San Diego Chargers: Nick Hardwick

SAN DIEGO -- Sunny skies greeted the San Diego Chargers as the entire team took the field for the first time in preparation for the 2014 season.

Coach Mike McCoy also had to deal with a couple veteran no-shows in the first organized team activity. The practices are voluntary, so McCoy said he had no problem with running back Ryan Mathews, offensive guard Jeromey Clary, outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, inside linebacker Jonas Mouton and tight end Antonio Gates being no-shows on the first day of practice.

Rookie running back Marion Grice and cornerback Greg Ducre also were not in attendance.

McCoy said the absences were expected, and he had no issues with any of the players not being there.

Mathews
“Not at all,” McCoy said. “We know why they are not here. And we’re going to get better with the guys we have here right now. It’s voluntary, and we know why people are not here.”

Mathews, 26, is in the final year of his rookie contract. The Chargers signed running back Donald Brown to a three-year, $10.4 million contract this offseason, and the University of Connecticut product will actually make more in total compensation in 2014 ($4 million) than Mathews ($2 million) for the upcoming season.

But Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said before the draft that Mathews had no concerns with the signing.

“Ryan is a starting back, so his role will essentially be the same,” Telesco said. “Ryan’s a smart guy. He knows why guys are here, and he knows what his role is. It wasn’t an issue at all.”

Clary is due to make $4.55 million in total compensation for the upcoming season. And with San Diego drafting Notre Dame product Chris Watt in the third round, there’s some thought Clary could be asked to take a pay cut.

Clary
But as of right now, Clary is set to make his current salary. San Diego’s first-unit offensive line included King Dunlap at left tackle, Chad Rinehart at left guard, Nick Hardwick at center, Johnnie Troutman at right guard and D.J. Fluker at right tackle.

Floyd’s back: Malcom Floyd, 32, said he’s been cleared for full contact after suffering a serious neck injury in Week 2 of the 2013 regular season against Philadelphia. The veteran receiver worked with the first unit opposite Keenan Allen, and even took a good blow when middle linebacker Donald Butler got caught in the air while going after the ball. Butler braced his impact by grabbing Floyd, and both players fell to the ground.

“I think I’m ready for regular contact now after today,” Floyd said, smiling. “But it felt good. This is something I’ve been looking forward to. There’s no more looking back.”

Hardwick was not pleased with the play, giving Butler an earful afterwards. Butler apologized to Floyd after the play.

Te’o out: Second-year pro Manti Te’o was one of a couple players who did not practice due to injury. Te’o still is rehabbing from foot surgery during the offseason. Tight end John Phillips (knee) and offensive lineman Michael Harris (ankle) also did not practice.

McCoy did not seem too concerned with Te’o being limited on Tuesday.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time with him, like everybody else who has some kind of injury,” McCoy said.

Some tidbits: Players who stood out during team drills includes tight end Ryan Otten, running back Branden Oliver and cornerback Brandon Ghee. … Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall were the starting corners with the first unit. … Javontee Herndon did a nice job catching punts on the side field during practice.
After a month of soul searching, San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick announced back in Indianapolis that he intends to play in 2014.

Hardwick, who turns 33 in September, used his time away from the team in the early portion of the offseason to assess his plans for football moving forward, after dealing with concussion and neck injuries in 2013. Hardwick played through those nagging injuries, and was the only San Diego offensive lineman to start every game last season.

“Honestly, I never even mentioned retirement,” Hardwick told Ricky Henne of Chargers.com. “I just said that this is the time of year I like to reflect on where I’m at, where I want to go and where my family is at. I don’t jump to any conclusions.

“I just want to have a good solid month to have a true assessment of where I’m at, how I’m playing and how I think I can get better. So, I never mentioned retirement. It surprised me a little bit how people started talking about it. I never expected it to take hold like that. But it’s ok. Like I said, each year I take a good month after the season where I don’t think much about football except to work out and stay in shape.”

