Hardwick a commanding presence on the line

LaDainian Tomlinson had yet another big performance against the Raiders, leading the Chargers to a 21-14 victory. And although Tomlinson deserves every bit of praise he gets, it was the play of the Nick Hardwick and the rest of the San Diego offensive line that enabled his strong showing.

Hardwick had his usual stellar performance, but did so with an unusual face beside him. Scott Mruczkowski made his first start of the season in place of the injured Kris Dielman at left guard, marking the first disruption of the season to San Diego's usual starting five.

According to Hardwick, playing next to the youngster did not affect his game.

"We always practice together and everyone's supposed to have the exact same technique," he said. "You get in there and practice the technique and we help each other out. It's just football."

It didn't appear that Hardwick was burdened by breaking in a new player. He played a very aggressive game and did an excellent job against a very active Raiders front.

Because Oakland uses a 4-3 front, Hardwick played most of the game without a defender head-up on him. He took advantage of that opportunity by providing help on both sides of the line and by spoiling most Raider blitzes.

"We did a pretty good job against them," he said. "They're a good defense. They had a good gameplan coming in, but we did a good job in pass protection blocking them up."

Hardwick did have some problems generating movement in the running game. The Raiders have a four-tackle rotation featuring penetrating players like Warren Sapp and Tommy Kelly and run-stuffers Terdell Sands and Anttaj Hawthorne, which seemed to keep Hardwick off balance.

His day, however, was a largely successful one. He had many terrific plays, perhaps none better than that which helped spring Tomlinson's 44-yard run late in the fourth quarter. On that play, Hardwick blocked down on Warren Sapp, generating significant movement to the left. This forced the Raiders to over-pursue, freeing up ample running room on the backside of the play.

Five plays later, the Chargers scored the go-ahead run en route to their fifth consecutive win. After the victory, Hardwick spoke of the divided crowd that seems to be present whenever the Raiders visit Qualcomm.

"It's kind of like that at all of our home games; everyone seems to be taking their vacation in San Diego," he said. "You always have to look downfield (when the crowd cheers) to see who caught the ball, because it might have been an interception."

If nothing else, Hardwick & Co. gave the Chargers fans in attendance something to cheer about.

Next week, when the Chargers travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills, we will analyze the performance of returning linebacker Shawne Merriman.

SD Super Chargers Top Stories