Chargers’ Mike Williams filling void as Keenan Allen nears return

COSTA MESA — Injured wide receiver Keenan Allen warmed up with his teammates, caught a few passes and then did some easy running along the sideline as the Chargers’ wrapped up the individual drills portion of their practice, the part that reporters were granted access to Wednesday.

Those were Allen’s first tentative steps toward playing his first game since injuring his hamstring in the Chargers’ season-opening victory Sept. 11 over the Las Vegas Raiders at SoFi Stadium. It remains to be determined whether he’ll play Monday against the Denver Broncos.

“He’s still day to day, but he’ll be out there in individual (drills) and he’ll be able to test it out and see how things are going,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said before practice. “He’s been feeling better and he’ll at least be able to get out there in his helmet and do some football stuff.”

Allen’s absence the past four games could have caused the Chargers’ offense to go off the rails, but it hasn’t in large part because Mike Williams has moved swiftly to fill the void. Williams has become Justin Herbert’s top target in the past two games, both victories.

Williams caught a career-high 10 passes for a season-best 134 yards in the Chargers’ victory Sunday over the Cleveland Browns, one week after he had seven receptions for 120 yards in their win over the Houston Texans. Overall, he has 28 catches for 392 yards and two touchdowns.

It appeared Williams had caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Herbert in the third quarter Sunday, but after a video replay it was determined Williams’ heel was out of bounds as he hauled in the ball and the on-field ruling was reversed. No matter, Austin Ekeler scored on a run on the next play.

Later, with the Chargers clinging to a 30-28 lead, Herbert tried to connect with Williams on a fourth-and-one play at their own 46. Williams’ route was good and so was Herbert’s pass, but Cleveland defensive back Martin Emerson Jr. deflected the ball at the last possible moment.

Without Allen, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, Williams was the go-to wide receiver in that situation. Had he caught the ball, he might have run it all the way into the end zone for a game-clinching score. The Browns had the play covered perfectly, however.

In the end, the Chargers managed to hang on for a 30-28 victory that moved them past the .500 mark to 3-2.

So, where would the Chargers be without Williams heading into Week 6? No question his impact has been great in Allen’s absence, although he did sit out practice Wednesday because of an illness that’s not believed to be serious. The Chargers are off Thursday and back on the practice field Friday.

“You can’t minimize it,” Staley said of Williams influence. “When you lose someone as special as Keenan Allen, it’s hard to replicate that type of production, especially when the coverage can tilt toward a player. That’s why it’s been important for us to be able to run the football, stay balanced and make sure that we force the defenses to defend everybody.

“We’re a much better team when Mike touches the ball and when we can get to him a lot of different ways. I think that that’s what we’ve been able to do. He’s just really playing well. He’s improving. He just has to stay with it because that type of improvement leads to (good) results.”

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Right tackle Trey Pipkins III didn’t practice after suffering a sprained MCL during Sunday’s game. Staley said Pipkins would practice later this week, but with days off Tuesday and Thursday, it seemed the prudent plan would be to give Pipkins an extra day of rest and recovery Wednesday.

“We’re going to try and take advantage of (Wednesday) and (Thursday) to try and get him back out there full-speed for Friday’s practice,” Staley said of Pipkins, who yielded to Storm Norton for only five plays after he was injured before returning to the game with a brace on his knee.

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