Hardwick anchored an improved offensive line that did a better job of protecting Phillip Rivers and clearing rushing lanes for Ryan Mathews, who both had career seasons in 2013. Hardwick is set to make $4.4 million in total compensation for the upcoming season on the final year of a three-year contract.
Like most other NFL organizations, the San Diego Chargers are a team that builds and maintains its roster through the draft. General manager Tom Telesco doesn’t necessarily put any more value on securing impact players through the draft, versus trade or free agency.

But annually selecting rookies that can make an impact on a team’s roster is important, particularly when you consider the player will be under the team’s control for at least four years, likely at an inexpensive salary.

So getting detailed medical evaluations and vetting players through the intense interviewing process are the most important things for teams this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Of the 53 players that finished the season on San Diego’s roster, 23 were secured through the draft, compared to 27 free agents, two through trades, and one claimed off waivers.

The Chargers have seven original picks in this year’s draft, one in each round beginning with the No. 25 overall pick. So they will be paying close attention to the more than 330 players invited to this year’s combine.

Along with evaluating draft prospects, Telesco will have an opportunity to meet with middle linebacker Donald Butler's representation as the Chargers try to get him signed to a multi-year deal before he hits free agency next month.

Here are five things to keep an eye on regarding the Chargers.

1. Physical cornerbacks who can turn and run: A major area of need for San Diego is improving the overall talent and depth at cornerback. Last year’s top free agent signee Derek Cox likely will not be back after being supplanted in the starting lineup by Richard Marshall. San Diego’s 2013 fifth-round selection Steve Williams could work into the conversation at corner in 2014. The Cal product sat out his rookie year after suffering a torn pectoral muscle during preseason play. But the Chargers need to add a couple physical corners who can cover -- through the draft, free agency or trade. Some names to keep an eye on include Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy. Those players stand out to me because of their length, athleticism and playmaking ability.

2. Edge rushers needed: The Chargers have several veterans at this position, but you can never have enough athletes who can rush the passer. And San Diego struggled at creating consistent pressure, particularly on third down. Three guys potentially available on Day 1 of the draft who could make an impact include Missouri’s Kony Ealy, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy, and Auburn’s Dee Ford.

3. A run-stuffing defensive tackle: San Diego gave up an average of 4.59 yards per carry on defense in 2013, No. 29 in the NFL. Cam Thomas started the most games at defensive tackle, but will be a free agent in March. Sean Lissemore finished as the team’s starter at the end of the season, but needs to add some bulk to effectively fill this position. San Diego could certainly use a two-gap defensive tackle to control the middle of the defense, similar to Dontari Poe in Kansas City. Potential candidates in the draft include Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III, Minnesota’s Ra'Shede Hageman, and Penn State’s Daquan Jones.

4. Improved interior offensive line depth: With center Nick Hardwick contemplating retirement and veteran guard Jeromey Clary a potential salary-cap causality, the Chargers need to add some depth to the interior of the offensive line. Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson and Stanford’s David Yankey are the top rated guards in this year’s draft. And USC’s Marcus Martin could be the long-term answer for a team at center.

5. Add a couple explosive playmakers: San Diego could use some help in the return game. Keenan Allen should not be the team’s main punt returner. He’s too valuable on offense. And the Chargers could use someone with some juice in the kick return game. Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, and Oregon’s De'Anthony Thomas makes some sense because of their ability to create explosive plays on offense and in the return game. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers needs a few more weapons on offense to make his job easier, and all three of these players would fit the bill.
SAN DIEGO -- For a second straight day, running back Ryan Mathews and center Nick Hardwick did not practice for the San Diego Chargers, creating some uncertainty that they will be available for Sunday’s AFC divisional round contest at Denver.

