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Friday, September 18, 2009
Is this the start of injury-filled year for LT?

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
An early injury to San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson is raising concerns with fans and the team.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

One of the biggest questions about star running back LaDainian Tomlinson this offseason, as he began life as a 30-plus player, was if he could maintain his health.

One game into the season, the answer is not encouraging for Tomlinson or the San Diego Chargers. Tomlinson has been ruled out of the Sunday’s home opener against Baltimore because of an ankle injury he suffered Monday night in Oakland.

Tomlinson, who turned 30 in June, has been injured the past two postseasons. He didn’t play in the 2008 AFC divisional playoffs against Pittsburgh, a game the Chargers lost. Tomlinson, whose production slipped last season, looked decent in the opener against Oakland before he was injured, rushing for 55 yards on 13 carries.

Still, the fact that he is hurt this early in the season is only going to raise concerns about whether Tomlinson can still deal with the rigors of an NFL season. This injury isn’t expected to be long-lasting. But the injuries are piling up. He dealt with a turf toe injury much of last season and he had a groin problem in the playoffs.

Tomlinson’s load will be carried by backup Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett against the Ravens. Sproles scored the winning touchdown last week against Oakland.

Sproles and Bennett will likely be play behind a makeshift line. Standout center Nick Hardwick has been ruled out with an ankle injury. Guard Louis Vasquez is questionable with a knee injury, but he may have difficulty playing against the Ravens. Both players left the Oakland game in the third quarter.

Baltimore has a rugged defensive front, so the Chargers could have trouble moving the ball. It will be interesting to see how Sproles holds up Sunday. He is an outstanding change-of-pace rusher, but the 5-foot-6 Sproles is not a workhorse. Starting against the Steelers in the playoffs, he had 15 yards on 11 carries. The Ravens run a similar defense, so Sproles will need help from Bennett against Baltimore.

If Tomlinson’s health issues continue to pile up, Sproles and Bennett must carry the load every week.