A lot of good starting the season healthy did.
In the matter of a week, the San Diego Chargers have suffered debilitating injuries on both sides of the ball. First, it was Pro-Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams going down for the year. Now, a Chargers press release confirms veteran center Nick Hardwick has undergone surgery on his injured left ankle, sidelining him for at least eight weeks and possibly the season.
This is major blow to the Chargers' offensive line and locker room. Both Hardwick and Williams were team leaders and the core of their respective offensive and defensive units. The leadership roles on this team will now be solidly placed on players such as Philip Rivers and Stephen Cooper, who are ready for the responsibility
The injury to Hardwick, as well as Williams, occurred in the Monday night's hard fought win in Oakland. Neither injury was initially considered all that serious. That has obviously changed now.
The veteran center, Hardwick had played in 69 games, starting all of them, over six seasons. He's never missed more than four games in a season and only nine in his career. It will be difficult, particularly in the running game, for the Chargers to replace him long term.
Expect GM A.J. Smith, who has been busy filling Williams's vacancy, to be looking for another offensive lineman. Rookie backup Tyronne Green has some experience at center but more depth is needed.
Going forward, Scott "Mooch" Mruczkowski will be the man in the middle for the 'Bolts. The 6'5", 325 pound Mooch got his first NFL start at center this past weekend against the vaunted Baltimore defense and performed well. Now that the job is his for the foreseeable future, I'm sure he'll be spending a lot more time in the film room—especially with blitz happy Miami and Pittsburgh up next.
Mooch has been with the Chargers for five seasons, and that will certainly help him become the full-time starter. Calling out the protections, recognizing defenses, and knowing everything that has to happen on any given play are just of the few things that makes center such a demanding position.
On a line that had already lost longtime right guard Mike Goff to free agency, it will now be all the more important for veterans Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman, and Jeromey Clary to step up.
The next two weeks before the bye will be very telling. How the Chargers handle the adversity of losing stalwarts on both sides of the ball will give everyone a very good idea of how mentally tough this team is and how far they might go this year.
Every team suffers big injuries, but it's the teams that persevere and find a way to win despite it all that end up going places in January.
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