The Chargers added defensive end Christian Covington to the COVID-19 reserve list Wednesday, stressing their thinned-out defense even more.
Preparing to play Pittsburgh on Sunday night at SoFi Stadium, the Chargers are dealing with significant issues on the defensive line, most of which are coronavirus-related.
Edge rusher Joey Bosa and tackle Jerry Tillery went on the COVID-19 list Tuesday. Tackle Linval Joseph also missed practice Wednesday because of a shoulder injury.
Coach Brandon Staley said Bosa is a close contact to Tillery, who tested positive. He said Bosa has tested negative and that both Bosa and Tillery are “feeling well,” indications that the pair still could play Sunday.
Their availability — along with that of Covington — figures to remain uncertain until later in the week. The soonest Bosa, who among the three players is the only one unvaccinated, could rejoin the team is Saturday.
Linebacker Drue Tranquill also is “trending positive,” Staley said. He was placed on the virus list last week.
The addition of Bosa made the biggest news for the Chargers. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler and leads the team with 5.5 sacks.
“I know that Joey has been extremely compliant here at the facility and on the practice field,” Staley said. “I know that we’ve been extremely diligent within our protocols.”
Bosa has met in-person with the media without wearing a mask, an apparent violation that could lead to a fine from the league.
Staley said an NFL representative has visited the Chargers’ Costa Mesa training facility for coronavirus protocol spot checks “several times” this season, including as recently as last week.
The league also can monitor the activities of team personnel via video cameras that are installed in the headquarters of all 32 clubs.
“We’ve done a really good job here of putting the emphasis on this issue,” Staley said. “Now, we’re just going to try to keep it moving and keep our environment here at the facility safe.”
Staley said the Chargers have been conducting full-team meetings outdoors and have organized activities like weight-lifting sessions and position-group meetings appropriately.
He said he believed the latest situation developed in the Chargers’ SoFi Stadium locker room Sunday when they played the Vikings.
“I’m very comfortable with how we’ve addressed things,” Staley said. “Our guys are doing an excellent job. I think it’s been a strength of our team, how we’ve handled it from the springtime to now.”
Before facing COVID-19 concerns, the Chargers were dealing with numerous injuries in their secondary.
Starting cornerbacks Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr. and starting safety Nasir Adderley have missed time. So have backup safeties Alohi Gilman and Mark Webb Jr.
Samuel returned from concussion protocol Sunday against Minnesota. Davis (hamstring) and Adderley (ankle) were limited in practice Wednesday. Gilman (quadriceps) and Webb (knee) sat out.Starters Justin Jones (tackle) and Uchenna Nwosu (edge rusher) both practiced Wednesday. Jones was a full participant, though he was listed on the injury report with a knee issue.
The Chargers’ other current available players up front include Joe Gaziano and Breiden Fehoko inside and Kyler Fackrell and Chris Rumph II outside. Fehoko was signed off the practice squad Wednesday.
Inside linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. also can play on the edge, where he appeared for the first time as a pro Sunday.
The Chargers’ practice squad includes defensive tackles Forrest Merrill, Caraun Reid and Andrew Brown and edge rusher Emeke Egbule.
Merrill and Egbule both have been active for games this season and Reid, who signed Wednesday, is an eight-year NFL veteran. He appeared in seven games for the Chargers in 2016.
“Those guys have played in games,” Staley said. “We kind of know who they are, know their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a good group of guys, and we’ll put a good plan together for them.”
The uncertainty along the defensive front comes as the Chargers have improved against the run. They still rank last in the league, giving up 155.1 yards per game, but have held their past three opponents to 3.8 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh has the NFL’s 26th-ranked rushing attack. Najee Harris is eighth league-wide (71.8 yards per game) but averages only 3.7 yards per attempt.
The Steelers also are operating under a COVID-19 cloud. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on the list and missed a game Sunday against Detroit. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was added to the list Monday.
If Roethlisberger can’t play, third-year backup Mason Rudolph would start against the Chargers. Rudolph has started 10 games in his career filling in for Roethlisberger. Staley called the two Steeler quarterbacks “similar style players.”
“Fortunately for us, we’ve seen him in games,” Staley said of Rudolph. “So we have a good idea of how he plays and his style of play, his mannerisms and some of those game-day differences between him and Ben.”
Justin Jackson (quadriceps) was limited in practice, Staley indicating the reserve running back is probably “a week away” from playing. Defensive back Trey Marshall (ankle) did not practice.