Is This The Chargers' Regular Season Offense?

Preseason, week three. The third of four meaningless preseason games. It’s a contest where you expect a team’s starters to play a significant portion of the game in a tune-up before the real season begins. While weeks one and two of the preseason are about going through the motions, getting used to new teammates and coaches, and checking out who might surprise you and make the team, and week four is largely about keeping your starters healthy while giving borderline players an opportunity to stick, week three is all about putting your starters on the field to get some real in-game experience together.

In the Charger’s preseason win over the Minnesota Vikings Friday night, my fear as that the Chargers’ offense, missing six starters due to injury or fear of impending injury, did just that.

With six key offensive players out of the lineup, the game was sold as an opportunity to give Chargers backups on the offensive line and at running back a chance to get some badly needed experience. But outside of Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, I’m afraid we saw more of this season’s starting lineup than any of us would have expected. Could the super-sub package that played into the 3rd quarter Friday night be reflective of what this offense will truly look like when they walk onto the field in Oakland in two weeks, or worse, multiple weeks into the season?

You might call this a negative point of view, but history tells me there are legitimate concerns.

RB Ryan Mathews has not played a full season due to injury since he was in high school. Some are happy that we got this year’s injury out of the way early, and he could be back as soon as the second week of the season, but it’s just as likely that he has only given himself more time to get hurt again.

Wide receiver Vincent Brown’s broken ankle is a pretty tough injury to come back from if you sprint, cut, stop, and start as much as a wide receiver does. They think Brown can come back from the injury, and I wish him the best in his attempt to do that, but ankle injuries have ruined full-seasons for many an NFL star. This team is better with Brown running routes, only if he is running those routes with two healthy legs.

The offensive line is facing some major concerns starting with tackle Jared Gaither and continuing with center Nick Hardwick and guard Tyronne Green. Green should be fine as long as he doesn’t push his injured foot too hard, so let’s focus on Gaither and Hardwick.

There are hopes that Gaither will be ready for opening day, but I doubt he will play this Thursday night at San Francisco. With a history of back problems and a reputation for playing only when he feels like playing, it’s not a stretch to think that he won’t be ready for Oakland and may not be ready soon after.

he wild card of the injured offensive linemen is Hardwick, who received a concussion during a scrimmage against the Cowboys last Tuesday. News of the concussion made it sound like it was no big deal; just a day-to-day kind of thing. Yet here we are almost a week later with little sign of Hardwick’s imminent return. Considering Hardwick gave some serious thought to retiring this offseason following the concussion and subsequent retirement of his close friend Kris Dielman last season, I hope that he is only being cautious and that his absence from practice is not a sign of a lingering issue.

That long, pessimistic trip down Injury Lane is not an attempt to be a Debbie Downer on the Chargers’ 2012 season. On the contrary, I think the Chargers have a lot of good things going for them. The coaching staff is a good mix of the new and the familiar, Rivers has at times proven he can make anyone look like a superstar receiver, and the defense may be the best it’s been since the 2006-2007 campaigns.

But a beat-up offense does not bode well for a Chargers team who needs to get off to a fast-start given the weak level of competition they face early before rolling into games against the Chiefs, Saints, and Broncos starting in week four of the regular season. And unfortunately, given the injuries afflicting four or five key offensive starters, we may have been introduced to most of their early-season starting lineup last week. And what an ugly lineup that was.

Here’s to hoping that Rivers, Gates, and a re-energized defense will be enough to push the Bolts into the post season where anything can happen.

Do you share similar concerns about the toll injuries have taken on the Chargers’ offensive unit? Am I being too hard on the Chargers’ offensive outlook in what was really a meaningless preseason game? Sound off in the comments section below and let your voice be heard.

Follow Jeff Williams on Twitter: @JSWilliams75

August 27, 2012

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