COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) Jason Verrett’s staggering accumulation of injuries over the past several years could have shaken anyone’s resolve to stick with football.
Instead, the Chargers‘ once-dominant cornerback is determined to get his game right back to where it was two seasons ago.
Verrett participated in a full practice during Los Angeles‘ minicamp Wednesday for the first time since last September, when he eventually lost a second consecutive season to a left knee injury. Verrett looked healthy and sharp while getting to know several teammates who weren’t around for his Pro Bowl season back in San Diego in 2015.
”It’s night and day different from last year,” Verrett said. ”I’m just happy to be able to move around. I feel solid.”
Verrett tore a ligament in his knee four games into the 2016 season, ruining his chance to establish himself as an elite NFL cornerback following his breakthrough in 2015. He made it through only the regular-season opener last year before his knee proved too painful, eventually requiring another surgery.
But after several months of rehabilitation, Verrett feels great and looks healthy. He’s looking forward to fighting for a job in the Chargers’ crowded secondary and putting together a season that could secure his future as a free agent next spring.
”Being out here, just seeing how deep we are at every position, it’s great,” Verrett said. ”Especially in the defensive room, we have so many guys that can play all over the field. Being able to get back to how I used to play, and adding that onto what we did last year, it can be special.”
Injuries have affected all of Verrett’s four seasons with the Chargers, who drafted the Northern California native in 2014 out of TCU, where he famously played his senior season with a torn labrum in his shoulder.
He played in only six games as a rookie, but made an interception in Oakland despite tearing his labrum again earlier in the game. He made the Pro Bowl in his second season with the Chargers, missing a mere two games with injuries.
And then Verrett’s knee gave out in October 2016. He never felt fully healthy last year despite the Chargers’ extreme caution with him in training camp and the preseason, and the pain eventually forced him to give up.
All told, Verrett has missed 39 of 64 possible regular-season games. It’s a source of frustration, but Verrett also sees his experience as a well of knowledge.
”I just think it’s part of my story,” Verrett said. ”I dealt with so much adversity getting here, and then the fact that I dealt with a lot of injuries, it’s kept me up to date. Whenever other people are going through injuries, I feel like I know so much. Tell them, `Hey, work on this,’ or `Work on that.’ I just feel it’s something the man above put on my plate so I’m able to be a gift for somebody else.”
Verrett isn’t a taller, bulkier cornerback in the more modern mold of the position’s archetype, but his speed and educated football instincts made him a standout when healthy. Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley sees Verrett rounding back into that form.
”Sometimes when you see a guy come back from an injury like that, it takes some time,” Bradley said. ”I don’t see it right now. The way he’s working out, the way he’s practicing, he’s in a really good place right now. … His skill set, what he has, his speed, his athleticism, his change of direction, it is elite.”
The Chargers showed their commitment to Verrett in April 2017 when they exercised his fifth-year contract option, but he returns to a roster with a well-stocked defensive secondary.
Casey Hayward earned a Pro Bowl selection last season as Los Angeles’ lockdown corner, while Trevor Williams emerged as a dependable starting corner and Desmond King excelled as a slot corner and nickel back. Starting safety Jahleel Addae played a major role in Verrett’s recovery by hitting his teammate with daily texts and steady encouragement.
The Chargers also used their recent first-round pick on Derwin James, who could be headed toward an immediate starting job at safety after getting major responsibilities in offseason practices.
It’s too early to say where Verrett fits into the mix, but he’s determined to find a spot while he plays for his future.
”They stuck with me throughout the entire time last year,” Verrett said. ”Being able to come out here, make a few plays and see all the guys cheering on and having that squad, it’s helping me get through my days.”
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