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O-line is in Flux, but Faith in Unit Remains
Since the first day of OTA’s in the offseason, the San Diego Chargers have preached versatility along on the offensive line. They made sure everyone, from the starters to the reserves, got plenty of reps as you never know who will be thrust into which position at a moment’s notice.
With the Dallas Cowboys on the horizon, the state of the offensive line is in flux as players deal with a litany of injuries. While D.J. Fluker has returned to his right tackle spot after missing the Titans game with a concussion, unfortunately, Jeromey Clary, King Dunlap and Chad Rinehart have all missed this week of practice. Clary has been sidelined with a clavicle injury, Dunlap with a concussion and Rinehart due to a toe injury. Hardwick was limited on Wednesday with a shin ailment but returned to practice in full on Thursday. Nonetheless, if any of the linemen are unable to go on Sunday, reserves Mike Harris, Rich Ohrnberger, Johnnie Troutman and the newly re-signed Steve Schilling will be put the test.
The coaching staff has full confidence they will rise to the occasion.
“We have different guys that we’re not exactly sure where it’s going to shake out for Sunday,” said Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. “There’s not much we can do about it. We’re still going to play. We’re still going to kick off at 1:00pm. We just have to prepare our guys the best we can and know in that situation we’re going to battle. Our guys have done that. They have battled, so that’s what we’re expecting to do on Sunday.”
As a result, the coaches say don’t plan on reeling in the playbook at all due to their confidence in whatever five-man unit takes the field.
“We have a scheme in place,” said Head Coach Mike McCoy. “I think (offensive line coaches) Joe (D’Alessandris) and Andrew (Dees) do a great job with the offensive line. We’ve got a scheme we’ve got to put in place and that were going to run. We go into a game plan and there are certain things, you always want to take advantage of what a defense is doing. We go into game plans saying we’ve got to deal with certain players. With certain changes you make you might have to adjust to a blocking scheme or a slide scheme or a base scheme or certain things you might want to change. But we have a lot of confidence in the guys we have. We have a great plan moving forward and whoever is healthy, that’s who were going to play with. “
A major reason the team has faith is because of Hardwick in the middle. A consummate pro and leader, he is the key cog in the middle that communicates to the rest of the line. According to Whisenhunt, Hardwick proved how valuable he is during the Titans game, which once again gives him confidence moving forward.
“A lot of that goes back to Nick Hardwick,” he said. “He’s such a great leader in there. I think a lot of it starts with communication. He’s been a rock and has played very well for us. That definitely helped us get through that. It was tough. We had four different guys in there at one time. We had a big shuffle, it seemed like, from series to series and even play to play just because of the way it was injury-wise.”
So how does Hardwick feel about the preparation each and every linemen has heading into Sunday’s game?
“Everyone has trained exactly the same way across the board,” he said. “Joe D. and Andrew Dees have done a great job of instructing guys, instructing us how to do a very specific block a very specific way. There’s not a whole lot of leeway the way the blocks are intended to be done. So it just comes down to communicating and trust. You’ve got to trust that the guy next to you is going to do what he’s supposed to, trust that you’re going to be where you’re supposed to be, and then you’ve got to communicate clearly so everyone knows what’s expected of them.”