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Anchor in the middle

Posted Aug 20, 2010

Nick Hardwick quietly is back to form at center after an ankle injury wiped out most of his season in 2009.

SAN DIEGO – Left tackle has been a magnet of interest this training camp.

Other conversations about the offensive line have revolved around young, developing players with versatility like Tyronne Green and Brandyn Dombrowski.

But the difference between last year’s and this year’s offensive line also includes the presence of a healthy Nick Hardwick.

The Pro Bowl center badly sprained his left ankle during the ’09 opener at Oakland and missed most of the season, returning when backup Scott Mruczkowski also injured his ankle in December.

“When Nick came back, I think he was very courageous in what he did,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “I think it’s nice to have Nick back 100 percent. He’s had a great offseason, he’s about 15 pounds heavier and he’s ready to have a great year.”

Hardwick often gets vocal during practice when the offense and defense compete with one another and is recognized as one of the line’s leaders by his teammates and lauded for his work ethic by Turner. But Hardwick deferred questions about himself twice, instead talking about the line as a unit.

“I really don’t evaluate my role very much,” Hardwick said. “I think we’ve got a lot of strong leaders on this team and it’s more of a core of guys who are expected to be at the front of this thing. Wherever I fit into that, I’m happy with it.”

At 6-foot-4, 305, the center continues to lavish effusive praise on the offensive line coaches for giving attention to each member of the roster regardless of their role, which he says contributes to their ability to be ready. He could be talking about himself, too. The time off to heal his injury didn’t force him to re-learn everything.

“The techniques don’t change,” Hardwick said. “I guess the hard part would be to just let yourself go play. You just have to mentally get over that. You know exactly what you’re doing. You know how to do it. Your body knows how to do it. It’s just like being a kid again. You just have to go out and do it and let it happen.”

ROSTER SPOTS OPEN: There are several roster spots still available for players to earn, Turner said.

He estimated 35 or 40 players will be on the team no matter how they perform during the final three preseason games.

“They know it, I know it and you know it,” Turner said. “But I think there are guys last week that did a lot to help themselves get more opportunities. Now if they make the most of those opportunities, there might be some surprise guys make this football team, and I’m going to say, ‘Well gosh, I didn’t see that coming, but he earned it over the four preseason games.’”

FULLBACKS CATCH, TOO: Thirteen different Chargers caught a pass in the preseason opener against Chicago.

The yardage leader? Fullback Billy Latsko with two for 36 yards. He turned a short pass from Jonathan Crompton upfield during the second quarter for a 30-yard gain.

“The catch just adds a little bit of extra stuff for me,” Latsko said. “Fullbacks usually don’t get that opportunity, but here in this system we’ve got a little chance to get the ball, so that’s a good deal.”

Latsko spent portions of 2007-09 on practice squads with Carolina and San Diego. He made the active roster for seven games in ’08 but never has played in an NFL game.

One of the last players off the field Thursday, he worked on deep snapping with the specialists. He snapped some in high school and practiced the skill on and off since he graduated from Florida in 2006 but stepped up his effort this offseason in an effort to make the team.

“The Chargers are a great organization. I’m very fortunate that they keep me around,” Latsko said. “I’m going to keep doing my best and hopefully things work out well for me.”

TICKETS: Enough tickets have been sold to avoid a local television blackout Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys. Kickoff for the second preseason game is scheduled for 6 p.m.

A limited number of Club Level tickets still are available.

BOLTS: Quentin Jammer worked a receiver out of bounds near the line of scrimmage, then made an interception a few plays later during 7-on-7s … Antonio Gates made back-to-back catches in tight coverage during the team period … The team had a walk-through Thursday morning and is scheduled for another on Friday.

PRACTICE WEATHER: Sunny, 85 degrees.

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