Game ball to the O-line

Offensive line coach Hudson Houck walked up to rookie tight end Justin Peelle and said, "You're going in at right tackle." Peelle just stared at him wide eyed. "You've got to be kidding me," Peelle said he thought to himself. "I'm still trying to figure out tight end!"

Michael Keathley was on the ground, unable even to make it to the sideline, his left ankle being examined by the team's medical personnel. Toniu Fonoti had come off the field just one play prior to the sight of Keathley down. The unit had used all of its players and 255 pound rookie tight end Peelle was the only backup left at the tackle position.

There were five minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter. The Chargers were out of offensive linemen and down 17-7.

"I don't know if we would have been able to do what we did with four offensive linemen and a tight end trying to play tackle," Peelle said. "I would have done what I could have done. But you never know. We're just lucky Toniu was able to come back. That was huge."

Fonoti did in fact trot back onto the field on a badly swollen ankle. He was in the huddle before the conversation between Houck and Peelle ended.

"A teammate goes down, I've got to be there," he said.

The Chargers would finish that way, with their final five offensive linemen on the field. Peelle never had to go into the game.

The Chargers started the game down a number of linemen. First, center Cory Raymer was lost for the season, a victim of a torn Achilles heel. Jason Ball has stepped in to stabilize the line.

Next starting tackles Vaughn Parker and Damion McIntosh were lost for the game. Parker has surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn triceps and will miss this week's game and possibly the season. McIntosh missed the game with a sprained ankle that did not progress at all this week. Ed Ellis and Sammy Williams replaced them on the line.

During the game was when things got really hairy. Fonoti left the game with an ankle injury and was replaced by Kelvin Garmon. It would be Garmon's first action of the season after going inactive since being acquired from Dallas.

Starting guard Bob Hallen left the game with a concussion and Michael Keathley replaced him on the line. Fonoti was now back in the game but had to leave the field again with his ankle still bothering him. It came full circle when Keathley went down and Fonoti went back in more out of need than anything else.

"I'm really proud," Fonoti said. "The guys that came in, they stepped up. We all came together like we knew we could. I don't think anybody else would have thought we'd come through like that. We had something to prove. We had V.P. go down, we had Mac go down – that's almost the whole O-line right there. We had Sammy and Ed come in, and they did just as good as Vaughn and Mac."

"I was, like, 'What's going on here?'" said Garmon, laughing. "I've never seen anything like that before."

All of the linemen were quick to credit position coach Hudson Houck, who molded the Cowboys' lines of the mid-1990s into one of the NFL's best units and is working similar magic in San Diego.

"He does a really good job preparing us," Hallen said. "He makes sure each guy is prepared, whether first team or second."

"I think a lot of people talk about the offensive line, young, inexperienced, stuff like that, but I think when you look throughout our line, including Cory Raymer we've got 10 guys that have started ball games in the NFL," said rookie center Jason Ball, who has started the past eight games in Raymer's stead. "I don't think there are lot of teams that can say that."

"That just shows how talented this offensive line is, first, second (string). When I came in I watched film and I was, like, 'Man, I'm coming to a very good team with very good offensive linemen.' Everybody's just as good as the person in front of him, so when we get in we just have to play that way," added Garmon.

Ten players have started at the five offensive line positions. So many doubted this unit and now they lead the league in the two main categories that offensive linemen are graded on:

They lead the league in fewest sacks allowed with 11 on the season, which was nicely capped off by a 50 pass performance by Drew Brees that resulted in NO sacks allowed against San Francisco.

They also boast the leagues leading rusher, LaDainian Tomlinson and paved the way for Tomlinson to gain 88 yards on the ground in their win on Sunday.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer called the groups play "outstanding."

"I'll be honest with you, back before camp, I said if we could stay healthy on the offensive line, we'll be able to get the things that we're trying to get done," Schottenheimer said. "I didn't anticipate the injuries that we've had, but these young guys, given an opportunity to step in and step up, they've just been a part of that unit, and that unit has been able to perform well together."

Interchangeable parts, a great offensive line coach and a willingness to work together and trust the man next to you. Call it a family this offensive line. Last year it was just offensive and now they are a well oiled machine. Kudos and a game ball to a deserving group of players.

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