Mathews
Mathews continues to wear a protective walking boot on his ailing left ankle to speed up the healing process. Hardwick sported a baseball cap and jersey while watching his position group go through individual drills during the early stages of practice.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy provided no timetable for either player's return. However, McCoy indicated on Wednesday that Mathews was on the same management program by the team’s training staff as the last two weeks, sitting out on Wednesday and Thursday, working as a limited participant on Friday, and playing on Sunday.

Hardwick has yet to pass the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Along with those two, receiver Eddie Royal (toe) and guard Jeromey Clary (shoulder) did not practice. But right tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle) returned as a limited participant after missing practice on Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (shoulder) also was a limited participant on Thursday, and left tackle King Dunlap (ankle), defensive end Kendall Reyes (ankle), and safety Eric Weddle (hamstring) were full participants.

Weddle missed practice on Wednesday as a rest day.
CINCINNATI -- Three things to know about the San Diego Chargers' matchup against the Denver Broncos in the AFC divisional round on Sunday at Sports Authority Field:

1. No secrets: These two teams have played twice in the past eight weeks, so they’ve pretty much seen everything the other team has to offer. The Chargers will have some confidence playing at Denver because they won there just three weeks ago, a 27-20 victory in a nationally televised Thursday night contest. San Diego's defense held the Broncos’ Peyton Manning-led offense to its lowest point total of the season. That said, the Chargers also understand that Manning likely will have a few more tricks up his sleeve this time.

2. Streaking: San Diego has won five consecutive games and six of its past seven. The Chargers are playing with a lot of confidence and remain dangerous because of the carefree, energetic way they perform on both sides of the ball. San Diego players said they could see the Bengals tightening up in the second half with the game slipping away. The Broncos are a team expected to go to the Super Bowl, so if San Diego can put pressure on Denver by getting ahead early, perhaps the Broncos could suffer the same fate as last year, when they lost to Baltimore.

3. Veteran leadership: Longtime Chargers such as Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Eric Weddle and Nick Hardwick have helped provide focus for this young team, exuding a quiet confidence that shows up on the playing field. As it's done throughout the second half of the season, San Diego does not get rattled when things do not go its way. That ability to handle adversity serves it well in the playoffs. The Chargers essentially have been in playoff mode since Week 14 of the regular season, so they approach each week with a sense of urgency that other teams have failed to match until this point.
San Diego ChargersChristopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsThe Chargers caught some breaks Sunday and are heading to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season.
SAN DIEGO -- The decision wasn't for the weak at heart.

But with the game in the balance, San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle did not hesitate on fourth down on his team's 28-yard line. He needed 2 yards to continue a winning drive in the 27-24 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Weddle serves as the personal protector on punt team, and has the green light to call a fake punt if he sees a defensive look he likes. Weddle called a successful fake punt against Denver at Qualcomm Stadium earlier this season at a similar spot on the field.

Weddle said he saw the look he could take advantage of again Sunday versus Kansas City. He signaled the fake was on. Weddle grabbed the snap and leaped over the line of scrimmage, needing every inch of his 5-foot-11, 200-pound body moving forward to get the first down.

Kansas City stripped the ball and tore off Weddle's helmet in the process, but the officials blew the play dead, giving Weddle enough forward progress for the first down.

With new life, the Chargers marched down the field and took the lead on a Nick Novak 36-yard field goal. Weddle and the rest of his defensive teammates made the lead stand -- the Chargers' only lead of the game -- sending San Diego to the postseason for the first time since the 2009 season.

"With that look I felt like we could get two yards as a punt team with me running the ball," Weddle said. "If we were going to go down, let's go down doing what we do, and that's playing aggressive until the end."

In a roller-coaster ride of the season, the Chargers took the scenic route to the playoffs. San Diego was 5-7 at one point this year, but they finished winning five of their final six games, including four straight to end the season.

And the Chargers believe they finally got some breaks. The most obvious one was Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop, Mr. Irrelevant in the 2009 draft, pushing his 41-yard field goal wide right, which would have won the game for the Chiefs in regulation.

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said the missed field goal served as a sign that Sunday finally was his team's day.

