- Eric D. Williams, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN DIEGO -- Penn State product Johnnie Troutman spent his entire first season in the NFL watching from the sidelines after suffering a season-ending pectoral injury before the draft in April last year.
Now, the Chargers fifth-round pick in 2012 is essentially a rookie in his second year in the league. And Troutman is learning by doing, with four starts at left guard for San Diego. Troutman replaced Chad Rinehart, who missed the last month with a toe injury, in the starting lineup. Rinehart has been a limited participant in practice this week. But there is still a good chance Troutman will continue to see time at left guard, because Rinehart has to work himself back into playing shape.
Even though he needed surgery to fix his pectoral injury, San Diego selected Troutman because of his production at Penn State. Troutman did not allow a sack in three seasons of starts at left guard for the Nittany Lions.
"I’m a lot more comfortable just getting out there and playing with those guys," Troutman said. "We’ve got to build that comfort level playing with each other, so it was good for me to get out there playing with Nick (Hardwick) and the rest of the group, because in preseason I didn’t get a chance to rotate in with them. I was playing with guys that unfortunately aren’t here anymore."
At 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, Troutman is solid in pass protection, but really thrives as a run blocker. Since he’s been in the starting lineup, the Chargers are averaging 112 yards a contest, including back-to-back, 100-yard rushing games by Ryan Mathews. In the team’s first three games, San Diego averaged 103 yards a contest.
"It’s just coming off the ball and fitting up the blocks better," Troutman said. "I feel like a couple weeks there we weren’t fitting up the blocks good, and I feel like (offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt) Whiz is having a real emphasis on running the ball, which helps us out because we can get into a rhythm out there running the ball, which is good for us.
"I love playing football. I loved it in high school and in college, so I want to play as long as possible."
The Chargers have played five different starting offensive line combinations in seven games. With left tackle King Dunlap expected to start again after suffering a concussion two weeks ago against Jacksonville, the Chargers could start the same starting five three weeks in a row for the first time since last season if Troutman is in the starting lineup against Washington.
"Coming in, there were a lot of questions about our offensive line and we have played a lot of players there," Whisenhunt said. "The only reason we have been able to have a little bit of success is because of guys like Johnnie Troutman.
"He answered the bell when he had to get in there. He has gotten better as he has gotten more plays. There was a period of training camp where he was struggling and he didn't get as many plays. From a point there, as we progressed it's a credit to him. He's worked hard and he came out of that, and now he's playing good football."
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