LT Worries Not Limited To GB

The Packers kick off the preseason tonight at San Diego, which will be without starter Jared Gaither and depending on an undrafted rookie free agent. That's a similar situation as Green Bay, which will be counting on journeyman Herb Taylor to replace Marshall Newhouse.

Preseason Game No. 1

Green Bay Packers at San Diego Chargers

7 p.m. (CDT) Thursday (ESPN).

Is it an injury worth watching? Or is more important to keep an eye on the calendar to put it in perspective?

Good questions, as they pertain to left tackle Jared Gaither.

The Chargers are banking much on Gaither this season, with their offense built around quarterback Philip Rivers. Gaither must keep Rivers clean by keeping him from harm's way, protecting his blind side with a vengeance.

But Gaither hasn't practiced for a significant stint because of a sore back. With Thursday's preseason opener against the Packers on the horizon, is Gaither's absence a cause for a concern?

Or should everyone just take a deep breath?

Gaither has big cleats to fill, something he did well down last year's stretch in replacing Pro Bowler Marcus McNeill. He parlayed that into a three-year contract, with the Chargers gambling his third team is a charm.

The Ravens gave up on Gaither; ditto the Chiefs. His effort was questioned; his production faltered.

But the Chargers hope that is behind him. Although of immediate concern is what's behind Gaither, and there's not much.

Mike Harris is next up, and his NFL resume is razor thin. An undrafted rookie free agent from UCLA, asking Harris to fill such a void is a grand leap of faith.

That said, Harris has impressed coaches with his play and he's being talked-up in camp. But is that an indication of Harris' play, or does that speak to the Chargers trying to build a players' confidence, one they might have to count on soon.

"I'm very impressed with our young guy, Michael Harris, he's really stepped up and he's going against really good pass-rushers, so that's kind of a bonus," coach Norv Turner said.

Peeking further down the depth chart shows two more undrafted rookies in Cordell Bell and John Cullen. It's possible, backup right tackle Mario Henderson could slide over.

"We need to get Gaither back," Turner said. "He's making progress. We'll see. With him, it's going to be a day-to-day.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Nate Kaeding vs. Nick Novak at place-kicker. Kaeding is among the most accurate regular-season kickers in NFL history. But he missed all but last year's opener with a knee injury, and in his place Novak was pretty decent in converting 28 of 35 attempts. But Novak did falter a bit down the stretch, and that opened the door further for Kaeding's return. Like most camp battles, this one will be determined by exhibition-game performances. Kaeding has been kicking well in practice as has Novak - and it is considered his job to lose. Kaeding's struggles in the postseason are well-chronicled, but he has the edge to start the regular-season as the main kicker. Most important, Kaeding said his knee is back to 100 percent.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Running back Ronnie Brown: Brown has shown the Chargers he has something left after gaining but 136 yards on 42 touches last year in Philadelphia. Some 20 pounds lighter than last year, Brown is opening eyes even those doubting he could rebound. "That's part of the motivation," Brown said. "That's what keeps me going. But that's just part of it. On the other end, I'm a competitor. I love to compete, and just to have those people that doubt you, that gives you added motivation. Not that I need it, but at the same time it's always good." Brown will give the Chargers an option on third down and he could occasionally spill Ryan Mathews on early downs.

ROOKIE REPORT: OLB Melvin Ingram isn't dousing speculation that sooner, rather than later, he'll be the team's top pass rusher. Ingram is among the first linebackers rotating in on passing downs and he isn't disappointing. ... LT Michael Harris, an undrafted rookie from UCLA, continues to hold his own during practice while replacing Jared Gaither. ... QB Jarrett Lee, after struggling early, is looking more comfortable as camp continues. He could land somewhere as a No. 3, even possibly with the Chargers. ... RB Michael Hayes, an undrafted rookie from Houston, is getting noticed with his play. ... SS Brandon Taylor, a third-round pick, is holding his own playing with the second and third teams. Taylor, the Chargers hope, can be groomed to be a starter.

QUOTEWORTHY: Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, along with coach Norv Turner, enter the season on the hot seat after a four-season run with just one playoff win. Following two straight seasons of not qualifying for the playoffs, Smith was quoted as saying the Chargers have work to do to again be mentioned among the NFL's top teams.

"We have lost our respect in the league and our credibility in the league," Smith said. "We were an elite team. You miss one year in the playoffs? OK. You miss two? You deserve everything that's being said about you."

The Chargers are 17-15 over the past two seasons.


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