Laufenberg was hospitalized late Sunday after leaving the game against the Saints in the fourth quarter with rib damage. It was not immediately known how soon Laufenberg will be able to play again. He was still under observation Monday. And Charger Coach Al Saunders said he was doubtful for Miami. Saunders said "in all honesty" he would have considered giving Malone his first start as a Charger even if Laufenberg hadn't been injured.
Laufenberg completed 7 of 20 passes for 120 yards in the Chargers' 23-17 loss to the Saints. Malone relieved him and completed 1 of 2 passes for 11 yards. Laufenberg ranks 10th among AFC passers with a 59.7 rating. He has thrown 5 interceptions and 4 touchdown passes.
In 3 brief relief appearences this year, Malone has completed 19 of 38 with 2 interceptions and no touchdowns. Malone's quarterback rating is 44.6.
"The one thing that Mark has over Babe is the level of experience," Saunders said. "He has a sense of serenity about him that is a positive thing when you have a lot of young players."
Malone started at quarterback for the Steelers last year and finished with the lowest quarterback rating in the league (46.7). The Chargers traded for him in the off-season. The Chargers' other quarterback is Mark Vlasic.
"This is something I came here with the intention of doing," Malone said, five minutes after learning he was the new starter. "But I don't know of any one player who can turn this team around. You're not gonna see me throw the ball 50 yards down the field, run under it, catch it and score."
Other Chargers reported injured Monday besides Laufenberg included running back Gary Anderson (thigh), cornerback Elvis Patterson (sternum), defensive linemen Tyrone Keys (knee), Mike Charles (knee) and Les Miller (foot), linebacker Randy Kirk (shoulder), offensive lineman Broderick Thompson (knee) and tight end Eric Sievers (neck).
With the NFL trade deadline set for 1 p.m. today, the Chargers don't appear close to making any kind of a deal. But don't rule out the possibility of their getting involved in last-second talks with Philadelphia for highly regarded but unhappy guard Ron Solt.
Solt, recently traded from Indianapolis to the Eagles, has chosen not to report until Philadelphia gives him more money. Solt has said publicly he would like to play for the Chargers or Washington. And with center Don Macek is out for the year, the Chargers could move right guard Dennis McKnight to center and plug Solt in at right guard.
Steve Ortmayer, Charger director of football operations, admits he likes Solt. "But we would not give up our No. 1 in 1989 for him," Ortmayer said.
If the opportunity presented itself, Ortmayer said the Chargers would consider dealing a first-round pick in 1990 or later to obtain Solt.
The Eagles sent their No. 1 pick in 1989 and a No. 4 in 1990 to Indianapolis for Solt. Meanwhile, Colt general manager Jimmy Irsay insists there are contingencies built into the Solt deal whereby Solt could go to another team even after today's trade deadline.
Ortmayer reiterated that holdout linebacker Chip Banks won't play for anybody but the Chargers in 1988.
On the subject of the Chargers' 2-4 start, Ortmayer referred to the loss to the Saints Sunday. "You saw the difference between a 5-1 team and a 2-4 team yesterday," he said, holding his fingers an inch apart. "And it's about this much."
Defensive end Leslie O'Neal, who hasn't played a game since injuring his knee in 1986, is eligible to return to the active roster this week. But Saunders said it is unlikely he will be activated. O'Neal is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.
After six weeks:
--The Chargers have the fewest takeaways (9) in the AFC. Only Dallas (7) has fewer within the NFL.
--Charger quarterback Babe Laufenberg has thrown two fewer interceptions than Miami quarterback Dan Marino.
--Marino has thrown for almost twice as many yards (1,310-703) as Laufenberg.
Todd Santos, former SDSU quarterback, worked out with the Chargers Monday. They also gave a physical to former Raider wide receiver Dokie Williams. Today is the deadline to sign players to futures contracts for 1989. Santos is working as a clerk at a grocery store in Selma, Calif.