With injuries San Diego is forced to rely on replacements for Pro Bowlers at several key positions in this Sunday's game. I thought it would be a good time to take a closer look at them.
Jeremy Newberry - Center
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Newberry in the second round all the way back in 1998. He would go on to miss much of that first season with a torn ACL. He played both guard and tackle over the next few seasons, before taking over at center for Chris Dalman. While in San Francisco he twice made the Pro Bowl. In August of 2006 he suffered a season ending micro-fracture and that would spell the end of his days with San Francisco. He played Center last year for the Raiders.
It could have been the way he completely angered Jamal Williams when he played against the Bolts, but when the Chargers were looking for depth for Hardwick and the line in general they picked him up. He did seem to have some issues snapping to the shotgun in training camp but looked solid against the Panthers last weekend. He does have some ongoing issues with his knees and injuries are a concern. Despite his play there is no doubt that the Bolts will be glad to have Hardwick back at center; he has just started practicing with the team again.
Jyles Tucker - Outside Linebacker
Tucker was an unsigned FA out of Wake Forrest who played defensive end in college but was a little too small for that position in the NFL. Extremely fast, the transition to OLB came fairly readily for him. When Merriman went down last year in the Titans game, Tucker filled in much of the time against the Raiders. He had one of those games where everything went right, he was credited with 3.5 sacks, 3 solo tackles, and a forced fumble that he also recovered for the TD. Being the backup for Merriman he picked up the nickname of 'Flashlight'.
He isn't Merriman, but he is one very talented athlete. In the preseason he had ten tackles and one sack that included a forced fumble against St. Louis QB M. Bulger. Bulger left and didn't return, but was only rattled. It was a little tense in light of Bulgers' injury last year. In the preseason game Tucker also forced an errant throw by the Cowboy's backup QB, leading to a Jammer pick. He has did this while playing in a very vanilla scheme preseason. Last week against Carolina he only picked up two tackles, this game at Denver will be a big test for him.
LJ Shelton - Offensive Tackle
When Marcus McNeill went down with a neck stinger, it was hard to believe he was going to miss games, but the injury has lingered and he still hasn't been cleared to practice. It was fortunate/prescient indeed that AJ had signed LJ Shelton for just such an occasion. Originally drafted by the Cardinals back in 1999 in the first round, he was an early holdout. He went on to the Cleveland Browns in 2005 where he played one year, helping pave the way for running back Reuben Droughns who ran for over 1,000 yards.
He moved on to Miami where he played for a series of coaches and QB's. He was released last year, which likely had something to do with an escalated contract of 3 million dollars. That was where AJ stepped in and snatched him up. He has looked surprisingly good filling in, but the running game did take a long time to develop against the Panthers. With Julius Peppers in the line though, you have to give some credit to these guys for only allowing one sack.