Center stage: Scott Quessenberry makes first NFL start for his beloved Chargers
Scott Quessenberry has snapped to Philip Rivers 85 times in six regular-season games, so the 24-year-old center won’t feel star-struck when he makes his first NFL start in front of the 37-year-old Rivers on Sunday, when the Chargers visit the Chicago Bears.
That was not the case in the summer of 2018 when Quessenberry, a huge Chargers fan while growing up in Carlsbad, opened his first training camp with the team he rooted for and the quarterback he idolized as a kid.
“Yeah, for sure I was a little bit in awe of him,” said Quessenberry, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in 2018. “It was a little surreal at first. But you have to realize they’re your teammates, and you’re here for a reason too.”
Quessenberry spent most of his rookie season on special teams, playing 41 offensive snaps in three games, but nearly matched that total in Sunday’s 23-20 loss at Tennessee.
When left guard Forrest Lamp suffered a season-ending leg injury in the second quarter, the Chargers moved center Dan Feeney — who was filling in for injured center Mike Pouncey — back to guard and Quessenberry, a third-stringer to open the season, to center.
Quessenberry finished the game, playing 37 snaps. Although the Chargers struggled to run the ball for the third straight game, netting 39 yards behind a revamped line, Rivers completed 24 of 38 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns against one of the NFL’s better defenses and was sacked once for a loss of three yards.
Injuries have played a big role in the Chargers’ struggles this season, and the team’s defensive line is the latest position group to get hit hard.
“Overall, it wasn’t bad,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said of the line play. “It could have been better in the run game, but for the most part, they kept Philip clean.”
The Chargers will face another stiff challenge against the Bears, who have allowed the fifth-fewest points per game (17.5) and fourth-fewest yards per play (4.91) in the NFL and feature a three-time All-Pro edge rusher in Khalil Mack.
They’re confident the 6-foot-4, 310-pound Quessenberry will be up to the task. There were no fumbled exchanges between Quessenberry and Rivers last Sunday. The center’s shotgun snaps were firm and on target.
“He’s a smart kid,” right guard Michael Schofield said of Quessenberry. “For as young as he is, he knows the looks, the fronts, what the right call is. We’re all very comfortable with him. We’re not worried about him going out there and messing up or having the wrong technique. We know he’s going to do the right thing.
“I’m so excited for him. He grew up a huge Chargers fan, and he’s about to get his first NFL start. That’s a dream come true for him.”
Statistically, the Chargers have defended well enough, but missed tackles have led to some crucial big plays by the opposition.
Quessenberry, whose older brother, David, is a reserve offensive lineman for the Titans, said his parents were Chargers season-ticket holders for more than three decades until the team left San Diego after 2016.
From the age of about 5 through his 2013 graduation from La Costa Canyon High, Quessenberry attended most Chargers games in Qualcomm Stadium.
When he was 10 and realized his size and strength would push him toward the offensive line, he bought a No. 61 Chargers jersey in honor of Nick Hardwick, the team’s center from 2004-2014. Quessenberry wears the same No. 61 today.
“He was my favorite player,” Quessenberry said. “He played my position, and he made me want to play center even more. I was an O-lineman through and through, from day one, so it was easy to gravitate toward that.”
Quessenberry also became a huge fan of Rivers and said his best memory of the quarterback was in the AFC championship game after the 2007 season, when Rivers — playing with torn ligaments in his right knee — completed 19 of 37 passes for 211 yards in a 21-12 loss to New England.
“The gusto he showed was pretty incredible,” Quessenberry said. “It would have been easy to [pack it in], but he went out and fought for his team. That’s the type of guy and leader he is, and now, getting to see it first-hand is pretty cool.”
Rivers developed an immediate and easy rapport with the young center.
“I can talk to him more about our past seasons here than I can with anybody else in the locker room,” Rivers said. “He was there every Sunday at the Q. He had a No. 61 jersey growing up. He was a Hardwick fan.”
Now, the two hope to develop an on-field rapport that will help fuel a more balanced and efficient offense.
Undrafted Austin Ekeler has become a tremendous receiver for the Chargers, the running back currently third in the NFL in receptions.
“Hopefully it clicks early and it clicks easy,” Quessenberry said. “I think Phil felt comfortable with me being in there [Sunday]. We’ve practiced together in training camp, the preseason, the regular season. Now, we have to find that continuity between us and get after it.”
Top receiver Keenan Allen, who ranks seventh in the NFL in receiving yards (564) and eighth in receptions (44,) sat out his second straight practice Friday because of a hamstring injury and is questionable for Sunday.
“I just need to see that he can go out — play and not hurt himself — in the pregame,” Lynn said. “If he can do that, he’s going to play.”
Defensive tackles Brandon Mebane (knee), Justin Jones (shoulder) and Cortez Broughton (mononucleosis), and safety Nasir Adderley (hamstring) have been ruled out. Defensive end Melvin Ingram, who has missed three games because of a hamstring injury, is questionable.
“He’s a veteran — I trust his opinion if he can go,” Lynn said of Ingram. “We’ll see. I told him, sometimes you have to protect guys from themselves. We’ll work him out in pregame and see how he looks.”
Fullback Derek Watt (knee), running back Justin Jackson (calf) and kicker Michael Badgley (groin) also are questionable, but Lynn said Chase McLaughlin will get his fourth start at kicker Sunday. With the dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson returning kicks for Chicago, the Chargers need a kicker who can boot the ball into the end zone. Patterson returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown against New Orleans last week.
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