So when McNeill's position became clear before training camp, general manager A. J. Smith sends a shot across McNeill's bow by bringing in Thomas.
But the wear and tear on Thomas was too much. He got through the early stages of camp and then was forced to undergo minor knee surgery. Upon his return, it was clear his body could no longer hold up.
And what might hold up the Chargers' run to the Super Bowl? A gaping hole where Philip Rivers' blind side needs to be protected.
With McNeill no closer to signing, the Chargers are trotting out Brandyn Dombrowski as the starter. He has never started at left tackle, or on the left side. He has nine career starts, all coming on the right side last year because of injuries.
Behind Dombrowski is Tyronne Green, a 6-foot-2 interior lineman being pushed outside because of the pickle the Chargers find themselves in.
The dour Smith will never admit it but he has painted himself into a corner. He might have seriously misgauged McNeill's resolve. If he didn't, where is the depth to cover for such a key loss?
The Chargers and McNeill still have time to find common ground. But at the very least, McNeill will miss the opener after Smith sent him, and unsigned wide receiver Vincent Jackson, roster exempt letters last week.
The talk from the Chargers are thing will be fine -- what do you expect them to say. But for a team which loves to heave the ball with such regularity -- and has a quarterback in Rivers coming off consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons -- it's odd they are taking such a hard-nosed stance with McNeill.
Jackson has off-the-field package which allows the Chargers to play tough guy.
But McNeill is not only a two-time Pro Bowler, but a great guy in the locker room and among the team leaders.
Maybe it's time for the Chargers' ultimate team leader, president Dean Spanos, to break this stalemate. If not, the Chargers' chance of breaking their curse of never winning a Super Bowl decreases dramatically.
CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 22: Players off. Aug. 23: Final training camp practice.
QB Jonathan Crompton
"I just knew he was going to do it," coach Norv Turner said. "I prefer him not to do it in that situation. That being said, that's the wrong way to think. He's a football player. He's out there playing. Go after it and do what he did."
Rivers got some ribbing for his tackle.
"I don't know how you can let a guy score," said Rivers, who weaved through various blockers to bring down Church. "They're keeping score. Maybe the consequences aren't as big in preseason as far as wins and losses, but it's kind of hard just to pass a guy up."
--Turner said the main emphasis of camp has been about being physical and developing a rugged demeanor. To date, the coach is pleased on both fronts. "I can't be more excited about the things our players are doing," Turner said. "The physicalness, the attitude, and the way they came out and played in the first half. We blocked the run exceptionally well. We protected the quarterback. I can't say enough about the way our defensive front is playing."
--DL Travis Johnson was fined $5,000 for a late hit in the team's preseason opener against the Bears.
--OLB Shawne Merriman signed his deal last week, but he's yet to play in a game. After missing the first outing, a balky Achilles' tendon prevented him from going against the Cowboys. Merriman needs a big year after recording four sacks in two seasons.
--WR Josh Reed is enjoying his time in San Diego after eight seasons in Buffalo. "I have had some good times in Buffalo, but I really like the guys here, the coaches and the atmosphere. I'm just really excited to be here."
--The team worked out at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar before their game against the Cowboys. Among the highlights was a few of the rookies getting yelled at by two Marine drill instructors to do certain requirements. "Military pushups are no joke," CB Traye Simmons said. "It lets you know how hard they work and the limits they push do."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He didn't say much other than, 'You're done.'" -- QB Philip Rivers on what coach Norv Turner told him after he saved a touchdown with a tackle just before the first half.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Chargers general manager A. J Smith sent roster exempt letters to left tackle Marcus McNeill and wide receiver Vincent Jackson. That means both players will have miss three games once they sign -- but neither is showing any signs of coming in soon.
WR Gary Banks
--OL Ryan Otterson, an undrafted rookie from Wyoming, is getting a look at left tackle with the Chargers glaring lack of depth at the position.
--OL Nick Richmond, an undrafted rookie from TCU, was also getting a look at left tackle. But his skills will likely plop him on the practice squad.
--OT Marcus McNeill did request, and was granted, a meeting with general manager A.J. Smith last week. But the pow-wow didn't produce any noticeable results.
--WR Vincent Jackson is being shopped, with Seattle as a possible landing spot; the Redskins could be in play as well. It's believed the Chargers are seeking a second-round pick for Jackson, who is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Jackson is looking for a long-term contract before agreeing to any trade.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Darrell Stuckey vs. Steven Gregory for starting SS --
Stuckey lost some time in camp because of an injury but was back in action Saturday against the Cowboys. But he looked lost on more than a few plays and seems to be playing tentatively. Gregory is improved from last year; the team could also use him as the nickel back although it appears Donald Strickland has seized that role. Stuckey is being pushed hard by the Chargers to push Gregory for that starting job. But Gregory is pushing back for right now and has held Stuckey, a rookie, at bay.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Shawne Merriman vs. Larry English for staring OLB --
Merriman in a fight for a starting job? Seems strange and that might be a stretch. But Merriman needs to get back on the field after reporting to camp late. His first week back was derailed when his Achilles' tendon started to bark. While Merriman was away, English -- although slowed as well briefly with a sore foot -- has been among the top players of camp. Merriman is the star here; English is the wanna-be star. So Merriman will be given every opportunity to get on the field. But don't be surprised if English -- he'll get his fair share of reps, too -- matches Merriman's production.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: C Nick Hardwick --
The Chargers are rock-solid about the advantages of having their anchor back in the middle. Hardwick missed most of last year with a foot injury, but played well down the stretch last year and it has carried over to camp. "I think it's nice to have Nick back 100 percent," coach Norv Turner said. "He's had a great offseason, he's about 15 pounds lighter and he's ready to have a great year." Hardwick has been having his way with defensive linemen in workouts, proving Turner is on the mark.
ROOKIE REPORT: DT Cam Thomas continues to press for playing time; he could be part of the regular rotation, especially on running downs. ... SS Darrell Stuckey returned to game action after being injured and missing the opening exhibition game. The Chargers would like to see Stuckey fight for a starting role. ... WR Jeremy Williams, an undrafted rookie, continues to open eyes with his acrobatic catches. He can also return kicks. ... QB Jonathan Crompton continues to struggle; the Chargers could be in trouble at the backup spot if anything should happen to Billy Volek. ... WR Richard Goodman, another undrafted rookie, is showing skills at returning kicks -- and he's doing so wearing the dreaded No. 16, made infamous in Chargers lore by Ryan Leaf.
--OL Tyronne Green (ankle) should return this week.
--ILB Brandon Siler (ankle) should return this week.
--LB Shawne Merriman (Achilles tendon) should return this week.
--OL Scott Mruczkowski (ankle) still could be a week away from returning to drills.
--TE Richie Brockel (shoulder) is day-to-day.
--OL Nick Richmond (knee) could be a week away from returning.
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