Will the Chargers Offense Wilt with Withrow?

C Cory Withrow (Otto Greule Jr./Getty)

Another week, and another confirmation by the Chargers that a key player has undergone a serious operation. Center Nick Hardwick, a Pro Bowler after the 2006 season, had recent foot surgery and his availability in time for the season opener is in jeopardy.

Nick Hardwick originally injured his foot when he got caught up in the pile during the Raiders game on Oct. 14. It forced him to miss four games.

Hardwick returned to action and would play the rest of the season, including the three playoff games. But it was obvious that was more a testament to his toughness than the injury being healed.

During the offseason, Hardwick was hopeful getting off the foot would be good enough to avoid surgery. But as the months ticked away, the pain didn't.

So Hardwick, a character who keeps the rest of the offense loose in the huddle, was operated on March 14. His recovery period is estimated to be four-to-six months.

"I just have to get over it and concentrate on getting better," Hardwick said. "Sure I would have liked to have had it done after the playoffs, but it didn't happen, so now we'll move on."

With Hardwick out of the lineup - replaced by veteran journeyman Cory Withrow - the Chargers were no better than a .500 team. They defeated Texans and Colts; lost to the Vikings and Jaguars.

Hardwick is just one of several Chargers having their offseason workouts compromised by surgeries. Among them is quarterback Philip Rivers (knee) and tight end Antonio Gates (toe).

Pro Bowl Jamal Williams is also having both knees worked on at some point. He has an operation scheduled at a later date.

NOTES, QUOTES

--LB Shawne Merriman had his plush Mercedes Benz stolen in San Diego recently. The police later found it - up on blocks - after it had been burned. No suspects have been arrested.

--The Chargers have kicked off their 14-week offseason conditioning program at Chargers Park. It'll be the second one under strength and conditioning coach Jeff Hurd. "Football is so many things," Hurd said. "You can have a guy in great shape, but that doesn't mean he's ready to play football. I look at our offseason program as, 'What can I do to get guys ready to help us win football games?'"

--Special teams coach Steve Crosby not only led a special teams unit which had five touchdowns via a kickoff, punt, fumble recovery, blocked punt and failed field goal, but he had one of the season's best practical jokes. During the wild fires that hit San Diego in the fall, Crosby told his special teams unit a hippopotamus had escaped the San Diego Wild Animal Park and ended up in his swimming pool. The national media ran with the hoax, which got plenty of laughs at Chargers Park.

--CB Cletis Gordon is the team's only exclusive rights free agent yet to sign.

--LB Derek Smith, the lone free agent the Chargers have signed, will wear No. 58 in his first season in San Diego.

--CB Paul Oliver, who hopes to compete for the nickel role in the secondary, will wear No. 27 in his second year after going with No. 25 his rookie year in which he didn't see the field.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just fought through it every game. The foot specialist we saw said there was nothing wrong, so I felt like I had to play through it. He basically said if I could tolerate the pain I should be able to play. I took that as, 'Get back out there, you weenie!'" - C Nick Hardwick on why he played on his sprained foot last season.

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