Chargers Will Lean on Youth in Week 8

Last year, when the Chiefs snuck up and won the AFC West, Kansas City was considered a young team on the rise. The Chargers will look to steal that label on Monday as they will be forced to lean on several young players in this intra-division contest.

San Diego's unintended youth movement began during the season-opener when Luis Castillo went down with a broken leg. Third-year pro Vaughn Martin has started the five games since. Martin has shown flashes of his immense potential but has failed to occupy blockers and plug running lanes as effectively as Castillo.

More young players will be forced into prominent roles in the Monday night matchup against the Chiefs. Tyronne Green will start at guard for the concussed Kris Dielman. Green started seven games as a sophomore in 2010 but will make his first start of the season in prime time. He is a strong run blocker but sometimes struggles identifying blitzers coming from the second level.

There may be even more changes this week on the other side of the ball.

CB Antoine Cason
Rookie Marcus Gilchrist will likely supplant the struggling Antoine Cason at right corner. If Gilchrist does not start, he will at least eat into Cason's playing time.

Gilchrist impressed coaches throughout training camp and played well when he started in place of an injured Quentin Jammer in Week 4, picking off one pass and breaking up two others in that game. While he is trending upwards, Cason is heading in a different direction after yielding three touchdown passes in last week's collapse against the New York Jets.

The problem facing Cason is the same one he dealt with when he was demoted as a rookie in 2008 -- a step back will send him more than one rung down the ladder. The nickel back position is manned well by Dante Hughes, which means Cason could fall to the bottom of the rotation. He would not even be guaranteed dime-back duties, which currently belong to the more versatile Paul Oliver.

Gilchrist is not the only rookie defender in-line for an increased role. Undrafted rookie Darryl Gamble will take over Larry English's spot in the rotation after English went on injured-reserve with a broken foot. Gamble won his roster spot with a productive preseason but still has a long ways to go when it comes to refining his technique and diagnosing defenses. The coaches will keep it simple for him this week, using him primarily to rush the quarterback in obvious passing situations.

The bigger concern is on special teams. Gamble was one of the players responsible for letting Minnesota's Percy Harvin return the season's opening kickoff for a touchdown. Gamble knows he must be better this week against a Chiefs team that returned two kicks for scores the last time it hosted the Chargers.

Relying on young players to contribute so heavily is a risk. This week, it is a risk the Chargers are forced to take.

How will injuries impact Monday's game? Talk about it in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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