Fringe Players Fight for Survival

With the San Diego Chargers electing to rest their starters Thursday against the San Francisco 49ers, the spotlight was on the rookies fighting for roster spots. Several of them stepped up under pressure, leaving Coach Norv Turner with some difficult decisions to make.

The first half of Thursday's affair offered little to like for the visiting team. Billy Volek threw a pair of interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 47.0; Larry English and Antoine Cason overpursued on a 46-yard touchdown run by Antony Dixon; and the Chargers went into intermission down 10-0.

The best the first 30 minutes had to offer was a strong performance by Buster Davis, who was targeted five times and caught four passes for a team-high 82 yards. Davis actually caught the fifth pass, too, but was unable to get both feet down in bounds.

While Chargers fans are excited to see Davis looking ready to contribute -- which will be needed, given the absence of Vincent Jackson -- the real story on Thursday came in the second half when fringe players fought for their NFL lives.

FB Mike Tolbert
Ezra Shaw/Getty
The two youngsters who helped themselves most were Jeremy Williams and Curtis Brinkley.

Williams sparked a Chargers rally by returning a punt 93 yards for a score. He also caught four passes for 42 yards. Although his stellar night was tarnished by a lost fumble in the fourth quarter, he likely solidified his place on the active roster.

Brinkley's future is less certain, although he did himself a world of good at Candlestick Park. The first-year back gained 100 yards from scrimmage on only 18 touches (13 rushes for 57 yards; five receptions for 43 yards). Nonetheless, he may be expendable because of the presence of versatile FBs Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester.

Also helping himself was Jonathan Crompton, who played the entire second half and completed 9-of-16 passes for 114 yards and an interception. With the Chargers considering keeping only two QBs on the active roster this season, Crompton stepped up and may have preserved his position among the final 53.

Williams, Brinkley, Crompton and the rest of the fringe players will learn their fate on Saturday, Sept. 4, when the roster must be reduced to 53 players.

What did Chargers fans think of Thurday's game? Find out in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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