When Depth Becomes A Necessity

Injuries are nothing new for the San Diego Chargers and Sunday’s victory over the Miami Dolphins with a depleted lineup proved to be no exception. The Bolts came into the match-up with plenty of key names on the injury report including the likes of tight end Antonio Gates and defensive end Jacques Cesaire who were both inactive against the Fins. These hurdles may have deterred the team in seasons past and given them a defeated sense before they even took the field, but not these Chargers.

Despite the litany of names on the injury report piling ever-higher, the next man up mentality prevailed for this resilient Bolts team that refuses to make excuses this time around. In fact it is quite the contrary according to quarterback Philip Rivers who said: “That’s one thing around here we’ve gotten used to — shuffling guys around to different spots. All it’s done is make us better.”

Depth is always a welcome asset to have for any football team, but several of Rivers’ main weapons have been rendered non-factors due to the injury bug already this season. Both wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd have been nicked up recently and even though Jackson had a terrific first quarter against Miami, he was forced to leave the game rather abruptly in the second quarter.

Jackson’s de facto replacement in rookie Vincent Brown made quite an impact in crucial situations including a huge third and long conversion that helped keep a scoring drive alive. In Gates’ absence, veteran Randy McMichael has been proving to be quite the reliable insurance policy as he played hurt making three big grabs with a banged up shoulder in the Bolts’ win.

These second stringers making big plays for the Chargers are anything but second-rate talent as guys like Steve Gregory have been forced into action given Bob Sanders’ season-ending knee injury and with Quentin Jammer out against the Fins as well, rookie Marcus Gilchrist found himself in a starting role on Sunday. The team’s second rounder only further justified his selection at that point in April’s draft by hauling in his first career interception with Jammer sidelined due a hamstring issue.

Even the most veteran of presence on the Bolts’ defense was confident that Gilchrist would be just fine as a starter this week as linebacker Takeo Spikes explained. Spikes has nicknamed the rookie corner Cookie for the late Cookie Gilchrist who was a beast of a running back for the Buffalo Bills back in the pre-merger days of the league. According to the North County Times, Spikes said of Gilchrist: "I knew he was always different. I'm not ready to crown him yet. I love him to death, (but) a rookie's got to stay a rookie. But for what he was able to come in to do. It speaks volumes about his character, about his preparation throughout the week. He's even, even keel. Because he understands. The best way to explain Cookie is just to say that he's a young guy with an old soul."

What Spikes is referring to from Gilchrist’s performance this past Sunday was his interception, six tackles, and crucial pass defended in the end zone during the game with Miami. The linebacker wasn’t the only member of the Bolts defense pegging Gilchrist with lofty expectations for the future however. Safety Eric Weddle also spoke very highly of the Clemson product saying: "That's what I told everyone, he was going to play good. He's a mature, probably beyond his years, young kid. He's going to learn. He listens. He's the kind of guy that 1) you want to play for, 2) that you root for, and 3) you have trust in. I had no doubt about it that he was going to play great today."

For veterans to offer that type of praise to a 22-year old just trying to solidify his status as an NFL player is awfully telling of his overall demeanor and maturity level. Gilchrist did face some adversity throughout the game including a pass interference flag for a play he made defending Brandon Marshall, but his bounce-back ability again impressed by shaking it off and continuing to make smart defensive plays throughout the contest.

Clearly the locker room is behind him moving forward, but perhaps the most attractive part about Gilchrist is the fact that he is his own biggest critic. His grounded approach to assessing his first NFL start is perfect evidence of that as he said: "It feels good for any rookie to come in and get a pick in the first start. But I think it's just a start for me. I try not to get overwhelmed by the whole situation."

It’s that aspect of this Chargers’ team as a whole that should give fans a real reason for optimism moving forward this year. With a laundry list of injuries yet still a 3-1 record heading into a divisional clash with the Denver Broncos in week 5, this Bolts’ club has momentum on its side and should continue to ride the wave while it’s still high tide.

Now it’s your turn to be heard. Do you think the mounting injuries will begin to wear on the Bolts as a team and Rivers in particular or will he just continue throwing to whoever is open and keep the win total climbing? Which of the team’s many injuries do you fear is the most pressing to get ressolved ASAP if they want to push for a Super Bowl? Do you see Marcus Gilchrist developing into a starting cornerback sooner rather than later in San Diego or is he better suited to continue as a situational player for the remainder of this year? With Norv Turner and the Bolts posting their best record through four games yet during his coaching tenure, what do you see in store for the team as the year progresses? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

October 4, 2011

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