Injuries, COVID-19 leave Chargers defense short-handed

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers defensive lineup is in flux as preparations begin for Sunday night’s key AFC matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Coach Brandon Staley said on Wednesday that defensive end Jerry Tillery has tested positive for COVID-19 and that defensive tackle Christian Covington has had a positive result in two of his three tests.

Outside linebacker Joey Bosa was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a close contact.

Tillery is the third Los Angeles player in the past week that has had a positive test. Linebacker Drue Tranquill has been on the reserve/COVID-19 list since last Friday.

Bosa tested negative but is on the list because he is unvaccinated and a player in his position group tested positive. He must be away from the team for five days, but could be cleared to return Saturday, which gives him a chance to play on Sunday.

Staley said that Bosa has been compliant in the facility and practice field with the regulations in regards to unvaccinated players. Bosa has done a couple of in-person media availabilities without a mask, which could result in a fine by the NFL.

“The NFL has been here several times, including last week, to spot-check us. We have video cameras throughout the facility that specifically are looking for those types of people to be compliant,” Staley said. “I think that we’ve done a really good job here, with the Chargers, of putting the emphasis on this issue.”

The Chargers are also facing injury concerns with other starters on the defensive line. Linval Joseph did not practice because of a shoulder injury while Justin Jones was a full participant despite dealing with a knee issue.

The secondary is also short-handed. Cornerback Michael Davis has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury while safety Nasir Adderley was inactive last week because of an ankle issue. Both players returned to practice but were limited.

“We just have to move forward with the guys that we have, that we’ve been training. Fortunately for us, those guys have played in the games for us, so we have confidence in them because they’ve been out there,” Staley said.

Los Angeles will be facing a Pittsburgh offense that could be without Ben Roethlisberger, who has been in the league’s COVID-19 protocols since last Saturday. Mason Rudolph is on track to be the starter if Roethlisberger doesn’t play, but the Chargers are preparing for either scenario.

“I feel like you get a strong sense of how they play with Mason because you have last week to go over, and then last year when he was in the game — you have film of him playing in games,” Staley said. “They’re a similar style of players. Mason’s a big statured guy. He has a very good arm, has enough mobility, like Ben. I think that we have a good plan for both guys.”

A bigger concern is running back Najee Harris. The rookie is sixth in the league in rushing and will be the sixth running back ranked in the top 10 that the Chargers will face this season.

“I like Najee’s game. I feel like he’s a big guy. He runs hard, runs strong, and I feel like he’s going to have a great career in this league,” safety Derwin James said. “Every time we play it’s a tough challenge to bring them down. He’s another guy we have to beat to the ball.”

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