After week one of the NFL season, the Chargers find themselves in a familiar place.
Minus one starter on the offensive line.
Just like last season, when center Nick Hardwick went down with a neck injury against the Cardinals in Week 1, the Chargers lost right guard D.J. Fluker to a high ankle sprain against the Detroit Lions in the team’s opener.
Fluker was beginning to work more and more at guard in training camp even before incumbent Johnnie Troutman broke his forearm this preseason. And, although listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report Friday, Fluker could miss at least the next three games.
The Chargers have options at right guard.
Chris Hairston, who signed with the Chargers as a tackle in April on a one-year deal, and who had never previously played guard in the NFL, filled in for Fluker after his injury and played well. There is a chance this week that the Chargers could move center Chris Watt to right guard, his position out of college, and start Trevor Robinson at center.
While still an option, the latter appears unlikely at this point.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Hairston got first team reps in practice at right guard.
“The speed of the game,” Hairston said when asked about the adjustment of playing inside. “It changes a little bit with your eye discipline… It’s a little bit more, things flashing across your face. You got to be ready to adjust. You can’t hesitate at all. At guard, you got to be ready to roll.”
Hairston has made 15 starts in the NFL, all at tackle with the Buffalo Bills and none since 2012. And while Sunday’s contest against the Lions was his first game appearance at the position, he’s had plenty of practice at the position.
Chargers offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who likes his players to learn and practice at multiple positions on the line, was the offensive line coach for the Bills during Hairston’s first two seasons in the NFL.
There, he practiced at guard, and did the same this summer with the Chargers.
“I was just glad I was ready, “ Hairston said. “It’s a testament to this coaching staff, a testament to the guys that helped me get caught up and get rolling at the position.
“You got a guy going in for the first time, it’s a lot of communication. It’s a lot of gelling that has to happen instantly. When a guy goes down, there’ cant be any drop off. There can’t be a, ‘well, I didn’t get the same fit.’ Five guys have to be as one and I jus want to be a part of that one.”
Like last year at this time, the Chargers are down one.
Hairston’s the next man up.
–Andrew Burer (TWITTER: @andrewburer)
For an in depth look at the Chargers matchup against the Bengals, listen to Andrew and Annie Heilbronn’s game preview podcast here.