Kellen Winslow, normally one of the most outspoken Chargers, extended his recently adopted policy of silence Wednesday, even as the uncertainty and controversy about his possible return to action this week piled up around him.
Coach Don Coryell, after a meeting with his tight end, said it's "very likely" Winslow will be activated for this Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Winslow hasn't played since suffering a severe knee injury last October, but has been practicing for a week and has been pronounced fit by the team's medical staff.
Coryell questioned a published report which indicated there is impatience with Winslow in the upper echelons of Charger management. Even though owner Alex Spanos declined comment, it seems plausible that he wanted to see Winslow return to action this week, and it appeared that the team was attempting to send a thinly veiled message to him.
"Kellen wants to play, but you have to ease him into it," Coryell said, dismissing the report, printed without attribution, that Winslow might be suspended without pay if he refuses to play this week.
"If all goes right, we'll activate him. But we won't use him if he isn't better than the other tight ends we have. He looks fine to me; he's running, catching and blocking well in practice."
Coryell said there is also a chance quarterback Dan Fouts, who has an injured knee, and wide receiver Wes Chandler, who has a cut above his ankle, could return to action against Minnesota, although the chances appear to be less than the likelihood of Winslow suiting up.
"Dan will throw some in practice and if his knee feels fine in the pregame warmups Sunday, he'll play," Coryell said. "It's really going to be up to Dan.
"The same is true with Wes. He's walking on his injured foot. Right now our plan is not to use him, but if can run Sunday, he may play. The thing that concerns us is that these guys are such competitors, they might try to play before they're ready. The final choice is the player's."
That may or may not be true in the Winslow case. Since the tight end has refused all requests for interviews, it is difficult to know his state of mind, but it seems clear the Charger top brass is testy about any plea that involves a lack of mental readiness.
Ron Nay, the top adviser to Spanos, said Winslow will be activated and downplayed the appearance of conflict between the player and the front office.
"There isn't a problem," Nay said. "I'm sure Kellen is a little scared of reinjuring his knee, but I don't know of anyone being mad about the situation.
"Certainly, if Kellen was activated and refused to play, he could be suspended under league rules, but I think that's premature to speculate about. That's a long way off. I really believe Kellen wants to play."
Al Saunders, the Chargers' receivers coach, said Winslow's attitude is upbeat. Indeed, the tight end was whistling and smiling as he waltzed into the lunch room Wednesday.
"We assume he's going to be ready when called upon, which could be this week," Saunders said. "The most important consideration is to win the game, and if Kellen can help us, he'll be out there. If his contribution won't assist us in winning, Eric Sievers and Pete Holohan will be the guys you see out there on Sunday."
Although he couldn't speak for Winslow, Saunders seemed to be attempting to convey some of the tight end's sentiments.
"Nobody, including Kellen, knows how he will react in a game situation after a one-year layoff from a very, very severe injury," Saunders said. "We've seen nothing in practice that's any different from the reaction you would expect from a normal player.
"The thing to remember is that Kellen Winslow is a human being, with real emotions and feelings and fears. He is not a machine, even if he sometimes performs like Superman. This is a violent game, and Kellen has to come to grips with the reality of 280-pound tackles taking dead aim at his knee. All his skill is still there, but no one can predict how he will react to his first game situation."
Coryell underscored that view, saying that Winslow isn't going to come in and play like a superstar on his first Sunday.
"I do think he can be very valuable to the team (this week)," Coryell said.