The Loss of Jamal Williams Is Bigger Than Losing Merriman Last Season

Michael Scarr@@scarrpmContributor ISeptember 25, 2009

ORCHARD PARK - OCTOBER 19:  Jamal Williams #76 of the San Diego Chargers moves on the field during the game against the Buffalo Bills on October 19, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Healthcare is not just a concern in Washington.

For every senator looking to debate a particular issue or sort through the din of misinformation, there is an NFL general manager, head coach and trainer hoping to answer the simple question.

Can my guy play or not?

There is not a football team that doesn’t face that most basic of questions on a regular basis and the Chargers have already fielded their share on the young season with possibly one injury looming larger than the others.

That would be Jamal Williams, who has been lost for the season with an elbow injury.

There are other maladies facing the Chargers, certainly. Center Nick Hardwick has had ankle surgery and is expected to be out at least until the team visits Denver on Nov. 22.

LaDainian Tomlinson has been nursing a sore ankle since the season opener in Oakland and has yet to practice. LT has said he won’t play until he’s 100 percent, not willing to repeat the mistake of last year.

Lesser hurts and/or illness have also affected the roster, including key starters Stephen Cooper, Eric Weddle, and Kris Dielman.

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But the loss of Williams is a tremendous blow. As big as losing Shawne Merriman last year with the possibility of creating an even greater drag on the team’s ability to slow down the opposition.

Not only is he lost for the year, which eliminates any patchwork or Band-Aid fix to bridge the gap to mid-November as they can do with Hardwick. But Williams is the axis of the Chargers defensive line around which the other pieces operate.

No Williams at anchor, no pressure on the edge, as teams will quickly learn that the place to attack the Chargers is up the middle.

That worked last week for the Ravens and coming to town are the Dolphins, whose Wildcat formation needs no introduction. The Chargers couldn’t stop it a year ago and the Colts did little to slow them down last week as Miami controlled the ball for 45 minutes.

A lack of explosiveness, though, could only produce 23 Miami points against the Colts so the Chargers may be able to turn to their offense to carry the load come Sunday.

But finding someone to slow down Ronnie Brown, the focal point of Miami Wildcat, or any featured NFL running back, will be paramount.

As Turner has pointed out, there is nothing gimmicky about their offense and that was apparent Monday against the Colts as Brown routinely found the soft spot of the Indianapolis defensive front or changed pace with an inside handoff to Ricky Williams.

And where did they direct most of those runs? Right up the middle, and right where Jamal Williams was not last Sunday, will not be again this Sunday or any Sunday for the rest of the season.

A three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All Pro, Williams did not miss a game last year while starting 15. He also registered 46 tackles, which led Chargers linemen.

At 33, Williams may not get to the quarterback as often as he once did, but his ability to handle a double-team and hold the point of attack at the line of scrimmage has allowed leading tacklers Cooper and Weddle to fill the gaps on run support.

Last week, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice combined to rush for 115 yards as the Ravens picked on Ogemdi Nwagbuo, a former practice squad player who has logged his first six NFL tackles in two games this season, but also a rotation of Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire and rookies Vaughn Martin and Andre Coleman.

Coleman has since been released and re-added to the practice squad, but the Chargers have signed veteran Alfonso Boone, who is in his ninth NFL season. Boone appeared in 15 games for the Chiefs last season but also worked under Rivera in Chicago.

With Travis Johnson out Sunday with a groin strain, the depth chart remains thin so the addition of Boone could prove critical for the Chargers to establish some consistency and allow Rivera to utilize his defensive strength, which are the linebackers.

A year ago, Merriman was advised to have knee surgery. He ignored the opinions of four different doctors, played a few series in the opener and had the procedure anyway.

The defense spent half a season looking for an identity and it cost coordinator Ted Cottrell his job.

Rivera should be able to adjust more quickly with the loss of Williams but that doesn’t mean the Chargers defense will be any more effective.

He will have to identify one large body to occupy the middle or rotate a nose-tackle-by-committee to slow down the run.

Otherwise, the Wildcat on Sunday will just be another installment of a season-long, running-game nightmare the Chargers will have to solve.