn.
Harris will likely count in the blink of an eye, as he hasn’t played since injuring his foot in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers. But his versatility as a cornerback who can play both inside and out will help Hayward sidelined due to a groin injury.
Hayward will miss his first game since 2013, when he was a sophomore player for the Green Bay Packers. He has played a streak of 106 consecutive games, the longest active streak among cornerbacks.
Tevaughn Campbell, who came in for Harris at cornerback, could see snaps as an outward cornerback, according to Lynn. Campbell had an interception return for a touchdown against the Jets last week and has impressed Lynn with his weekly improvements.
The Chargers will also get Brandon Facyson, who is expected to be off the COVID-19 reserve list, according to Lynn. Facyson hasn’t played against the Denver Broncos since week 8.
Lynn said that practice squad Jaylen Watkins could be promoted and involved in the cornerback’s rotation.
The Chargers secondary doesn’t have to worry about Bills’ speedy John Brown as he was ruled out with an ankle injury. But they’ll have their hands full with wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley. Diggs is third in the league with 906 receiving yards.
As for putting pressure on Allen, the Chargers will be defensively thin with Ingram and Nwosu out. The two edge rushers play the “LEO” position for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
Lynn said he will use a rotation of Joey Bosa, Jerry Tillery and Emeke Egbule for the LEO spot and will decide based on the hot hand. Bosa usually plays “big end,” and most of Tillery’s snaps have come as a defensive tackle this season, but Tillery played defensive end when Bosa was offside for two games with a concussion.
Egbule, a second-year player, was moved from linebacker to pass rusher this season.
“He hurt us a bit just because he didn’t know the (defensive end) techniques,” Lynn said of Tillery. “You go back to that game of Raiders, they served the defense a lot by his side. He’s improved a lot in that position since then, so I expect him to play even better. ”
Ingram was placed on the injured reserve for the second time this season due to the same knee injury. He missed games against the Panthers, Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints, but at least the Chargers had Nwosu to replace him on the starting line of defense.
Nwosu injured his shoulder last week and is expected to miss several weeks. This will be the first match missed for Nwosu since the Chargers called him up in the second round of USC’s 2018 draft.
“It’s an ongoing business and Melvin has fought through it,” Lynn said. ‘He’s a soldier. He has tried to play with it, but at this point it is best to give some rest. ”
Backsliding Kalen Ballage was considered questionable for Sunday after being limited by an ankle / calf injury throughout the week.
Ballage has been the leadback for the Chargers for the past three games. Joshua Kelley and Troymaine Pope are likely to split the carriers if Ekeler and Ballage are sidelined.
Bryan Bulaga right tackle came off the injury record and is expected to play after missing Thursday’s practice with a knee injury.
HERBERT WINS AGAIN
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert won the Pepsi Zero Sugar Rookie of the Week for the seventh time this season.
Herbert is two wins away from the draw of Ben Roethlisberger’s record for the most Rookie of the Week awards in a season. The Steelers quarterback won nine times in 2004.