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Chargers’ Rashawn Slater, on COVID-19 list, might miss Thursday game vs. Chiefs

 Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater takes a break during an NFL game.
Chargers offensive tackle Rashawn Slater has been put on the COVID-19 reserve list and is in danger of missing the AFC West showdown Thursday night against the Chiefs.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers put Rashawn Slater on the COVID-19 reserve list Monday, leaving in doubt his availability for their key AFC West matchup Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Coach Brandon Staley said Slater tested positive Monday morning. He did not rule out the rookie left tackle, but Slater is facing a tight window to make it back in time to play this week.

By NFL rules, vaccinated individuals can rejoin their teams after producing a pair of negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

In early December, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt became the first player to test positive and return within the same week to play.

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But in that case, Watt tested positive on a Monday and generated the two necessary negative tests on Friday and Saturday.

Joshua Palmer, taking over for Keenan Allen in the slot, played a big role in the Chargers’ 37-21 victory over the New York Giants.

If Slater is unavailable Thursday, the Chargers will have a major void to fill. He has been a standout all season, teaming with veteran Matt Feiler to give the team a stout left side of its offensive line.

The No. 13 overall pick in the NFL draft, Slater has played every offensive snap for the Chargers this season. Through 13 games, he is graded as the 15th-best offensive tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

Slater was one of 36 players put on the COVID list Monday. That total is the league high for a day.

“It’s just part of the world that we’re living in,” Staley said. “You make your adjustments when things happen, and you keep it moving. I know that we’re doing the best within our ecosystem to make sure that our ecosystem here at the building is safe and that we follow the protocols the best that we can.”

In Slater’s absence, the Chargers likely would have to turn to Trey Pipkins III in their biggest game of the season. The winner Thursday will be in first place in the division with three games to go.

The Chargers’ 37-21 win over the Giants might be a part of their story to fight for a playoff spot, but this game will be remembered for Justin Herbert’s 59-yard TD throw.

Pipkins, in his third year out of Sioux Falls, has started eight games in his career but has played sparingly this season. He was used primarily as an extra blocker to start the season but was unable to hold that job.

The Chargers drafted rookie Brenden Jaimes in the fifth round and have been grooming him to play guard. He was a tackle in college at Nebraska. Staley called Jaimes an “emergency option” at left tackle.

Not having Slater could be doubly significant given how well the Chiefs have performed on defense of late. In winning six in a row, Kansas City hasn’t given up more than 17 points in a game.

“Their front’s playing really well and rushing the passer at a high level, putting pressure on the quarterback,” Staley said, all of which points to the importance of the play of the Chargers’ offensive line.

The Chargers beat the Chiefs 30-24 at Kansas City in September. But Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark missed that game because of a hamstring injury.

He is back now, and the Chiefs also have moved Chris Jones back to defensive tackle after trying him on the edge early in the season with limited success.

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Staley said Kansas City’s defenders also appear to be more comfortable in their scheme than they looked in September. He likened that transition to what the Chargers also have gone through this season.

The Chiefs have made a few personnel changes during the season too, including the addition of defensive end Melvin Ingram, who was a three-time Pro Bowl selection for the Chargers.

Slater’s positive test is just the latest COVID issue for the Chargers. Leading receiver Keenan Allen missed the team’s 37-21 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday after testing positive last week.

Staley said Allen should be able to rejoin the Chargers in time to play Thursday “barring a setback.”

Starting safety Derwin James Jr. also missed the game against the Giants after injuring his hamstring last week in practice. Staley said James is improving and characterized his status as day to day.

 Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who injured his ankle against the Giants, is helped off the field.
Austin Ekeler, who injured his ankle against the Giants, is helped off the field. Chargers coach Brandon Staley believes the running back will play Thursday against the Chiefs.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Running back Austin Ekeler left in the middle of the third quarter Sunday and did not return because of an ankle issue. Staley said Ekeler had “soreness and a little bit of swelling but nothing major.” He said Ekeler should return to practice Tuesday.

The players were given Monday off, but the Chargers, per league rules, issued an estimated injury report. Among the additions were tight ends Jared Cook (quadriceps) and Donald Parham Jr. (knee), wide receiver Mike Williams (heel) and safety Trey Marshall (ankle/hand).

The Chargers ramped up their player recovery immediately after beating the Giants. Among other options, players had ice baths and massage therapists available at SoFi Stadium.

“We’re just trying to create the winning edges for our guys and show them that, ‘Hey, we got to plan for you and we’re gonna pour everything we can into you guys so that you can be at your best,’ ” Staley said. “Hopefully, it helps our guys be their best Thursday night.”


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