Which backups will step up on Sunday?

The Chargers' injury report will be littered with big names this week. Lorenzo Neal is out for the rest of the regular season. Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo will be inactive against Detroit. And Jamal Williams is a big-time question mark with a badly sprained ankle. How will the Chargers cope with this rash of injuries?

Fifth-year veteran Andrew Pinnock replaces Lorenzo Neal in the starting lineup. Pinnock will make his first career start, and Norv Turner will have to alter the game plan to fit Pinnock's skill set.

Pinnock is not as powerful as Neal, functioning more as a seal-off blocker than a bulldozer. However, unlike Neal, Pinnock is an actual threat with the ball in his hands. Now, all of those throws out to the fullback in the flat might not look so excruciating.

Also, Norv Turner might consider un-retiring the quick-hitter to the fullback on third-and-1. Pinnock, a fullback-halfback hybrid, has the quick feet and vision to make those plays.

"(This) gives Andrew Pinnock an opportunity to step in and play a role on this team," LaDainian Tomlinson said. "That's what makes a good team, is having guys who can fill in and get the job done. Andrew has to step up and he understands that. I think he'll accept the challenge."

Another sub will be Marques Harris, who will make his second start of the season. Harris is a superb pass rusher, but is most effective when limited to 15-20 snaps because of his size (6 foot 1, 231 lbs.).

Harris struggles to anchor against the run. When he was pressed into starting duty earlier this season, the Chargers replaced him with Carlos Polk in running situations. That is no longer an option, with Polk on the injured-reserve list.

Jyles Tucker, who was promoted from the practice squad on Nov. 20, will see the most extended action of his young career. Third-round pick Anthony Waters could be activated for the first time this season, although he would contribute mostly on special teams.

"Guys have to step up where they're needed and fill the role," said Philip Rivers, who is fighting an injury of his own. "The guys have done a great job of that thus far and we're going to have to continue to do it.

"You just hope that you can get through these three (games) and win and have everybody as healthy as you can, heading into January. Obviously, you have to get there first, so this game against Detroit is obviously very important."

The biggest area of concern is the defensive line. If Jamal Williams is unable to go, the Chargers will have just four healthy defensive linemen. That would all but force the Chargers to promote one of the three defensive linemen from their practice squad: Andre Coleman, Keith Grennan or Keith Jackson. Coleman appears to be the leading candidate.

Norv Turner is holding out hope that Williams will be able to play. Williams will rest on Wednesday and Thursday before attempting to practice on a limited basis on Friday. If he is unable to go, he can take solace in the fact that the Lions own the third-worst rushing attack in the league.

The Denver Broncos play on Thursday night, so the Chargers will know by kickoff time whether they are playing for the AFC West championship. Such a prospect would surely rally the Chargers, as an early clinch would allow Norv Turner to rest some players down the stretch.

Right now, no team needs it more.

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


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