Hardwick, Vazquez, Tomlinson hurt
SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers go into their home opener against Baltimore with concerns on the offensive line after center Nick Hardwick and rookie right guard Louis Vasquez were hurt in Monday night's win at Oakland.
Hardwick sprained his left ankle and Vasquez sprained a knee in the 24-20 comeback win, the Chargers' 12th straight against their biggest rival. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson also sprained an ankle.
Coach Norv Turner said Tuesday that Hardwick, Vasquez and Tomlinson aren't expected to practice Wednesday as the Chargers begin preparing for the Ravens.
The Chargers were down to five healthy offensive linemen Monday night, which forced left tackle Marcus McNeill to stay in the game after he rolled an ankle. Under normal circumstances he would have come out, Turner said.
Turner said that when McNeill was on the ground, tight end Antonio Gates told him: "What are you doing, man? Get up, we've got enough of this. Someone's got to play now."
Hardwick, a Pro Bowler in 2006, said in a text message that he felt "good," but declined to say if he'll be able to play against the Ravens.
Vasquez went out first, and fifth-year pro Scott "Mooch" Mruczkowski replaced him. After Hardwick went out, Mruczkowski moved to center and Brandyn Dombrowski, a backup tackle playing in his first regular-season game, took over at right guard.
It was Mruczkowski's first regular-season action at center.
"I thought I played solid," he said in a text message.
"It is a concern, but the exciting thing to me is, we've talked about this all along, that every guy needs to be ready to play," Turner said. "I can't say enough about what Mooch did at center, you know, what Brandyn Dombrowski did at right guard, to go in and do the things he did, that's tough.
"We are fortunate to have depth. Some of it is very, very young depth and they are going to learn as they go through it."
Hardwick was taken off the field on a cart.
"I had real concerns after the game on Nick. Those concerns aren't as great right now," Turner said.
"Hardwick, what he means to this team, and for Vasquez to go out in his first game, it's tough," quarterback Philip Rivers said after the game. Rivers led the winning drive, which was capped by Darren Sproles' 5-yard run with 18 seconds left. "You're never going to have an injury-free season, but you hope you don't get too banged up in Week 1."
The Chargers dressed only seven offensive linemen. Backup guard Tyronne Green was inactive.
There are two offensive linemen on the practice squad. The Chargers are expected to look outside the organization. General manager A.J. Smith didn't return a call seeking comment.
"We have not done anything yet," Turner yet. "Obviously the first and most pressing need is to make sure that we will dress eight linemen next week and that we're sound there. You play the odds and very rarely do you have two linemen get hurt in a game. I think maybe once or twice in my career I've gone with seven linemen because you know it can't happen. Obviously we had needs defensively so we went with seven."
Tomlinson, slowed last year by toe and groin injuries, managed only 55 yards on 13 carries. He sprained his ankle while losing a fumble in the first quarter.
Sproles, the speedy little running back-returner, had 246 all-purpose yards and also took some hard shots.
If he were to take that much of a beating all year, "They'd probably have legal issues with me for whatever you call that," Turner joked.
"We've got to get Darren some help," Turner said, saying there are options to give him a break on special teams if he's involved more on offense, and vice versa. "He wants to stay in there. I told him after the game, 'We can't do that to you.' He said, 'Hey coach, I was fine.'"
Sproles carried nine times for 23 yards, caught five passes for 43 yards, returned three punts for 10 yards and five kickoffs for 170 yards.
Chargers executive Jim Steeg said he was "pessimistic" that the home opener will sell out by Thursday afternoon in order to lift the TV blackout. Steeg said there were 2,500 tickets remaining as of Tuesday. "That's a lot of tickets to sell in 48 hours," he said. He said only 50 tickets were sold on Tuesday morning. The team can request a 24-hour extension. "We aren't going to cross that bridge until we get there," he said. The Chargers haven't had a regular-season blackout since 2004.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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