"It gave us a second chance," Gates said. "Today in general was a second chance, when we saw Cincinnati beat Baltimore and Miami lose. That kick was another deep breath. We got past a close one. Once we got the ball, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to go out and score."

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said the missed field goal didn't make up for his team failing to win in late-game situations at Washington, Miami and Tennessee. But he acknowledged that perhaps fate had shined on a Chargers organization that has been perceived as snake-bitten of late.

"I don't like to play the old poor Chargers card -- that we had some bad breaks," Rivers said. "But it feels like we haven't won a game like this forever. A missed field goal, we're down 10 and everything fell right into our lap, and we almost let it get away from us.

"I know Pittsburgh is not very happy with us right now. But it just went our way. And saying it went our way, it did. But we made it go our way in a lot of ways. You've got to find a way to win."

San Diego appeared to be finding a way to lose early. Playing against a Kansas City team that already punched its ticket into the postseason and rested 20 of 22 starters, San Diego looked punch drunk in the opening quarter.

After Miami fell at home to the New York Jets and Baltimore lost on the road to Cincinnati, San Diego players knew all they needed was a win to make the playoffs. In control of their postseason chances, the Chargers appeared to finally feel the weight of what was at stake.

Led by quarterback Chase Daniel and running back Knile Davis, the Chiefs played like the team needing a victory to reach the postseason -- going up by as many as 10 points in the second quarter and taking a 21-14 halftime lead.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy tried to get his team to relax at the half.

"I told everyone at halftime, 'Just take a deep breath,'" McCoy said. "The game is what it is, and it's not the first time we've been down all year long. Just play one play at a time, and see what happens."

The players took McCoy's advice, exhaled and started playing up to their capabilities, eventually tying the score at 24 and sending it into overtime after Succop's hiccup.

And after timely plays such as Weddle's fourth-down conversion, the Chargers are the most unlikely team headed to the postseason in January.

"It's the most fun you can possibly have in life," Chargers center Nick Hardwick said. "I truly believe playoff football, there's nothing better. Win or go home -- there's no best of seven. The team who goes in, has the best game plan and executes the game plan the best wins the football game."
SAN DIEGO -- Blocking for San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is an offensive lineman's dream.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Ryan Mathews
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsRyan Mathews has emerged as a running back this season, to the delight of his linemen.
At least that's the way the team's longtime center Nick Hardwick describes it. Hardwick says opposing defenders shy away from contact when Mathews gets his legs churning.

"He is built like a block of granite," Hardwick said. "He is a pretty intense specimen, so when he gets going downhill, he is inflicting some pain on these linebackers and safeties."

Mathews' physical running style is something the rest of the offensive line feeds off of, according to rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker.

"I love blocking for Ryan," Fluker said. "Ryan just makes people look bad on the field. DB's don't want to hit him. They're scared of him because he's physical with them. It's great to see him have a great season. And it's been great to see someone go out there and give everything they have for their teammates."

In his fourth NFL season, Mathews has finally emerged from the immense shadow of being drafted as the replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson as the No. 12 overall selection in the 2010 draft.

The Fresno State product topped 1,000 rushing yards for the second time as a pro, rushing a career-high 236 times for 1,012 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Mathews has run for 415 yards after contact, which is No. 7 in the NFL.

"It's been good, really good," Mathews said after the Denver game last week, in which he ran for 127 yards. Mathews carried the ball 58 times in two games over four days.

"I'm sore, but that's what they are asking of me, so that's what I'm going to do. I'm just going to keep grinding, and doing whatever this team needs."

Added receiver Seyi Ajirotutu, who played with Mathews at Fresno State: "He's always been tough. But there's just something about this year that has been special. He's running hard, and everyone can see it. He just looks like a different back, and obviously he's running confident."

Mathews has stayed healthy, and is on track to play a full, 16-game season for the first time as a pro. And he's avoided putting the ball on the ground. Heading into the 2013 season, Mathews had fumbled 12 times, losing seven of them through three seasons. But this year, Mathews has fumbled just twice, losing one of them.

