COSTA MESA — Chargers coach Anthony Lynn has used a next-man approach for his oft-shuffled offensive line this season. But Lynn decided to skip a few men last week against the Denver Broncos, with the hope of seeing better results.
“Hell, right now we’ve had so many people rotating on the offensive line, I just wanted to see what I have,” Lynn said Monday.
Lynn had Cole Toner, a Chargers practice squad player who hadn’t played in a game the past two seasons. Toner was viewed as a worst-case scenario candidate at right guard last week if right tackle Bryan Bulaga was made inactive.
Tyree St. Louis was in line to start at right guard or right tackle if Bulaga was out for a fourth consecutive game. Scott Quessenberry was next in the order at right guard in case St. Louis needed to play right tackle.
But Lynn decided to change the backup plans when Bulaga was made available. He wanted to see what he had in the player who performed well in training camp.
Toner started at right guard next to Bulaga, and the bold move paid off for Lynn, who saw his team rush for a season-high 210 yards against the Broncos. It was the first time the Chargers surpassed 200 rushing yards in a game since they had 246 against the Cleveland Browns in 2018.
“He showed me exactly what he showed me in training camp,” Lynn said about Toner’s performance. “I thought he had an excellent training camp, but you can only keep so many on the final roster. I put him in there because I wanted to see him play. He started out a little slow, but he got better every quarter.
“It made more sense to start Scott or Tyree. They’ve been on the active roster. … I just wanted to get (Toner) in there.”
Toner started for Trai Turner, who hasn’t played since Week 2 because of a groin injury. St. Louis and Ryan Groy took turns starting at right guard, but Groy wasn’t available last week because he tested positive for coronavirus.
Turner, a five-time Pro Bowl guard, entered Week 9 with another questionable status, but Lynn said Turner returned to practice as a limited participant on Wednesday. The Chargers (2-5) host the Las Vegas Raiders (4-3) on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
The Chargers traded two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung to the Carolina Panthers for Turner in March. The team later added Bulaga in free agency with the hope of forming one of the best right sides to an offensive line in the NFL, but that hasn’t worked out so far.
Bulaga and Turner have only played one drive together, which came on quarterback Justin Herbert’s debut drive against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2. Bulaga exited with a knee injury, but he returned the following week against the Panthers before missing three consecutive games with the back injury.
Turner has only played one game this season because he missed the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals with a knee injury.
Bulaga said this was the first time he’s experienced a back injury in his 11-year career and that he might have rushed back too quickly after the knee injury. He decided not to take the chance of aggravating his back injury.
“I wanted to make sure that it was as good as possible before I came back,” said Bulaga, who played every snap against the Broncos. “Maybe there’s a chance I could be shut down for the year and that’s something I’m not going to risk.
“Last week, to me, (the back) felt the best it has … just waking up in the morning and it’s not completely locked up and it responded well.”
Bulaga said his locker is next to Turner’s and the two often discuss being on the field to help their new teammates.
“He’s another guy who hates missing time,” Bulaga said. “I’ve had conversations with him (on) how badly he wants to get back on the field.”
The Chargers have had to rearrange their offensive line many times this season, starting with center Mike Pouncey’s season-ending hip injury before Week 1. Dan Feeney has filled in at center with Forrest Lamp taking Feeney’s place at left guard.
Trey Pipkins played right tackle during Bulaga’s absence, but there was a chance he wouldn’t be available last week because he was in close contact with Groy. Pipkins came off the COVID-19 reserve list a day before the Broncos game.
Sam Tevi has provided some consistency on the line by starting every game at left tackle. But things finally settled down with Toner’s surprisingly strong performance and the return of Bulaga last week.
The offensive line can build on that if Turner is able to return against the Raiders.
Defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Troymaine Pope remain in concussion protocol. Both players left in the second half against the Broncos and were evaluated for concussions. … Turner returned to practice as a limited participant.