Shortly after welcoming back to practice one of their starters Wednesday, the Chargers confirmed another key member of their offense is unlikely to return this season.
Coach Brandon Staley said he doesn’t think center Corey Linsley will play again in 2023.
Linsley, 32, who has earned both All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors during his 10-year career, has been sidelined since late September because of a heart-related issue.
He played every snap of the Chargers’ first three games before going out, the team struggling to run the ball and with overall offensive consistency throughout the season.
“Any time you have a star player — one of the top players at his position — [out], it’s going to have an impact,” said Staley, who then praised the play of Will Clapp, who has started the last nine games in Linsley’s place.
Slightly more than an hour earlier, the Chargers received a boost when wideout Joshua Palmer returned to the practice field. He has missed the last five games because of a knee sprain.
Palmer remains on the injured reserve list but is eligible to be activated at any time. The Chargers have 21 days to move him back to the active roster, something that is unlikely to happen before they play Denver on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
While on the non-football injury/illness list, Linsley has remained with the team, even traveling to some road games. Staley repeatedly has noted the veteran’s contributions in aiding his teammates.
The Chargers signed Linsley to a five-year deal worth up to $62.5 million — with $17 million fully guaranteed — in March 2021. He made the Pro Bowl in his first year with the team and was solid again in 2022.
Without Linsley for most of this season, the Chargers have been unable to sustain any sort of ground attack. They rank 25th in yards rushing per game and tied for 23rd in yards per carry.
The Chargers opened with 233 yards on the ground against Miami but they’ve reached 150 yards only twice since and Sunday at New England finished with a season-low 29 yards on 24 carries.
Asked specifically about the play of his offensive line, Staley called the group’s performance “inconsistent.”
“I think we’ve been good in spurts, and we’ve shown quality run and pass, but it’s been inconsistent,” he said. “But it’s a good group of guys. They’re working hard. I think that it’s fair to say that our best football is in front of us.”
Leading rusher Austin Ekeler had 117 yards against the Dolphins in the season opener but suffered a high-ankle sprain. He missed the next three weeks and hasn’t looked as explosive since returning.
Three months after his injury, Ekeler still appears to be walking with a slight limp as the Chargers continue searching for a running attack.
Staley suggested Wednesday that more competition in practice could lead to additional carries for the players behind Ekeler — Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller. The Chargers have running backs Elijah Dotson and Jaret Patterson on their practice squad.
“Competition for carries is going to be something that you can see happening,” Staley said. “I think you’ve seen it on defense, competing for opportunities.”
The Chargers recently overhauled their secondary, making three significant changes based on practice competition. The group has performed better over the last two games.
“When I say, ‘keep searching,’ we’re going to keep exploring, making adjustments, so that we can find that rhythm that I’ve been talking about,” Staley said. “That’s certainly one way to do it.”
The return of Palmer would be a welcomed sight for quarterback Justin Herbert, who has been without two of his top three wide receivers in recent weeks. Mike Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 24.
Rookie Quentin Johnston has been given more opportunities because of the injuries, but the first-round pick continues to struggle with drops and earning the trust of Herbert.
The Chargers are coming off shaky back-to-back offensive showings — first against Baltimore’s stout defense and then in the rain at New England. They’ve scored only 16 points — one touchdown — over their last eight quarters.
On Sunday, they’ll face a Denver team that has won five of six and limited each of its last seven opponents to 22 or fewer points.