Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot — the steps receiver Mike Williams has taken and will be taking on the field over the next few days could be life-changing for one of his teammates.
If Williams moves with ease, looking like the player who’d easily glide under one of Deshaun Watson’s passes while helping Clemson to a national title, the Chargers could gamble that their first-round pick could be on the field sooner than later.
They could decide the back injury that kept Williams off the field for all of training camp had improved enough to begin working him back into drills in practice, and eventually, into a game.
But if a step looks wrong, if a muscle tightens at the wrong time or if everything isn’t quite firing the way it should, the Chargers could press pause on his return — opening up a spot for someone else to earn an NFL paycheck.
Coach Anthony Lynn, general manager Tom Telesco and the team’s trainers will have to decide on a plan of action for Williams in the upcoming days — and it’s a high-stakes decision. Either they can keep Williams on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which would keep him off the field until the seventh week of the season, or they can bet on him being ready sooner — with the cost of a roster spot.
“He has a chance to continue to get better and play that fourth, fifth week,” Lynn said. “And if we put him down, we might not see him until midway through the season. That’s the decision we’re going to have make.”
Lynn said the Chargers’ depth at wide receiver — and every other position — will factor into the decision.
“I don’t want to … keep a guy up that’s not going to play for a few weeks if it’s going to hurt us at another position,” Lynn said.
It’s all part of the roster-building puzzle front offices have been trying to put together since the spring. Williams isn’t the only receiver on the roster with injury concerns. , entering his fourth year with the Chargers, isn’t on the practice field as he’s still working his way back from sports hernia surgery.
“He keeps coming back and he’s in and out, in and out,” Lynn said. “I just want to get him healthy.”
Inman’s most recent setback happened in the final week of training camp, when he groaned in pain while running. Instead of a post or a hook, Inman finished a route by heading straight to the trainer’s tent.
“It’s a process and I expected that,” Inman said. “Any time you have any kind of surgery, it’s still surgery. Surgery is surgery, and everyone’s body heals differently. It’s a process and mentally you have to be ready for it, so I prepared myself before a decision was made.
“…I’m actually feeling good right now. There have been some bumps in the road, but I’m feeling good.”
Inman knows what he needs to do in the final handful of days in order to be ready for the season, something Williams’ hasn’t done at the pro level.
And figuring how much Williams can do and when he can do it is the question the Chargers’ brass needs to figure out.
“It’s tough to be engaged when you don’t see yourself on the field, but he’s been engaged, asking questions, learning,” Inman said. “You’ve got to be ready no matter what. Being hurt is being hurt, but when your number is called and you’re out there, they expect you to perform.”
But first, they expect you out there.
The Chargers practiced without pads Tuesday, a trend Lynn would like to see continued into the season. “I would like to do that more, but as I get to know this team, I’ll figure that out,” Lynn said. “I think you can get a lot done without pads on but you have to know how to practice. That’s a skill to do that. I’m trying to teach that skill.” … First-team cornerback and right tackle are both “good,” according to Lynn, and appear on track to play in the season opener on Sept. 11. …Rookie Desmond King might have a future at free safety, but in the short term the Chargers aren’t putting too much on his plate. “I do feel like Desmond can go back there, but right now, we’re really focused on him at the nickel spot,” Lynn said. “He’s done such a good job there. I think that’s his niche right now — nickel and special teams.”