Chargers max-protect

Running backs backs in. Extra tight end sets for blocking purposes with a late release. Slide protection to the left side. That could be the San Diego Chargers gameplan this week.

The Chargers have an interesting dilemma in Monday night's season-opener against the Oakland Raiders: how to best protect Philip Rivers.

Rivers, the third-year pro, is making his first NFL start. Working against will be a loud Raiders crowd - 7:15 p.m. start time on the West Coast - but he must face last year's NFL sack-leader in Derrick Burgess.

So conventional wisdom says to load up on the right side of the offensive line, giving tackle Shane Olivea plenty of help in slowing down Burgess, the left defensive end.

But if you commit tight ends and extra blockers to that side, what about the left side?

Over there the Chargers will be watching rookie Marcus McNeill get his NFL baptism. McNeill has looked impressive in the preseason games, but none of those contests will come close to the intensity he'll feel and hear at the Black Hole.

Making matters worse is he is playing with a heavily wrapped left hand, after a recent surgery to repair a fracture.

In protecting Rivers' blindside, it would appear McNeill will need some help, too.

But if the Chargers choose to protect Olivea on the right side to help with Burgess, what about the left side where McNeill draws Tyler Brayton?

"A lot of butterflies," McNeill admitted going into his first game. "(Preseason) was a learning curve. I have to now show people how aggressive I can be."

It's a blocking nightmare that could come back to haunt the Chargers. Although if LaDainian Tomlinson can gash the Raiders' run defense enough times, the pass-rushers won't be able to just zero in on Rivers.

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