Mathews has five 100-yard rushing games this season, which is tied with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy for the most in the NFL.

But more than anything, at 26-years old Mathews has shown maturity. He's done a better job of taking care of his body, preparing himself for the rigors of an NFL season with a rigid regimen before the season started, one which included reporting to training camp at the appropriate weight on his 6-foot, 220-pound frame.

"He puts a lot of work in," fellow running back Ronnie Brown said. "There's a lot of stuff that's not seen. People give him a hard time. But he runs the ball hard. He prepares hard in the offseason. And he puts in the work that's necessary, and I don't think a lot of people see that, so it's not appreciated."

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he first noticed a confident and decisive Mathews during offseason work by watching his feet. Rivers said Mathews benefitted from offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt streamlining the team's running playbook, focusing on a steady diet of inside and outside zone running plays.

"There have been less schematic things, which gives him a lot of reps at the run packages that we have," Rivers said. "He has been able to rep them over and over and over again, going all the way back to OTAs. As a runner, much like as a passer, if you run it five times you feel decent, but if we throw it 50 times over the offseason then you feel a lot better.

"It's the same way in the running game. If I run inside zone against every look they have 50 times throughout the offseason, I'm going to feel a heck of a lot better about it than if I get a lot of different ones. I think that is one thing I can see. I felt confidence in his feet, confidence in his vision grow over this whole offseason throughout training camp and all year long."

While Rivers has shown the ability to pick opponents apart through the air, Mathews provides the hammer in the run game, keeping defenses honest and closing out games by grinding out first downs to run the clock.

Once considered a good bet to leave town when his contract ends at the end of the 2014 season, Mathews has proved that he's a good fit long term for the Chargers.
SAN DIEGO -- For the first time in many weeks, the San Diego Chargers had all 53 players on the active roster participate in practice Tuesday -- a good sign for a team facing the Denver Broncos, who are undefeated at home.

"The last couple weeks coming out of games we've been fairly healthy," San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. "Every game you're going to have some dings, but nothing serious. So it's been a good couple weeks for us."

Receiver Eddie Royal (toe), center Nick Hardwick (neck), cornerback Shareece Wright (foot) and defensive back Johnny Patrick (ankle) were limited in practice.

Receiver Keenan Allen (shoulder), tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle), defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe), linebacker Jarret Johnson (hand), defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (toe) and defensive end Corey Liuget (knee) were full participants.

Royal had not practiced since injuring his toe against Indianapolis on Oct. 14. Royal missed just one game over the past seven because of the injury, against Cincinnati. With less practice time, Royal said he put in more film study and mental reps to make sure he was prepared to play.

"I just had to study more than normal," Royal said. "Because when you're out there running the plays, you don't normally have to go home and look at it for hours. But now that you're not doing it, you want to make sure that you're detailed in what you're doing. There's a lot of little things that you have to pay attention to when you're not out there practicing every day."
SAN DIEGO – Defensive end Corey Liuget was a surprise addition to the San Diego Chargers' injury report on Thursday, apparently suffering a knee injury during practice. He was listed as a limited participant.

And for a second day in a row, center Nick Hardwick (neck) and receiver Eddie Royal (toe/chest) did not practice. Hardwick is expected to play against the New York Giants on Sunday.

Other than that, everyone practiced fully for the Chargers. Coach Mike McCoy said this week that his team is the healthiest it's been all season.

“It’s nice when you can come off of the field like we did the other day after the game and not have to worry about X number of guys being injured,” McCoy said “And on Monday morning worrying about what did the tests reveal. We’ve been as healthy as we’ve been in a long time.”

Left tackle King Dunlap (neck), right tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle), defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe), receiver Lavelle Hawkins (knee) and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (hand) were full participants.
SAN DIEGO -- A day after his team’s disappointing loss to the Miami Dolphins, San Diego coach Mike McCoy provided some updates on players who suffered injuries against Miami.

