Whenever the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders get together on the football field, expect more than just a little excitement. In fact, expect an all out war. The two longtime AFC West rivals renew hostilities this coming Monday in Northern California, with more than just a little on the line.
As the Chargers prepare this week for a run-in with their old nemesis, word around San Diego is that top running back Ryan Mathews may be ahead of schedule for a return to the team.
For those with a good memory, Mathews broke his clavicle in his one and only run of the night in the preseason opener with Green Bay Aug. 9. As a result, the Bolts running game was suddenly thrust into conversation, leading some to doubt as to whether or not veteran QB Philip Rivers would be throwing more, or handing off to free agent Ronnie Brown in the absence of Mathews.
While Mathews has not received doctor’s approval for contact on the gridiron, he did take part in individual drills on Labor Day, giving San Diego fans some hope that he may be ready to go if not for the opener, then perhaps the home opener Sept. 16 versus Tennessee.
Even though Mathews has had some injury issues in his few years with the Chargers, he is definitely a necessity for a team looking to get back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. In 2011 (Mathews’ second year in the league), he rushed for 1,091 yards in 14 games.
Offensive Line Concerns
While the news of Mathews participating in individual drills is encouraging, Charger fans may not be as thrilled to hear an update on the offensive line.
The task of protecting Rivers under center will fall to a least one rookie free agent when the Bolts line up across from the Raiders Monday evening.
A source of major concern a year ago, San Diego’s offensive line looks to be challenged again this season, as rookie free agent Michael Harris gets the call at left tackle in the opener. The reason for that is Jared Gaither continues to recover from back spasms suffered earlier this summer in training camp.
At 6’5″ tall and 310 pounds, Harris started all 42 games of his collegiate career with UCLA at right tackle, but will now be asked to switch sides as the season begins. On the positive side, Harris saw action with the starters for most of the preseason.
Given Rivers (four interceptions this preseason) threw a career-high 20 interceptions a season ago, providing the veteran QB with protection on his left side will be of utmost importance.
Brown Could Return Next Month
Lastly, while he will not play in the season opener, the Bolts will reportedly place wide receiver Vincent Brown on the reserved/injured list, making him the team’s “designated to return” player eligible to play once again later this fall. Brown, who broke his ankle on a touchdown pass in the team’s second preseason game Aug. 18 versus Dallas, was projected to be out approximately two months.
In the meantime, with some new pieces in different places for the Bolts going into the opener, all the pieces need to fall into place to leave the Bay area with a victory.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Chargers news, see CBS Local Sports LA.
Dave Thomas is a freelance writer covering all things Chargers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.