The San Diego Chargers have not had a great preseason when it comes to injuries. Wide receiver Danario Alexander is out for the year after a knee injury. Receiver Malcom Floyd is rehabbing a hurt knee and receiver Eddie Royal was in the hospital for a concussion and bruised lung. All of this is causing head coach Mike McCoy to ramp up the run game and the man to help do it is rookie D.J. Fluker.
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Fluker is easily the best signing for the Chargers this year. After an All-American career at Alabama, the rookie right tackle is being called the key to both Philip Rivers and the running backs success with the team. McCoy might not be naming the team's left tackle starter yet, but he is placing full confidence in Fluker to handle the other side despite his lack of experience in the league.
Rivers is already noticing a difference with Fluker's presence on the offensive line. Not only is he helping the quarterback stay off the ground, but he is developing into a big influence in the locker room. The 6-foot-5, 340-pound rookie has been seen leading chants and using his big personality in a leadership role.
"He's becoming a leader, already," Rivers said. "He really is...he's something else. He's a funny guy. There's a lot there to him. He's genuine."
Rivers understands that right now, the offensive line is crucial. Last season, the Chargers were 1-8 in games where Rivers threw 34 passes or more. He spent more time getting sacked and creating turnovers. San Diego was also one of two teams that did not have a 100-yard rusher in a single game during the season. They averaged 3.6 yards per carry.
Now with all the injuries at the receiver's position, playing like running backs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead become a fixture on the team. Mathews credits the line and Fluker as the team's biggest weapon.
"It's a big weapon," Mathews said. "To take some of that pressure off of Phil and to run the ball successfully, get him out of situations where he's not always having to pass and worry about making the third down because we can't run the ball, I think it's good for him."
Mathews has already seen a big jump in his production. In the first two preseason games he rushed 12 times for 64 yards. He is able to trust his instincts with the offensive line creating so much help for him. Guard Jeromey Clary believes Fluker will be big trouble for plenty of teams of this season. His size alone makes it difficult to cover him.
"It's going to be a lot of fun to double team with him, I'll tell you that much," said right guard Jeromey Clary. "He's a hell of a run blocker for sure. ... It takes pressure off Philip, and the run game gives us a chance to be the aggressors instead of being the counter-punchers. In pass pro, you're playing off the defense a little more. In the run game, you can be more aggressive. It's always good to get us going and wear them down a little bit."