Wilhelm Injury Raises Questions, Opens Doors

Matt Wilhelm is itching to get back on the field as soon as possible. Not only does he need the repetitions to prepare for his new role as a starer, but he has to hold off a trio of capable replacements: Tim Dobbins, Anthony Waters and Brandon Siler. That is why Wilhelm is eager to get back in the mix and prove he can anchor the run defense.

Inside linebacker Matt Wilhelm's quest to replace Donnie Edwards is getting off to a slow start. Wilhelm injured his calf last week and could miss the entire preseason, slowing his transition from backup to starter. The Chargers are hopeful Wilhelm is out only a week or two, but there is a distinct possibility the preseason will come and go without Wilhelm taking a snap.

Wilhelm tried to spin his injury in the best possible light. "Having it happen now is so much more in my favor and in our favor than having it happen closer to September," Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm is among the three new starters the defense is breaking in. The others are Stephen Cooper, another inside linebacker, and strong safety Clinton Hart.

The task Wilhelm has is pretty daunting. Edwards led the Chargers in tackles in each of his five seasons -- he left for the Chiefs as a free agent -- and was dynamite dropping back in pass coverage. Wilhelm isn't as agile as Edwards, but is being counted on to aid a run defense that is oh-so-important to the Chargers.

The Chargers defense can dominate when unleashing a pass rush that features Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips and Luis Castillo.

But if the run defense isn't up to last year's standards, that means teams will gobble up positive yards on the early downs. That keeps rival quarterbacks from obvious passing situations, when the Chargers' pass rush can let it all hang out.

If teams aren't in third-and-long scenarios, the Chargers must also contend with the threat of the run. So while on the surface an injury to Wilhelm might not look too disarming, it has the potential to upset a defensive game plan built around reaching the passer.

But Wilhelm, who is entering his fifth season, is confident he'll be ready and the run defense won't skip a beat.

"I understand the level (of play) changes when the season opens and I look forward to that challenge," Wilhelm said.

With Wilhelm down, second-year pro Tim Dobbins will secure his reps. And while the team is high on Dobbins as well, this is supposed to be Wilhelm's time.

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