Centering In On The O-Line Struggles

One of the biggest issues the San Diego Chargers face on offense is the ability to establish the running game. While many pundits and fans alike point to Ladainian Tomlinson's age and durability as the main reason behind the Chargers' ground game struggles, I'd like to reiterate that the problems start first with the offensive line. One of the biggest hurdles the Chargers have had to deal with is the injuries that their Pro Bowl Center Nick Hardwick has had over the course of his career.

(Photo Credit: Mike Nowak/San Diego Chargers)

As the leader of the offensive line, Nick Hardwick has a tremendous effect on the play of the group, and when he is not in that line up, the blocking calls and assignments can break down due to communication errors and confusion. Hardwick is a team leader and an example to his teammates, but he has missed a significant number of games in his career. Should the Chargers be concerned about their Pro Bowl Center's long-term health, or are these injuries an accepted part of the profession?

Hardwick has only had one season where he missed no time, and that was in 2006. Other than his healthy year of 2006, Hardwick has missed 2 to 4 games each season. After injuring his foot in Week One of the 2009 season, Hardwick has so far missed five of the six games the Chargers have played. For his career, Nick Hardwick has missed 17 games in 7 seasons. Hardwick is expected to be out until December, which would bring his total missed games to a whopping 22 games in his career.

As a Hardwick fan myself, I don't like not having Hardwick suited up and on the field for gamedays. The Chargers don't have solid backup Center either, and haven't had one for years. Much like the defensive tackle position, the Chargers felt pretty secure at Center and haven't made much effort in fortifying the position with talented players. The Chargers added Cory Withrow and Jeremy Newberry (neither of whom are still in the league) to help stop the bleeding a couple years ago, and this year they've used Scott Mruczkowski and Dennis Norman at center to help offer some depth. But the fact of the matter is, when Hardwick is not in the game there is a huge drop-off and at one of the most crucial positions on the line, it's unsettling that the Chargers haven't done more to prepare for life without Hardwick.

What's your take on the center situation? Should the Chargers be concerned with Hardwick's ability to stay healthy? Should they have done more to address the depth at the position? Do the Chargers need to strongly consider drafting someone to push Hardwick? Or are Hardwick's injuries an acceptable part of the profession, and something that Chargers will just have to put up with? Drop a comment below and give us your thoughts!

October 28, 2009

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Rob Zepeda said... Oct 28, 2009, 2:13:00 PM

The good news is, I just heard that Nick Hardwick is practicing today. I don't think they should rush him back though, especially considering the Chargers host the lowly Raiders this week.

Tyler said... Oct 28, 2009, 3:02:00 PM

I think the front office needs to give serious consideration to drafting a center in the first or second round of the next draft, depending on who's available. Nick Hardwick may not be old (28) but he is undoubtedly injury prone. Assuming the draftee works out the best case scenario is he pushes Hardwick back into Pro Bowl form and we have valuable trade bait. Worst case scenario Hardwick is done and we have an excellent backup to replace him.

Nahum said... Oct 28, 2009, 8:43:00 PM

or we can sign a free agent center, and draft a badass defensive player, 'cause we really need one.

Neoplatonist Bolthead said... Oct 28, 2009, 9:27:00 PM

This year, they should hold tight for Hardwick to come back. Next year, they should either commit to Tyronne Green being their Center of the future and Hardwick's understudy going forward, or they should draft a Center in the 3rd or 4th round next year, or both.

Jeff Murray said... Oct 29, 2009, 6:42:00 AM

When Smith first got to San Diego he said he wanted three deep at every position and let them work it out.
The past couple of years his view seems to have changed to " The chargers are only a couple of players away from winning it all " His drafting dicisions seem to support this also.
He needs to get back to three deep again.

Anonymous said... Oct 29, 2009, 8:20:00 AM

As undeniably important as the Center position is on the O-line, I think that what the Chargers are truly desperate for is a truly top-notch pair of guards. Dielman is good, but he can't do it by himself.
The decline of our running game is directly attributable to a lack of both good speed to the outside by our blockers, and any real "earth mover" power to the inside. That's a lousy combination, and we see the results.

