SAN DIEGO (AP) — King Dunlap appears to have won the starting job at left tackle for the San Diego Chargers.
It won’t be official, though, until rookie coach Mike McCoy says so.
Dunlap started and played well in Saturday night’s 24-7 victory at Arizona in the third exhibition game, the one usually considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Dunlap even came back after injuring his right ankle.
Still, McCoy refuses to declare Dunlap the winner over Max Starks in the competition to protect Philip Rivers’ blind side.
“We’ll announce the starters when we get there. We’ll let you all know that when we do,” the evasive McCoy said Sunday.
McCoy did say that Dunlap, signed as a free agent from Philadelphia, “did a nice job. Actually the entire offensive line did a nice job protecting Philip. There were one or two little breakdowns with a little too much pressure here and there, but I think they did a nice job. Just continue to keep working together, get the best five guys out there and see what we can do.”
Rivers wasn’t sacked, but he did throw an interception.
The Chargers need a dependable left tackle after going through the debacle last year with Jared Gaither, who was released in the offseason because of a poor work ethic.
When Dunlap went out Saturday night to get his ankle taped, he was replaced by Mike Harris, who as an undrafted rookie started nine games in 2012.
Ryan Mathews continues to have a good exhibition season, with the exception of fumbling on a play that turned into a wild touchdown for the Chargers.
Mathews carried 14 times for 57 yards and a touchdown. He’s looking for a big year after a dismal 2012 in which he broke both his left and right collarbones, and continued to have a fumbling problem.
Mathews went over the middle from the Arizona 1 just before halftime but the ball was knocked free. Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson picked it up but, in an ill-advised move, lateraled to Sam Acho. Acho was hit by Antonio Gates and again the ball popped in the air. Another San Diego tight end, John Phillips, grabbed it and returned it 3 yards for a touchdown.
“We were going to give it to him again, the next play,” McCoy said.
Last year, then-coach Norv Turner limited Mathews’ touches after a critical fumble in a loss to Atlanta.
Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Manti Te’o remains in a walking boot. He sprained his right foot in a loss to Seattle in the exhibition opener on Aug. 8 and has missed two games.
McCoy would say only that Te’o is “Moving along. He’s working hard to get out there. He’s working extremely hard whatever way he can to condition himself the right way.”
Asked how far behind the former Notre Dame star is, McCoy said: “He’s just not getting the reps out there. He’s in every meeting, he’s at every practice, he’s taking mental reps, so it’s just actually going out there on the field and taking the snaps.”
Wide receiver Robert Meachem, who has a guaranteed $5 million salary, remains a non-factor. He’s had just three receptions, for 58 yards, in three games.
Asked about Meachem not playing until the third quarter Saturday night, McCoy said: “We’re doing what we think is best for the football team.”
The Chargers, who must cut down to 75 players by Tuesday, host San Francisco on Thursday night. They open the regular season at home against Houston on Sept. 9.
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