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Next man up
SAN DIEGO – Scott Mruczkowski is the backup center, though there’s a chance he could be the starting guard on Sunday.
He hasn’t practiced much at guard in recent seasons and has started just one NFL game at the position. So when Louis Vasquez (ankle) went down against Oakland on Thursday and Mruczkowski found himself lined up against a stout defensive line with the Chargers trailing, he didn’t face the most favorable work conditions.
Something similar applied to Brandyn Dombrowski, who has filled in for Marcus McNeill (stinger) a few times in the last two years but has played next to Kris Dielman (concussion), not Tyronne Green.
With three starters missing, the offensive line that finished the game against the Raiders never has played in a game together.
Although Head Coach Norv Turner said San Diego allowed too many sacks (six) and too much pressure on Philip Rivers, a full week of practice that began Monday will allow backups more prep time if they’re called upon again Sunday in Chicago.
Takeo Spikes (concussion) also left the game Thursday, forcing San Diego’s defense to adjust to someone else getting the front seven aligned pre-snap. The defense continues to operate without season-opening starters Bob Sanders (knee), Luis Castillo (tibia) and Shaun Phillips (foot). Sanders and Larry English (foot) both are on Reserve-Injured.
The Chargers insist, though, that they’ve handled these challenges in the past and point to examples of other teams facing similar issues. The team simply didn’t do as well facing those circumstances against Oakland as it needs to.
“We didn’t respond as well Thursday night (to injuries) as we have in the past but those guys are going to get a lot more chances to play and they’re going to go perform at a high level,” Turner said.
The team did not release an injury report Monday, but Turner said Dielman is unlikely to play this week and acknowledged McNeill did not practice.
“I think (this week) allows some of these guys that had to get thrown in there all the sudden, they get to practice all week in case they’re called on again,” Rivers said.
BACK TO WORK: The Chargers’ players benefitted from three days away from the practice field after a brutal stretch of three games in 11 days.
“That schedule was grueling,” Turner said. “It does take a toll. I think having the three days off for the players was important physically and mentally. And now we have a seven-game schedule.”
WILD WEST: Oakland (5-4) holds a one-game lead over the other three AFC West teams with seven games to play.
Denver beat Kansas City, 17-10, on Sunday to move into a tie with the Chiefs and Chargers for second place. The Broncos, though, lost running back Knowshon Moreno (ACL) for the season.
Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel, meanwhile, suffered a significant hand injury that will require surgery, the Chiefs announced Monday. Tim Tebow replaced Kyle Orton in Denver and the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer after Jason Campbell broke his collarbone.
That leaves San Diego as the only team in the division that hasn’t gone through a quarterback change, but Philip Rivers has tied a career high with 15 interceptions through nine games, further underscoring the unpredictable nature of football.
The Chargers are 2-2 in the division and still host Denver (Nov. 27) and travel to Oakland (Jan. 1).
“As tough as it’s been, it’s wide open,” Rivers said of the AFC West.
“It’s a rough time in the win-loss column the last few weeks and rough in other ways as well, but we’ve got to battle through it.
“We keep talking about getting on a roll, but we’ve just got to win a football game. It’s been a long time, Oct. 9, since we’ve won. We need to go win a game.”