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Coordinators' Corner: Offensive line staying fresh amid injuries


Following balanced performance, Dennison sees improvement in offensive line**

Head Coach Gary Kubiak didn't plan on left guard Evan Mathis playing against New England, but a groin injury to right guard Louis Vasquez forced his hand to abandon that plan. Mathis was thrust back onto the field and rookie guard Max Garcia moved to right guard.

"We weren't quite sure how ready he was to go, and he came in and did a really good job," Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison said. "As far as what did we see from his play, the same thing—a steady guy, got on his guy, communicated well with the guys around him. That's what we expect."

The top shots from Thursday's practice in preparation for the Chargers. (photos by Ben Swanson)

Garcia did well, too, earning a nomination for rookie of the week for his role in helping the Broncos rush for a total of 179 yards on the ground.

"He's really progressed, but that's going to happen with a young guy just getting reps," Dennison said. "When we had him moving in and out of the lineup and taking a series here and there, those reps were great experience for him, and it's paying off now."

After missing practice on Wednesday, Vasquez returned to practice on Thursday in a limited capacity. Injuries have hit pretty much every spot on the line at some point in the season, but Dennison and the group have worked to keep continuity as best they can while trying to keep everyone as fresh as possible.

"One year I had five guys play all but four snaps which is unusual the other way," Dennison said. "You never know. Shoot, we lost [T] Ryan Clady in OTAs. It's just one of those deals that we're not going to stop. We're going to keep going and put in the guys that are healthy and give us the best chance to win. They've been doing a good job as far as moving guys around. [Offensive Line Coach] Clancy [Barone] has been working with everybody and making sure everybody is on the same page."


DeCamillis keeping focus inward amid Chargers' coaching change**

For Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis, Sunday's game against San Diego raises a new situation that he has not experienced in his 27 seasons of working in the NFL. The Chargers, who just fired special teams coordinator Kevin Spencer on Wednesday, have handed over their special-teams duties to assistant special teams coach Craig Aukerman.

"That's a first for me. I've had where we go in, like we did that [Colts] game, and they fire an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator, but I've never seen that before. It's a new experience," DeCamillis said. "I have a lot of respect for Kevin. I've competed against him for a long time. I'm sorry for that, but it's kind of the business we've chosen."

The Chargers have struggled to a 3-8 record, and there's no one culprit for their disappointing season, but they have had difficulty in returning punts and kickoffs, as well as covering them.

San Diego is last in the NFL in punt-return average, gaining just 3.1 yards per return on 11 returns, which also ranks last. Former punt returner Jacoby Jones has fielded the most punts for the Chargers so far with 13, of which he had returned five for a grand total of minus-4 yards.

And that's former returner Jacoby Jones because in Week 8 against the Ravens, the Chargers held a 23-19 lead in the fourth quarter and with 9:23 remaining, Jones opted to let a Baltimore punt drop at the San Diego 22-yard line rather than try to fair catch it. The ball rolled to the 3-yard line. San Diego went three-and-out and lost two yards on the series. The ensuing punt and return set up Baltimore at the Chargers' own 38-yard line. They would score the go-ahead touchdown six plays later, and later win on a field goal as time expired.

The Chargers also rank 29th in kickoff return average (20.5 yards), 26th in average punt return yardage allowed (10.2 yards) and 30th in average kickoff return yardage (28.7 yards).

Regardless, DeCamillis is not focused on if or how the Chargers will try to change their ways in a matter of days before taking on Denver, but he has turned his concentration inward.

"We just have to worry about us," DeCamillis said. "That's the biggest key going into this game and not worry about different schemes or anything that we might see. We just have to worry about us."


Philip and Phillips familiar with one another**

Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips is quite familiar with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. After all, he was on the coaching staff when Rivers was acquired by the Chargers in a draft-day trade in 2004.

So he definitely knows what he and his defense will be going up against on Sunday.

"Any quarterback that passes Joe Montana for number of touchdown passes is certainly one to be reckoned with, and he's still going strong," Phillips said. "Their team obviously hasn't had a great year, but he's having a great year. He's been a great quarterback for a long time. He's obviously a guy we're concerned with. They've got one of the top passing games in the league. We have to stop the run first, as always, but he's one of those quarterbacks I've talked about. He can beat you throwing the ball. He had one game where he had 500 yards passing and no interceptions. That's incredible."

Rivers is averaging 319.2 passing yards per game—a career-high mark if he can keep it up—and his prolific passing may only be matched by his prolific trash talk.

"He's also a great competitor. [He is a] good trash talker, too," Phillips said. "I'm sure I'll get some of that on the sideline."

But one of the unique things about Rivers and his trash-talking style is that he does it without swearing.

"He's real nice when he trash talks," Phillips said. "His competitiveness is similar to some of the great quarterbacks I've been around. Jim Kelly was that one—not trash talking, but just great competitors. Obviously, John Elway was too. They want to beat you in anything they do. He's one of those guys."

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