In the corner of the television frame, Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James grabbed his right knee, dropped to the ground and then jogged off the field. Teammates and coaches asked, in increasingly frenetic tones, “You got a cramp? Cramp? Tell me it’s a cramp!” as the Bolts’ only scrimmage of training camp took an ominous pause.
The season finale Tuesday of “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” captured the moment that James’ season effectively ended because of a tear of his meniscus in a noncontact injury late in camp.
An All-Pro during his rookie season in 2018, James missed 11 games last season because of a stress fracture in his right foot and will likely miss the entire 2020 schedule as well.
“It’s crazy,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said of James’ injury misfortune.
With no preseason games because of the coronavirus pandemic and a practice squad that expanded from 10 to 16 players in the event that a COVID-19 outbreak causes a need for roster reinforcements, cut day for the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers took on a different tone than in past seasons.
Undrafted free agents and rookies lacked the opportunity to put their skill sets on tape in live-action games, making it difficult for them to prove that they were worthy of a 53-man roster spot. However, with a larger practice squad, their chances of being retained in the organizations increased.
Here’s a look at this season’s “Hard Knocks” notables, players who were on the fringe of making the roster.
Donte Deayon, the Rams’ fun-loving, energetic cornerback who joked in Episode 1 about wanting a locker in the “suburbs” instead of the “projects,” did not make the 53-man roster. But don’t worry: An undrafted free agent in 2016, Deayon has found a way to stick in the NFL, bouncing from the New York Giants’ practice squad and active roster to the Rams’ squads last year. “This is tough for me because of the love I have for you and the respect I have for your game, too,” Rams coach Sean McVay said to Deayon as they discussed his release. Deayon cleared waivers and re-signed with the Rams’ practice squad. No word yet on where his locker is.
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) September 9, 2020
Clay Johnston, the Rams’ rookie linebacker who talked — a lot — was also among the players cut. But get this: Johnston, invited back to the practice squad, decided to sign with the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad. He’ll reunite with his former college coach, Matt Rhule, and his dad, Kent, who is the Panthers’ director of player wellness.
Darius Bradwell, the Chargers’ undrafted running back who entered camp 20 pounds overweight, learned the hard way that that’s no way to earn a six-figure salary, as Lynn told him. But Lynn also told Bradwell that he has a lot of potential. He just needs to learn how to be a pro, and the Chargers are willing to help him on their practice squad.
Breiden Fehoko, the Chargers’ undrafted defensive lineman who inspired teammates when he performed a Haka dance after practice during Episode 4, also did not make the cut.
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) September 2, 2020
Fehoko remained positive even upon the realization that, for the first time in his football career, he did not make the team.
“You ever been cut before?” Lynn asked. “First time,” Fehoko responded. “Yeah, it sucks. Doesn’t it?” Lynn said.
Indeed, there’s nothing like not quite reaching your goal. But the Chargers signed Fehoko to their practice squad, and he can rest easy knowing how proud he made his family. “I got fired, then rehired,” Fehoko said with a smile on a video call with his parents and siblings. “Just want to congratulate you, Breiden,” his mom said, crying tears of joy.