The Chargers will be without at least four linemen on Sunday. Jamal Williams and Ryon Bingham are on injured-reserve; Travis Johnson has been ruled out with a groin injury; and Nick Hardwick is out with an ankle injury. Louis Vasquez, listed as questionable with a knee injury, could be on the sidelines as well.
Here’s a look at five linemen who will be playing and making a difference.
1. NT Ogemdi Nwagbuo – Last week against the Oakland Raiders, Nwagbuo played in his first NFL game and picked up his first career sack (and San Diego’s only sack of the game). He’ll have a chance for another first this week as he figures to replace Williams in the starting line-up.
Nwagbuo (6-foot-4, 303 lbs.) lacks Williams’ size, strength and leverage. However, he injects some new assets into the D-line such as quickness and speed-in-pursuit. He won’t command as many double-teams as Williams, which is good for Nwagbuo and bad for San Diego’s linebackers.
2. DE Jacques Cesaire – Cesaire makes his return after missing the season-opener with a calf injury. He won’t have much time to shake off the rust, as he and Luis Castillo will be the only veteran members of the defensive line rotation.
Cesaire is an intelligent player and a team leader, so his presence should benefit the youngsters he’ll be surrounded by. Nonetheless, he’ll need to bring more than intangibles if San Diego is to slow down Baltimore’s offense. He’ll have to hold his ground at the point of attack and seal off the back end of plays if the Chargers are to come out victorious.
3. DE Andre Coleman – For the second consecutive week, Coleman was called up to the active roster just a day before the game. He saw his first professional action against the Raiders but failed to grace the box score, something that won’t fly against the Ravens.
Coleman is not the type of two-gap lineman that typically excels in 3-4 defenses, but he boasts excellent quickness and the ability to make tackles in space. He could have up to 20 snaps to prove himself and the Chargers need him to take advantage.
4. C Scott Mruczkowski – A five-year veteran, Mruczkowski will make his third career start (and first at center) against the Ravens. Although he’s spent limited time at the hub position at the NFL level, he’s an intelligent player capable of making all the necessary calls and adjustments during the game.
One thing that’s always an issue with new centers is the quarterback-center exchange. Mruczkowski must be on-point with his snaps, especially when Philip Rivers is in the shutgun, to prevent Baltimore from getting any free turnovers.
5. OL Brandyn Dombrowski – Regardless of Vasquez’s availability, Dombrowski figures to play a significant role. If Vasquez is out, Dombrowski will slide over from his natural tackle position and make his first career start at right guard. If Vasquez plays, Dombrowski will be the top backup at every position except center (which would be either Tyronne Green or Dennis Norman).
Dombrowski struggled initially when he was thrown into the fire against the Raiders, but he settled down and played well down the stretch. The Chargers need that calmer, more settled Dombrowski to show up if called upon.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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.