Young Guns Deserve Their Shots

Injuries have played a major role in the Chargers' disappointing start. It's not that the Chargers lack depth, it's that the wrong players are being asked to step in. Here are a few tweaks Norv Turner should consider.

When Nick Hardwick went down with an ankle injury against the Oakland Raiders, it only seemed natural to slide eight-year veteran Cory Withrow into the hub position. However, former Bowling Green star Scott Mruczkowski would have been a much better choice.

Although he lacks Withrow's experience, Mruczkowski has superior size (6-foot-5, 318 lbs.) and is more equipped to generate movement in the running game. Additionally, he is a heady player and well prepared to call out blitz pickups and protections. He has the brute strength to wear down the Indianapolis Colts' undersized defensive front if given the opportunity.

"He was our best offensive lineman, not just because of his play on the field but because he is so intelligent," said Bowling Green head coach Gregg Brandon of Mruczkowski. "He's great at center because of his leadership abilities and because of his long snapping skills."

Another young player who deserves some playing time is Paul Oliver, especially if Quentin Jammer is down with a hamstring injury. The supplemental draft pick has yet to play in a game this season but is the only corner on the roster who can approximate Jammer's physicality and run-stopping ability.

The Indy game may be the ideal time to break in Oliver. Colts' receiver Anthony Gonzalez will miss the game with a hand injury and Marvin Harrison is still bothered by a knee injury.

Oliver could play in place of the less physical Antonio Cromartie on early downs to ensure Joseph Addai doesn't break any big gainers down the sideline. In the nickel packages, Oliver would be replaced by Cromartie and Cletis Gordon.

"Paul Oliver is very competitive, aggressive, confident player," said General Manager A.J. Smith. "He's not cautious about anything he does on the field."

The Chargers have been reluctant to lean on young players this season. Like Oliver, third-round pick Anthony Waters has yet to play in a game. The same goes for fourth-round pick Scott Chandler. In fact, the Chargers have gotten just one start out of this year's rookie class, which was made by Craig Davis in week two.

Rookie Legedu Naanee was given his first real chance to contribute on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings and came through with a 22-yard catch-and-run and a 17-yard pickup on third-and-13. All he needed was the opportunity.

This is a bit ironic, given what Norv Turner said the day he was hired.

"The thing that I take the most pride in is the development of young players, whether it is the quarterback, a running back, whether it is a tight end or wide receiver," said Turner on Feb. 19.

Of course, Turner also said the team would start fast and be good both early and late. Maybe if he does something to justify the former statement, his team will respond to justify the latter.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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