McCoy said rookie receiver Keenan Allen, who appeared to suffer a knee injury in the second half, should be available this week. Allen played in 49 of the possible 65 plays on offense for the Chargers.

“He’s fine,” McCoy said. “He’ll be playing, which is great.”

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Kent C. Horner/Getty ImagesChargers receiver Keenan Allen is expected to play in Week 12 after hurting his knee against Miami.
Nick Hardwick missed five plays because of a neck stinger that forced him to miss some practice time last week, but McCoy said his veteran center should practice on Wednesday.

And reserve cornerback Johnny Patrick suffered a concussion and will go through the league’s concussion protocol program this week before being cleared to return to the field. The Chargers said Patrick had a head injury after the game, but did not confirm whether or not he had suffered a concussion.

McCoy wouldn’t say if outside linebacker Melvin Ingram will return to practice this week. San Diego has until Tuesday to decide if Ingram will be allowed to practice with the rest of the team. Ingram began the regular season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in May.

If Ingram begins practicing this week, San Diego has 21 days to add him to the active roster or leave him on the reserve PUP list. So the latest the Chargers can activate Ingram is for the Denver game on Dec. 12, nearly seven months after his surgery.

“We’ll look at obviously the best interest of Melvin and the health of his knee,” McCoy said, when asked what will go into the organization making that decision. “And understand what we want to do moving forward with him. And we have a plan in place. We’ll let you know that as soon as we want to let everybody know.”

McCoy said his team will once again work on tackling after his defense struggled against the Dolphins. McCoy said San Diego had 12 missed tackles that led to 92 bonus yards after contact by Miami.

“I know we’re not always going to the ground, but that’s something we’ve been doing from the very first day we put our pads on,” McCoy said. “So that’s inexcusable. We’ve got to clean that up.”

McCoy also shouldered the blame for not telling the offense to spike the ball at the end of the game, which would have allowed the Chargers to run a few more plays while the team was driving for the winning score.

“We need to spike that,” McCoy said. “That was a mistake we made. And there’s no excuses for that, we just didn’t get it done.”

For the second time in three weeks, McCoy said quarterback Philip Rivers and receiver Vincent Brown were not on the same page, leading to another interception, this time a pick by Miami cornerback Brent Grimes in the opening quarter on Sunday.

“It was a double move,” McCoy said. “It was a slant-and-go, and he jumped inside of the corner when he’s got to go outside.”
SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers' starting left tackle for most of the season, King Dunlap has been an observer at practice this week after suffering a neck strain against Denver.

That will continue through this weekend, as Dunlap has been ruled out for Sunday's game at Miami.

Dunlap's replacement, rookie D.J. Fluker, was absent from Friday's practice due to an unspecified illness. But according to San Diego coach Mike McCoy, Fluker is expected to play and start at left tackle for the Chargers. He's listed as probable.

Fluker has mainly played right tackle for San Diego, but has been used on the left side in a pinch against Jacksonville and Denver when Dunlap was injured.

San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said Fluker's permanent spot on the offensive line remains open for discussion.

"D.J. has played well for us," Whisenhunt said. "And wherever that position is going to be in the future helping us -- that's where he's going to play. So I don't think we really look at him especially at one position or another.

"He's started at right tackle. That's a position that's normal for him. He's played left tackle in two games. He's done a good job there. So if he has to play left tackle, then he'll play left tackle."

With Dunlap out, that means the Chargers will use their sixth different starting offensive line combination this season.

Center Nick Hardwick (neck), fullback Le'Ron McClain (ankle) and defensive back Jahleel Addae (ankle) returned to practice on Friday. Those three, along with Eddie Royal (toe) and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, are listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

"Guys flew around with a lot of energy and were excited to be out there," Hardwick said. "We're ready to go to Miami, put a good performance together and come back with a win."

