COSTA MESA, Calif. -- How do you replace Derwin James, one of the NFL's best safeties?
Short answer: You don't. So the Los Angeles Chargers will have to utilize more than one player to fill the void left by James, who will miss three to four months after having surgery to fix a stress fracture in his right foot.
"It's tough every time a guy goes down," Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa said. "Just how [DE] Isaac [Rochell] stepped up and filled [my] spot last year, we'll have another guy step up."
Just how good was James last season? He became the first rookie in Chargers history to be named first-team All-Pro. He led the Chargers by playing on 99% of defensive snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. James proved to be one of the more versatile defensive backs in football last season. He was the only defensive back with triple-digit tackles (105), multiple sacks (3.5) and multiple interceptions (3). And he played all over the field.
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will use a combination of defensive backs to take the place of James. Versatile safety Adrian Phillips likely will get the lion's share of the reps at strong safety. Phillips, entering his sixth year, broke out last season, finishing with 94 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. He filled in at outside linebacker during the second half of 2018 due to injuries at the position, playing a total of 638 defensive snaps, including seven starts.
Other players who can fill in at the safety position include slot defender Desmond King, who also earned All-Pro honors last season as a defensive back and a returner, and Rayshawn Jenkins, currently pegged as the team's starting free safety. Second-round pick Nasir Adderley and veteran Jaylen Watkins provide depth.
Although none of those players are as talented or as dynamic as James, they will allow Bradley to continue to play a similar, attacking defense focused on applying pressure on the quarterback and creating turnovers.
"It's never fun to hear that kind of news, especially about a guy like that and a player like that," said tight end Hunter Henry, who missed all but one game last season with an ACL knee injury. "He's a really great player.
"It has happened a lot to us over the years. It's a next-man-up mentality. I think you have to take that on. We're praying for him, hoping the best for him to bounce back as fast as he can."
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn echoed Henry's sentiments, anticipating more adversity as the season progresses.
"I tell myself every year that there will be three or four things that will happen that you don't expect that you have to overcome," Lynn said. "It's happening."