Half of Las Vegas’ 22 starters on Sunday against the Chargers will be different than when those teams finished the 2021-22 regular season against each other in January.
The Raiders will also have a new coaching staff led by Josh McDaniels.
The Chargers will also look different, including a player who started this game in Las Vegas on January 9th. Safety Derwin James Jr. arrived at the team’s facility this week with a very eye-catching haircut, his short dreadlocks replaced with a soft buzz.
“I just wanted to make it a little bit cleaner,” James explained on Wednesday. “I want to go back to the real DJ3.”
James will also debut his new jersey number on Sunday after switching from the No. 33 he wore in his first four years in the NFL to the No. 3 he wore in Florida state. James said college was the last time his hair was that short.
“I feel great,” he said. “I’m healthy, ready to go. … I can’t wait to go. It’s like the first day of school.”
The Chargers and Raiders produced epic theater at their last meeting. Daniel Carlson kicked a 47-yard field goal when overtime was up for a 35-32 win in Las Vegas.
The result — on a Sunday night in the last game of the league’s regular season — kept the Chargers out of the playoffs when they could have qualified with nothing worse than a tie.
The Raiders went into the postseason only to lose in Cincinnati the next weekend.
Still, both teams have changed significantly in the eight months since. Six of the Chargers who started this 2021 Finals are no longer on the team. They have 22 new players in their 53-man roster.
“I think for those of us that were at that game, that was such a tough thing as how you face as a competitor,” said Chargers coach Brandon Staley. “But a lot has happened since then.
“Competition is about moving forward and being ready for what’s right in front of you. We’ve been working hard on that throughout the off-season, throughout training camp and preparing for this week.”
The Chargers open the season with a challenging short haul. After facing Las Vegas, they travel to Kansas City for another AFC West game just four days later.
Jackson doesn’t practice
Cornerback JC Jackson did not train as he continues to recover from surgery on his right ankle.
Staley said Jackson took off his walking shoes and went for a little run on Tuesday. He called the veteran defender “day by day” before adding that “things are very positive”.
Jackson’s surgery was Aug. 23, after which the Chargers announced he would return in two to four weeks. Wednesday marked two weeks and one day.
Given the schedule, the expectation was that Jackson would likely be unavailable for week 1. But Staley said he doesn’t think a final decision on Jackson’s status will be made until Sunday.
There were at least two reports Wednesday that Jackson was scheduled to sit out the game against the Raiders. If Jackson is out, Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr. will be the Chargers’ best outside cornerbacks, with Bryce Callahan in the slot.
“The really positive thing is that we played with everyone in the secondary school,” Staley said. “We know exactly how to use them. I think that’s the exciting part. For us as coaches that is the comfort.”
Additions for Las Vegas last season include receiver Davante Adams, an All-Pro for the last two seasons. Adams is the kind of wideout the Chargers could potentially assign Jackson for most snaps.
Captains of the Chargers
James and quarterback Justin Herbert were among eight players chosen by their teammates to be captains for the season.
The others included edge rushers Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, defenseman Sebastian Joseph-Day, wide receiver Keenan Allen, running back Austin Ekeler and center Corey Linsley.
Mack and Joseph-Day both joined the Chargers during the offseason.
“Super grateful for the guys here who just give me a hug and welcome,” said Joseph-Day. “I’m sure I won’t disappoint her.”
Tight end Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring) was restricted in practice. … The Raiders had no players listed in their initial injury report.
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