Royal did not practice for a fifth straight week, but is expected to be healthy enough to play against the Dolphins.

Defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe), running back Ryan Mathews (hamstring), offensive lineman Mike Remmers (ankle), guard Chad Rinehart (toe) and linebacker Manti Te'o (elbow) all practiced and are probable for Sunday.

San Diego has a couple of inexperienced options behind Fluker. Reserve offensive linemen Remmers and Nick Becton have not started an NFL game.

The Chargers also have two guys they can promote from the practice squad to the active roster in Andrew Tiller and Kenny Wiggins.

Tiller was a sixth-round draft selection by New Orleans in 2012, spending his rookie season with the Saints after suffering a triceps injury during training camp and spending the year on the injured reserve list. He was cut by New Orleans during training camp this year, and was added to San Diego's practice squad in September. At 6-5 and 326 pounds, Tiller was a two-year starter at Syracuse.

Wiggins was signed to San Diego's practice squad at the end of training camp after being released during final roster cuts from San Francisco. At 6-6 and 315 pounds, the Fresno State product was an undrafted rookie free agent in 2011, and went to training camp with San Francisco.

Wiggins was cut at the end of training camp, but spent the final eight weeks of the 2011 season on Baltimore's practice squad. Wiggins was re-signed by San Francisco in 2012, and spent the entire season on the team's practice squad.

Wiggins was released by the 49ers at the end of this year's training camp, and signed to San Diego's practice squad in September.

Hardwick anchors O-line carousel

November, 14, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Due to a neck stinger suffered against Denver, San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick has been relegated to mirroring the first-unit offensive line during individual drills in practice this week.

“You still have to put the preparation in,” Hardwick said. “You have to go out and actually go through the mental gymnastics of taking every rep, and saying to yourself, ‘Okay, got that. That’s what that is.’ And then trying to simulate in your body how the block is going to feel. Not just standing out there and having a good time, but taking the reps with the guys.”

Hardwick is one of five San Diego players who did not participate in practice on Thursday, along with safety Jahleel Addae (ankle), left tackle King Dunlap (neck), Le’ron McClain (ankle) and receiver Eddie Royal (toe).

The 10-year veteran is the only offensive lineman who’s started every game for the Chargers this season, and hopes to be healthy enough to continue that streak on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Hardwick has played in 128 career games, and 59 straight. His consecutive starts streak is second on the team behind Philip Rivers (121).

But Hardwick said he’s not concerned about the consecutive games streak. He just wants to be there for his team each week.

“You want to be durable and dependable as a football player,” Hardwick said. “That lets you keep your job.”

The Chargers have had five different starting offensive line combinations through nine games, including five players see time at left tackle.

But through all of that shuffling, the offensive line has still performed at a high level. Rivers has been sacked just 16 times, tied for fourth-best in the NFL. Rivers also has been hit a league-low 27 times.

“That’s our job, right?” Hardwick said. “To come out, execute and put a good performance on the field, protect Philip and be able to run the football. So no matter who’s out there, you have to be able to get that done.”

The improved play for San Diego up front is one of the reasons Rivers has had a bounce-back season in 2013. And Hardwick has led the offensive line with his solid, consistent play.

“He’s definitely an asset,” fellow offensive lineman Jeromey Clary said. “Him and Phil as a combination I would imagine has got to be one of the top in the league. They’re both really smart. They both study a lot of film. They both understand our scheme inside and out.”

Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said having a veteran center like Hardwick on the field makes his job easier.

“Not only is a he a good football player, but he brings a tremendous amount of leadership to that group,” Whisenhunt said. “And I think at that position, it’s probably one of the most important positions on the team with communicating. The information comes from him and goes out as far as our protections and what we’re doing and who we’re identifying, and a lot of that is important as far as getting everybody on the same page. So he’s done a great job with that.”

Johnson back: Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson returned to practice on Thursday after missing last week’s game against Denver with a lingering hamstring injury.

