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.”
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.
While none of those players are as talented 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, saying that he anticipates his team will have to face even 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.”