COSTA MESA, Calif. – The Los Angeles Chargers spent the offseason beefing up their roster in an attempt to make the playoffs, if not the Super Bowl.
But through a 1-2 start, which included back-to-back divisional games against the Las Vegas Raiders (0-3) and Kansas City Chiefs (2-1), the Chargers suffered several injuries to key players, which raised important questions. on the team’s trajectory as they prepare for a Week 4 game at Houston (0-2-1).
“It’s part of the NFL. It’s a league of attrition and you have to be prepared for it,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “What you have to do is weather the storm and stick together. Then make sure the guys get back as fast as they can.”
The Chargers had a league-high eight players in ESPN’s 2022 NFL Rankings, which predicts the top 100 players of the season. However, five of them, plus Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley, are dealing with significant injury issues.
Here’s a look at the most worrying situations.
It’s always a big concern when a franchise quarterback has an ailment, and for third-year quarterback Justin Herbert and his fractured rib cartilage, there’s no recovery in sight.
“This injury is going to be there for a while,” Staley said after a 38-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. “If they know about the injury, it’s not like he’s going to feel better next week or the week after that. This thing is going to be around for a while. He felt good today. We will continue to manage it the best we can.”
Herbert, 24, has avoided admitting any pain, saying only that he feels “fine”.
But former NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who suffered the injury during his 17-year NFL career, provided insight into how Herbert might really feel.
“I’ve had this injury and it sucks,” Hasselbeck said on Sunday’s NFL Countdown, adding that there are multiple causes for concern. “Those little jabs, or the big punches, or can he throw? But it’s not even just that. He is using your cadence. You can hardly even breathe when you have this injury…everything is bothering you.”
Playing through the injury, Herbert completed 25 of 45 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown, with an interception and a lost fumble.
Perhaps of greatest concern to the young Pro Bowl quarterback’s recovery, however, is that he will play behind a makeshift offensive line.
The Chargers have recently invested in their line, prioritizing Herbert’s protection the past two years.
In 2021, they signed veteran center Corey Linsley to a five-year, $62.5 million deal. They then selected left tackle Rashawn Slater with the 13th overall pick.
Last April, they used the 17th pick to draft right guard Zion Johnson.
The line played one game together, in a 24-19 season-opening win over the Raiders, before it began to unravel.
Linsley left the game in Week 2 with a knee problem and was inactive against the Jaguars, though Staley said Monday that the ninth-year pro was improving.
“It really got better in the last three or four days,” Staley said. “I really hope he gets back to practicing this week.”
In a far more devastating blow, Slater tore his left biceps tendon against the Jaguars and will miss the rest of the season.
“It’s going to be a tough loss for us,” Staley said of the Pro Bowl tackle. “But we’re going to make sure, in the next couple of days, that we set up good contingencies, that we put together a group that can really play together.”
Will Clapp, a fifth-year pro who spent the past four seasons in New Orleans, where offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi served as quarterbacks coach during that time, replaced Linsley.
And at left tackle, Storm Norton took over when Slater left the game. Norton lost the starting job at right tackle to Trey Pipkins III during training camp.
Staley said it will be determined how they will account for Slater’s absence in the future.
“We’re going to review that in the next few days,” Staley said, when asked how the jobs would be filled in the future. “That’s what we’re going to try and determine, going forward, is not trying to make too many moves where there are going to be a lot of moving pieces, where guys could be doing a lot of new things. We’re going to try to keep things as consistent as we can.”
The Bolts also have backup linemen Jamaree Salyer and Brenden Jaimes.
Star pass-rusher Joey Bosa will be sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury, eliminating what was considered one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league.
With an offense that was poised to make a playoff run in 2021, much of the offseason focus was on defensive improvements.
The Bolts traded second- and sixth-round draft picks to the Chicago Bears to acquire pass-rusher Khalil Mack to pair with Bosa, but, after a promising start to the season, it’s unclear when they’ll be back together on the field.
“It is of the nature of not day to day. It will probably be week to week,” Staley said of Bosa, adding that he wasn’t sure if the Pro Bowl running back would be placed on injured reserve.
Mack has four sacks this season, which ranks second in the NFL. Bosa was 1.5.
The Chargers have been developing second-year pro Chris Rumph II, who will likely play more snaps with Bosa out, and also signed veteran linebacker Kyle Van Noy during the offseason.
Van Noy worked with inside linebackers throughout training camp, but he’s considered a borderline depth player, if need be. He moved into the position after Bosa was sidelined.
The Bolts’ receptions leader since 2017, Keenan Allen has now missed two games, but Staley expressed optimism that the five-time Pro Bowler is closing in on a comeback since suffering a hamstring injury in week 1
“I think you should see him back at practice this week,” Staley said.
If Allen can return, it would certainly be a welcome sight for a rapidly shrinking position group.
The Chargers kept just five receivers on their initial 53-man roster.
They lost backup catcher Jalen Guyton for the season, and the fourth-year pro suffered a torn ACL late in the fourth quarter last Sunday.
The remaining healthy receivers: Mike Williams, a 1,000-yard receiver last season; second-year pro Joshua Palmer and DeAndre Carter, who was signed during the offseason as a return specialist but has provided an unexpected spark on offense.
The Chargers spent a premium on cornerback JC Jackson in free agency and signed him to a five-year, $82.5 million deal.
However, his brief stint with the Bolts has been something of a mystery.
Jackson underwent surprise ankle surgery on Aug. 23 after experiencing discomfort during practice.
He was inactive in Week 1, came back in Week 2 and played 100 percent of the snaps, then, despite a nine-day layoff, was inactive again in Week 3.
Staley said there were no setbacks in Jackson’s recovery, but the fifth-year cornerback was dealing with inflammation.
“Nothing structural. The wound feels fine,” Staley said. “Making sure it doesn’t go out and something else happens. There was just some inflammation that we were looking at and being cautious about, looking at the long term.”
In Jackson’s absence, cornerback Michael Davis, a starter the past three seasons, has been a starter.