Along with Johnson, defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe) and running back Ryan Mathews (hamstring) were limited participants.

Offensive lineman Mike Remmers (ankle), guard Chad Rinehart (toe) and linebacker Manti Te'o were full participants.

OLB Jarret Johnson still out

November, 13, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- The line to the training room is getting longer for the San Diego Chargers.

Johnson
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who missed last week’s game against Denver with a lingering hamstring injury, remains out. Also not participating in the early portion of Wednesday’s practice were fullback Le'Ron McClain (ankle), left tackle King Dunlap (head/neck) and center Nick Hardwick (neck stinger).

With Dunlap and Hardwick unavailable, the starting offensive line working together during individual drills included D.J. Fluker at left tackle, Johnnie Troutman at left guard, Rich Orhnberger at center, Chad Rinehart at right guard and Jeromey Clary at right tackle.

Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram remains on the physical unable to perform list and was an observer at practice. New addition outside linebacker Adrian Robinson was at practice and is wearing No. 99.

Offensive lineman Mike Remmers also practiced for the first time since suffering an ankle injury against Jacksonville last month.
 
SAN DIEGO -- At 4-4 overall at the midpoint, the San Diego Chargers are about where they should be heading into the season's backstretch.

Quarterback Philip Rivers' bounce-back season has been one of the main storylines for this team, along with the return of a competitive spirit established by first-year head coach Mike McCoy.

Still, the Chargers face a daunting schedule if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. San Diego still has five AFC West division contests left -- two each against division leaders Kansas City and Denver.

 
Good morning. ESPN’s Dan Graziano has moved San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers up a notch to No. 4 in his weekly MVP watch.

Here’s what Graziano has to say about Rivers’ performance so far this season.
“Rivers' numbers just don't make any sense. Isn't Norv Turner supposed to be an offensive genius? Isn't "coach offense," like, the one thing you're sure Turner can do? Yet Rivers declined every year while Turner was there and under Mike McCoy he's completing 73.9 percent of his passes. He has thrown fewer incompletions in the past two games than Eli Manning threw Monday night in a win, and you know he's looking at the league passing leaderboard every week and thinking, "That's right! Who's the big winner from the 2004 draft now?" And even though it's obviously still Manning and the Giants, point is Rivers is having a really good year.”

" In this ESPN Insider piece Insider, Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus ranks San Diego’s signing of cornerback Derek Cox as one of the worst free-agent signings of 2013. The Chargers signed Cox to a four-year, $20 million deal this offseason, including $10.25 million in guaranteed money. Also included in his worst signings of 2013 were two other similarly paid cornerbacks in Detroit’s Chris Houston and Philadelphia’s Cary Williams.

Palazzolo:
“Rounding out the trio of similarly paid cornerbacks, Cox ranks 68th among cornerbacks with a grade of minus-5.3, and his 1.62 yards/cover snap ranks 64th at the position. He's been a part of a disappointing Chargers pass defense, although an inadequate pass rush certainly hasn't helped, particularly after Dwight Freeney was lost for the season. Unlike the other cornerbacks on this list, Cox hasn't had any disastrous outings, but he has graded negatively in all but one of his seven games.”

" San Diego coach Mike McCoy was mic’d up for the Jacksonville game. Check out the video link. It’s worth a look this morning.

" Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego hands out mostly good grades in his evaluation of the Chargers through seven games.

" Will Brinson of CBS Sports places San Diego running back Ryan Mathews on his list of ascending players in the NFL in his weekly stock watch.

" Ricky Henne of Chargers.com writes that Rivers and longtime San Diego center Nick Hardwick share a bond. The two Chargers entered the league together as part of the 2004 draft class.

" Writing for Sports Illustrated, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman offers an interesting perspective on a hot button issue in the NFL right now -- concussions. Sherman says the players understand the dangers involved with playing football at the highest level, and the league should stop trying to regulate big hits out of the game.

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