Chargers’ defensive line injuries could complicate efforts against Bears
In back-to-back games, the Chargers had such calamitous starts that they were unable to recover.
Then came Sunday when they authored a finish so cataclysmic it could have been detected via seismograph.
From start to finish, that’s how comprehensive the failure and frustration have been during this team’s 2-5 start.
Another way to measure the complete nature of the Chargers’ struggles is through their injuries.
Except for quarterback, they have been impacted at every position, on both sides of the ball, and that’s not counting their kicker and punter also suffering injuries.
The final group to be hit was the interior defensive line. And, in the spirit of the 2019 Chargers, both starters — Brandon Mebane and Justin Jones — were lost simultaneously.
The pair missed that crushing 23-20 loss to Tennessee and neither has been able to practice this week in advance of playing at Chicago.
Undrafted Austin Ekeler has become a tremendous receiver for the Chargers, the running back currently third in the NFL in receptions.
In their place, Damion Square and Jerry Tillery started against the Titans, with Cortez Broughton and T.Y. McGill filling out the rotation.
Now, Square has been limited in consecutive practices because of a hamstring injury and Broughton is out with an illness.
The good news? The Chargers are about to face an opponent that somehow ran the ball only seven times Sunday in a 36-25 loss to New Orleans.
That total was a franchise low for Chicago. The Bears have been in business for a century.
With Mebane and Jones out, Square’s availability becomes more significant. He’s a veteran, in his seventh season at age 30. Square also has the versatility to line up at multiple positions along the line.
“He’s at more of a comfortable level for us to say, ‘All right, we got an issue here. Let’s put him in, and we’re ready to roll and shouldn’t miss a beat,’ ” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “For that part [we] really appreciate him.”
Tillery was a first-round draft choice — No. 28 overall — in April and played a season-high 43 snaps against Tennessee.
He averaged 24 snaps through the first four games but played only 27 total in Weeks 5 and 6 before being pressed into heavier duty.
“Some of the double teams he’s getting better at but still not where we want him to be,” Bradley said. “We’re still working at the consistency.”
Statistically, the Chargers have defended well enough, but missed tackles have led to some crucial big plays by the opposition.
Bradley explained that Tillery is showing improvement at “straining,” which is the ability to fight double teams long enough that, when the double team comes off, he still can make a play.
He said Broughton, who was a seventh-round pick in April, already has displayed sufficient skills working against double teams. The rookie now needs more reps to sharpen his overall game.
“He’s tough,” Bradley said. “He’s active in there. We’ve been pleased with him. We’d have liked to see him get another game here before he got sick just to see how much of a jump [he could make].
“He was my guy that I thought, ‘This might be a story now, how he comes in and plays’ because he’s showing enough of that in practice. We’re optimistic about his ability to play.”
The Chargers added veteran free-agent defensive tackle Sylvester Williams this week.
Allen on injury report
Wide receiver Keenan Allen was an unexpected addition to the Chargers’ injury report Thursday. He was listed as having a hamstring problem and being limited during the team’s afternoon session.
Allen has battled leg issues this season but has started all seven games. He leads the Chargers with 564 receiving yards on 44 catches and has scored three touchdowns.
Joey Bosa had two sacks against Tennessee. One came from his traditional three-point stance at the end of the defensive line. The other was the result of a play that began with Bosa standing upright in front of Titans right guard Jamil Douglas.
It was a scheme suggested by defensive line coach Giff Smith and something Bosa never had done. Edge rusher Melvin Ingram has been deployed in a similar fashion.
“We’re trying to find ways to get guys in one-on-ones,” Bradley said. “To see Joey Bosa standing up you think, ‘Why not just get his hand on the ground and let him come?’
“It was good. He really took to it. I think it was something that he was very open to, but it was a little out of his comfort level. … It was pretty cool to see it was effective for him.”
Bosa worked his way around Douglas and dropped quarterback Ryan Tannehill for an 11-yard loss early in the third quarter. Tennessee had advanced into Chargers territory, but Bosa’s play forced the Titans to punt.
Ingram (hamstring) was limited in practice again and could return Sunday after missing three games. Fullback Derek Watt (knee) did not practice Thursday. … Mike Williams led the Chargers with 10 receiving touchdowns in 2018. He’s still looking for his first of 2019.
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