Injuries and tight ends

The Chargers will trudge forward with the parts of their defense continually shifting. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is wary of the Antonio Gates and the receivers San Diego had.

Chargers:

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips looked around at his defensive line and stated the obvious: "We're a little thin out there."

He gave an accurate assessment of the Chargers in practice Thursday as they prepare for Sunday's game with the Bengals.

Defensive end Luis Castillo spent the session hobbling around in his walking boot to protect his sprained right ankle. He hasn't practiced this week and looks to be a real longshot to suit up in Cincinnati.

Derreck Robinson, a defensive end backup who has held up when asked to contribute, has a foot injury and he didn't work.

Igor Olshansky, who starts opposite Castillo, was absent because of a personal matter. Olshansky is expected back at practice Friday and will start on Sunday.

It's anticipated that Robinson will be available, too, when the Chargers go for their third consecutive victory.

But Castillo's body language said he would be sitting out Sunday.

"I've rolled my ankle before, but I have never had a high sprain like this," Castillo said.

The absence of Castillo in itself might not be a big deal. But it's imperative the Chargers put pressure on Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, to help the defense's back end keep Chad Johnson. T. J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry in its sights.

So if Castillo is out, he takes with him his five sacks -- third best on the team.

Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who has a team-high 8.5 sacks, will miss the second game of his four-game-suspension.

And Shaun Phillips, who possibly could to go Sunday, might not be 100 percent. His game -- which has produced six sacks -- revolves around his speed. And if he's hesitant to push off on an injured calf, he might not be as effective.

Bengals:

The Bengals will contend with another top receiving tight end Sunday.

And San Diego's Antonio Gates might be the best of the bunch the Bengals will face this season, and that's quite a claim considering the list includes Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez and Baltimore's Todd Heap.

Gates already has 34 catches for 406 yards and needs six touchdown receptions in the final eight games to reach double digits for the third consecutive year.

"You're not necessarily treating him as a tight end," said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, a former defensive coordinator. "You're treating him as a wide receiver. I think the one thing that's a constant with these teams that everybody is beginning to understand is that the focus isn't their receivers as much as it is the tight end."

The Chargers might have the most balanced pass attack of any Bengals opponent that emphasizes the tight end. Gates isn't the leading receiver; tailback LaDainian Tomlinson has 38 catches for an 8.5-yard average and two touchdowns. Wide receivers Eric Parker (29 catches for 434 yards) and Keenan McCardell (27 for 315) are productive. Neither wide receiver has a touchdown, though.

"It keeps you from devoting all your attention to the wide receivers," Bengals linebacker Landon Johnson said of a tight end-oriented pass game. "When you have a prominent pass-receiving tight end, it's somebody else to account for in pass defense."

The Bengals have allowed 35 receptions to tight ends in eight games for 415 yards and four touchdowns. Overall, the Bengals have allowed 161 receptions for 1,828 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Individually, Heap had the most receiving yards, 84 last week. Gonzalez had the most receptions, eight, and a touchdown. In Kansas City, Cleveland (Kellen Winslow Jr.), New England (Ben Watson) and Atlanta (Alge Crumpler), the tight end clearly is the best receiver and the focus of the offense. That point is one Lewis made Thursday.

"Not to take anything away from their receivers, but these teams ... that's the way they look to their tight end," Lewis said. "And at the end of the day, what happens is somebody looks at their stat sheet and sees the tight end caught eight balls and the receivers caught 12, total. It's just a matter that their offense is put together that way."


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