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Monday, December 21, 2009

Bolts Face A Challenge On Christmas

By Casey Pearce at

The Chargers are 6-1 on the road this season, but face one of their biggest challenges this week as they travel to Tennessee for a Christmas night contest.

The Chargers have an opportunity to go 7-1 on the road for the first time in franchise history. However, to do so they’ll have to overcome some unique challenges in preparation for a Friday night contest two time zones away against one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

The Chargers rarely do any on-field work the day after a game during the regular season, but they held what was essentially an up-tempo walkthrough Monday afternoon. Tuesday is generally the players’ day off, but the short week doesn’t afford that luxury. The team will wrap up their preparation Wednesday afternoon and immediately travel to Nashville to face the Titans, a team that has won seven of their last eight games.

“It’s makeshift,” quarterback Philip Rivers said of this week’s preparation. “You don’t really have a routine plan for this. You’ve got to find a way to feel as prepared as you feel in a normal week. I think being here on Monday, getting a head start is the first step to getting that done. Obviously it will be a challenge but the preparation will have to continue this week up until Christmas morning. Today is like a normal Wednesday. We’re not quite to where we would be on a Wednesday but guys are focused and we got a lot done today.”

While players didn’t begin thinking about Tennessee until Monday, Head Coach Norv Turner said his coaching staff did some work on the Titans late last week so they’d be ready to get the team started Monday. For Turner, the biggest challenge of playing on a short week isn’t practice schedules and game plans but rather getting his team physically ready to play two days earlier than they’re accustomed to.

“The players have played in a lot football games and they’re banged up,” Turner said. “They’re beat up. We’ve kind of managed this a year ago when we played at home (on Thursday). We’re going to do everything we can to be as fresh as we can. Take care of them during the week and do everything we can to get them ready to play.”

Turner has had plenty of practice getting a team ready on a short week. His time as the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator included the team’s annual Thanksgiving Day games, and he was the head coach in Washington when the Redskins played in Dallas on Thanksgiving. Last year, the Chargers hosted a Thursday night game against the Raiders.

“It can be challenging,” Turner said. “But you find a way to manage it.”

Turner and his staff have certainly managed the team’s preparation for their first seven road games of the season. The Chargers have won five in a row on the road, including victories at potential playoff teams such as Denver, Dallas and the New York Giants.

Since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, the Chargers have gone 6-2 on the road twice but never better than that. They were 3-5 away from San Diego last year and 4-4. Turner made a conscience effort to find ways to improve his team’s play on the road this season, and it has paid off.

“I think we made a big emphasis about everything we do in terms of the way we prepare,” Turner said. “I don’t know that we changed that much, but we emphasized how important it was to do the things you have to do to get ready. Our guys have done that.”

Turner’s players have bought his message of staying focused on the task at hand, and it has paid off.

“We approach it with a business mindset,” offensive tackle Marcus McNeill said. “We’re going to work. We’re not going to have fun or go sight-seeing, but to be professional and handle business. I see young guys like Louis Vasquez studying and doing things in his room on his own. When you have guys putting that kind of commitment in, it helps you have success on the road.”

Injury update

Center Scott Mruczkowski underwent tests on his ankle Monday and while this extent of the injury suffered to his ankle late in Sunday’s game is still uncertain, Turner ruled Mooch out for Friday’s game in Nashville.

Defensive end Jacques Cesaire left Sunday’s game with an elbow injury but Turner believes Cesaire has a chance to play. Linebackers Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman were sore Monday but are also expected to play.

Center of attention

With Mruczkowski out, Nick Hardwick could make his return to the lineup. Hardwick practiced Monday and will see how his surgically-repaired ankle responds Tuesday. Veteran Dennis Norman, who took the last two snaps Sunday, will start if Hardwick is unable to go.