Charg­ers not in the cor­ner mar­ket

With Hayward and Ver­rett, team should have it cov­ered in the de­fen­sive back­field.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike DiGio­vanna

It wasn’t a trick ques­tion, but it seemed to catch Gus Bradley off guard, so the Charg­ers de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor’s first re­ac­tion was to laugh out loud.

If both Charg­ers cor­ner­backs, Casey Hayward and Ja­son Ver­rett, are phys­i­cally sound, which one would cover the op­po­nent’s best re­ceiver?

“You know what? Right now, they’re play­ing left and right,” Bradley said af­ter a train­ing camp work­out in Costa Mesa this week. “You’re al­ways look­ing at things from game to game. You like to keep them left and right, but some­times it’s based on skill set and matchups. You have some flex­i­bil­ity.”

The skill sets of Hayward, a sev­enth-year pro out of Van­der­bilt, and Ver­rett, five years out of Texas Chris­tian, give Bradley and the Charg­ers a lux­ury few teams have: a pair of Pro Bowlers at a po­si­tion that ranks just be­hind quar­ter­back as the most de­mand­ing and dif­fi­cult in the NFL.

Ver­rett, 25, who is ex­pected to re­turn within a week from a knee in­jury that side­lined him for the fi­nal 12 games of last sea­son, earned the honor in 2015; Hayward, 27, earned it in 2016.

The Den­ver Bron­cos, with Aquib Talib and Chris Har­ris, are the only other team with two Pro Bowl cor­ners en­ter­ing this sea­son.

“Not many teams can say they have two Pro Bowl cor­ner­backs, and we’re one of them,” Hayward said. “I’m

def­i­nitely ex­cited. The things Ja­son does well on the field, a lot of peo­ple don’t do, and the things I do well, a lot of peo­ple don’t do. To com­bine those two, I think we have a chance to be re­ally good in the sec­ondary.”

The 5-foot-10, 188-pound Ver­rett is quicker, faster and more ex­plo­sive. He is com­fort­able press­ing a re­ceiver at the line of scrim­mage and track­ing him for the rest of the route.

The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Hayward is longer, more ex­pe­ri­enced and more fun­da­men­tally sound. He is a cagey de­fender who prefers to back off the re­ceiver at the line, read the quar­ter­back and, if pos­si­ble, jump the route.

Ver­rett, a first-round pick in 2014, opened last sea­son cov­er­ing the op­po­nent’s top re­ceiver but yielded that re­spon­si­bil­ity to Hayward af­ter suf­fer­ing a par­tial tear of the an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in his left knee in the fourth game.

“I think we com­ple­ment each other well,” said Hayward, a for­mer sec­ond-round pick who played four sea­sons (2012-2015) in Green Bay be­fore sign­ing with the Charg­ers in 2016.

“Ja­son can press. He can go out there and shut your best per­son down. I do both. I can press, and I can get the ball. I play off a lit­tle more than he does so I can see the ball come out.”

Hayward led the NFL with seven in­ter­cep­tions, re­turn­ing one for a touch­down, and was tied for sec­ond with 27 pass breakups in 2016. Ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, he al­lowed a 53.4 passer rat­ing when tar­geted, third-best in the league.

Big things are ex­pected of Hayward. The NFL Net­work ranked him 64th on its list of top 100 play­ers en­ter­ing this sea­son.

Ver­rett’s fo­cus is on re­gain­ing the form that made him one of the NFL’s top cor­ner­backs in 2015, when Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus ranked him 49th on its list of top 101 play­ers af­ter the sea­son.

Ver­rett had three in­ter­cep­tions, re­turn­ing one for a touch­down, 42 tack­les and was pe­nal­ized only three times. PFF praised Ver­rett for his “tight cov­er­age and making quick tack­les be­fore the first-down mark­ers” and gave him the high­est cov­er­age grade per snap among all NFL cor­ner­backs that sea­son.

“He has cov­er­age abil­ity and he’ll tackle,” Charg­ers gen­eral man­ager Tom Te­le­sco said. “His in­tan­gi­bles — how he car­ries him­self, his lead­er­ship abil­i­ties — are re­ally plus­plus. He’s got every­thing you’re look­ing for in a foot­ball player. … He’s a big part of this team. We need him.”

The Charg­ers ranked 29th in the NFL in points al­lowed last sea­son, giv­ing up an av­er­age of 26.4 points a game, and 20th in pass­ing yards al­lowed, yield­ing an av­er­age of 249 yards a game.

They were tied for first with 18 in­ter­cep­tions and fourth in turnovers caused (28), num­bers the Charg­ers hope to build on this sea­son with four cor­ner­stone play­ers — star Joey Bosa and Melvin In­gram, and Hayward and Ver­rett.

The unit should ben­e­fit from the chal­lenges it faces ev­ery day in camp, de­fend­ing vet­eran quar­ter­back Philip Rivers, run­ning back Melvin Gor­don, who is a pass-catch­ing threat, and stand­out re­ceivers Keenan Allen, Travis Ben­jamin, Tyrell Wil­liams and Don­trelle In­man.

“It can only help go­ing up against a fu­ture Hall of Fame quar­ter­back, a guy who’s been do­ing it for 14-plus years now, and Keenan and Tyrell, who have had 1,000-yard sea­sons, and Don­trelle ev­ery day,” Hayward said.

“Any time you have a chance to go against those guys and com­pete and make plays, you have a chance to be good. We have a chance to have a re­ally good sec­ondary and a re­ally good de­fense.”

Grant Halver­son Getty Images

right, led the NFL with seven in­ter­cep­tions last sea­son, and Ja­son Ver­rett picked off three passes. They each re­turned one for a touch­down.

Thearon W. Hen­der­son Getty Images

CASEY HAYWARD,

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