Anonymous said... Oct 29, 2009, 9:23:00 AM

I don't know if you can call someone rolling into his ankle on a dead play as Hardwick being "injury prone". That's just bad luck. I think there are greater needs than worrying about a back up at center right now. The left side is fine and I'll reserve judgement on the rookie Vasquez for now. Clary I think just doesn't cut it at all. So, I think we need a right tackle and an nasty attitude infusion because it seems there's just so little fire in these guys play.

ezinoregon said... Oct 29, 2009, 9:28:00 AM

It would be nice if Hardwick were the pivot piece that the win/loss column shifted on. If he's in we win, if he's out we lose. All it would take to win would be to find a backup center that could function as well as him and the Chargers wouldn't lose a game. It isn't just the center, it's the entire offensive line and I'm sorry to have to point this out but they weren't playing too well for the first half of last season, and they haven't done well this season, period. Tomlinson's numbers can be directly attributed to the performance of the offensive line. That's why quarterbacks and running backs, and even wide receivers give the entire offensive line expensive watches, rings, and other extravagant gifts. To show their appreciation for making it possible for the star positions to function at a high level of performance. It's the "O" line that makes everything else offensive work. Just like it's the "D" line that makes everything defensive work. If the defensive line is putting pressure on the quarterback, the corners are getting interceptions, and the whole defense looks good. Hardwick is an excellent player, but just like everyone else he's only human. Football is a rugged sport and people get hurt, a lot. Any GM that doesn't take into account the possibility that players are going to get hurt is remiss in their thinking. Look at the injured players that the Chargers are dealing with right now, Tomlinson just started playing again after being injured last season and the start of this season. Merriman was out almost all of last season and still isn't playing at any kind of acceptable performance level. Williams is gone for the season, and Hardwick is trying to come back from an injury sustained this season. Some of the teams most important players at the most important positions, and their backups aren't able to replace them on almost any level. Smith is the one most responsible for the condition of the team. He needs to make some changes and I don't think it is a problem he is going to fix in one off season. It took several years to accumulate the Chargers teams that were dominating in 2006 and 2007. It's going to take a couple of years to get back to that point. Does Rivers have a couple of years of taking huge beatings every game for Smith to get it together? I don't think so. It'll be interesting to see how management handles this problem but I have to say, after being a Charger fan since the Coryell years I've come to believe that Charger management simply doesn't want to win a superbowl. Maybe there's more money to be made running second and third place all the time. Oh, and lastly, GET RID OF TURNER AS HEAD COACH!

Anonymous said... Oct 29, 2009, 3:26:00 PM

Hardwick will get hurt more than other players because he is smaller than most and more importantly because of how hard he plays. Cory Withrow played well most of the time he filled in for Hardwick. This year Vasquez has been exposed at times but he has showed signs that he will continue to get better with experience. Dielman has been inconsistent. I wish I had access to how many false starts he has in relation to the other O-line as well as how many whiffs he has. I love his tenacity but he has spaced it several times this season. Not the pro bowler we remember.

AJ has done a good job getting versatile players at OL who can play more than one position. We have clearly needed a young stud at DT to both spell Jamal and eventually become our number one. The bad part here is that it takes a few years to get a NT up to speed in most cases. If Jamal's replacement is not someone already on the roster, we might be in trouble for a couple years. I think AJ had a good draft overall and is back to getting the type of hard nosed players the Chargers need.

Anonymous said... Oct 29, 2009, 3:42:00 PM

Ol’ ezinoregon covered it well, it’s management and the Chargers “brain trust” that have lagged behind the most these last few years. I wish we’d have taken OT Michael Oher with our first pick instead of Larry English, or even DT Peria Jerry.
Ohhh, remember when we were all discussing whether or not English would be the Defensive Rookie of the Year and how our linebacker combinations were going to be oh-so-awesome? It seems like a long time ago already, doesn't it?
But now the hated Raiders are up; make us proud Mr. English! You saw what Dobbins did last week; so it's possible. Make us proud!
That DROY award may still be within your reach.

Anonymous said... Oct 30, 2009, 6:52:00 AM

Dobbins looked great last week -- talk about a fricking hammer!!!

Anonymous said... Oct 30, 2009, 8:11:00 AM

Denver will not be the first game he plays, and Week 10 seems to be questionable. NH won't even participate in full practice for the next two weeks (NYG, DEN).

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