COSTA MESA, Calif. — Virgil Green is used to trading personal gain for the success of the team.
In his first season with the Los Angeles Chargers, the veteran tight end’s unselfishness might be exactly what is needed following the loss of emerging star Hunter Henry to a serious knee injury.
“This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it’s always ‘next man up’ mentality,” Green said following the first day of mandatory minicamp Tuesday. “Everybody in that room has to contribute, whether you are No. 1 on the depth chart or last on the depth chart.”
Henry sustained a torn ACL in practice last month, leaving Green as the only tight end on the roster that has caught a pass in an NFL game and drastically changing his role for the upcoming season. Green, who signed with the Chargers as a free agent in March after playing seven seasons for the Denver Broncos, had been expected to serve mainly as a blocking complement to Henry.
Instead, Green might finally get his chance to be used more in the passing game, especially in the red zone. It was how Green was expected to be featured coming out of college at Nevada, but he never caught more than 22 passes in a season, with 48 of his 71 career receptions coming in the past three.
The chance to play a more prominent role is refreshing to Green, who has four career touchdown catches.
“I’ve made a living blocking when there were times I thought I should have been running routes, but I kept my mouth shut and did what I was supposed to do, won a lot of games in Denver, and I hope to bring that here,” Green said. “Obviously, who doesn’t want to catch touchdowns? I want to catch 10 touchdowns if I could, but whatever this team needs me to do to win games, that’s all I want to do.”
With Henry expected to miss the entire upcoming season, the Chargers will use a heavy dose of three-receiver sets highlighting 1,300-yard standout Keenan Allen and a diverse crop of talents including former first-round pick Mike Williams, who could be another big-bodied option near the goal line. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt praised the selfless nature of the wide receivers, and Green is trying to do his best to impart the same collective spirit to the tight ends.
Whisenhunt recognizes it has been a challenge for Green to help the other six tight ends on the roster while learning the offense for the first time. But Green carries the authority from his time at an AFC West rival to help the group, which includes four rookies and two players in their second seasons, on how to approach life in the NFL.
“I’ve been in your position before,” Green said. “Every year they said, ‘Oh, this guy, he’s not going to make the roster.’ But somehow I made the roster. Don’t stress about what’s said on the outside. Just focus on your job. Do what you do, and go have fun.”
Whisenhunt likes what he has seen so far from the untested tight ends behind Green, but recognizes a better evaluation will come during training camp and preseason games.
“The real test comes when we put the pads on and we see how they can hold up in the blocking and what we’re asking them to do there, but we have good competition with that group,” Whisenhunt said.
For Green, he is excited for the chance to help the Chargers get back into the postseason for the first time since 2013. He realizes how close they were to that goal last season while splitting the two-game season series with the Broncos.
“I know what it takes, what it takes for a team to go to the playoffs and be successful, and my role is just to do whatever this team needs me to do, whatever they need,” Green said. “I’m just focused on ending my career with a bang.”
NOTES: Cornerback Jason Verrett (left knee) went through team drills for the first time since undergoing season-ending surgery last September. … Defensive tackle Corey Liuget did not participate as he recovers from foot surgery, but coach Anthony Lynn expects him to be available for training camp.
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