Injuries Playing Major Role

The games don't count yet, but the mounting injuries pecking away at San Diego's roster are very real. The offense is feeling most of the pain -- a good thing, because there is more depth on that side of the ball -- but the defense has not been immune. Here is a look at the key injuries and how they will impact the Bolts early in the season.

RB Ryan Mathews (Broken Clavicle)

Mathews insists he can be ready to play in time for Week 1 in Oakland, but the smart money says he will miss at least one game. As much as the offense needs him to revive a rushing attack that ranks dead last after three preseason games, there is no sense rushing back a player with such an injury-ladden history.

The Chargers will struggle to run the ball versus the Raiders, as Ronnie Brown lacks Mathews' between-the-tackles skills and breakaway speed. It will have to be one of those games where Philip Rivers throws the ball 40-plus times, using short passes in place of runs. That could mean a lot of action for Eddie Royal, assuming his groin injury is a thing of the past.

WR Vincent Brown (Broken Ankle)

WR Vincent Brown
Jody Gomez/U.S. Presswire
This was a deflating injury. Brown showed flashes as a rookie and was the star of the offseason program, starting rumblings he could emerge as the No. 1 receiver by season's end. Instead, the Chargers will be without his services for at least the first half of the season and will not see him at 100 percent until 2013.

The Chargers loaded up at the receiver position after losing Vincent Jackson, but that depth will now be tested, especially since Roscoe Parrish was unable to rediscover his form and was released in the first round of cuts on Monday. The top three remains the same: Robert Meachem, Malcom Floyd and Royal. Michael Spurlock -- known more for returning kicks than catching passes -- is the new No. 4. Richard Goodman will likely hold onto the final spot in the rotation, due mostly to his work on special teams.

OT Jared Gaither (Back Spasms)

The player dubbed "The Big Lazy" is giving a big test to the patience of Bolts fans. He has missed the last month of action due to back spasms and speculation remains he could have returned before now. The good news is he is expected back before the start of the regular season. Also, he has a history of playing well without much practice time (such as last season, when he became San Diego's starting left tackle despite having less than a week of practice with the team).

The options behind Gaither are not strong. Undrafted rookie Mike Harris (UCLA) is currently penciled into the No. 2 job. There are also a couple of veteran options: Anthony Davis (32 starts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Mario Henderson (28 starts with the Oakland Raiders). Of the three, Davis has the best combination of talent, drive and experience.

CBs Quentin Jammer, Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright (Hamstrings)

All three players are expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. The key questions are: 1) will they be compromised? and 2) will they be prone to re-injuring themselves? San Diego needs stability in the secondary, especially with Gilchrist and Wright competing to replace Dante Hughes as the team's primary nickel back.

The secondary will be scrutinized, as Jammer and fellow starter Antoine Cason are both in contract years. Gilchrist and Wright need to be 100 percent healthy so the Chargers can determine whether they are indeed the future of the position. But that's far-sighted. More immediately, the Chargers need healthy cover men to take full advantage of a beefed-up pass rush.

Can the Chargers count on Jared Gaither? Talk about it inside 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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