Last season, the Raiders split the season series with the Chargers. They beat up the Chargers in the first game with starting left tackle Marcus McNeil out of the lineup. Kamerion Wimbley got four sacks on Phillip Rivers in that game.
Things turned around for the Chargers when they faced the Raider in the final game of the season. The Raiders couldn't get any pressure on Rivers in that game thanks to their having picked up left tackle Jared Gaither midseason.
Gaither did a tour of the AFC West last season. He had worked out for the Raiders and left without a contract. The Chiefs signed him briefly and cut him. Then the Chargers signed him and he played solid left tackle for them to finish out the season.
He has always been seen as a talent but he missed the 2010 season and was cut by the Ravens due to back issues. Now those back issues have returned and what was seen as a non-issue for the Chargers has become a serious issue-they are starting an undrafted rookie at left tackle.
But if you ask them, they don't see it as a big deal.
"Well, Jared's a great player and we certainly want him out there with us," said Philip Rivers. "I think the fact that we've had over a month without him in there... the injuries that we've suffered have been very unfortunate with Jared, with Ryan Mathews, with Vincent Brown, but they happened early so we've had time to prepare for that, the guys that are stepping up have had time to practice and get ready to go so it's not as if it just happened on a game week of week one. We now have put together a month with the same group that will take the field on Monday night."
The undrafted free agent replacing Gaither and starting week one is Mike Harris. He is out of UCLA so he didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Which makes it all the more mysterious how he fell through the cracks in the draft. But again, the Chargers aren't worried. Norv Turner really likes the guy.
"He's a very mature guy," said Turner. "He came in here with not great expectations. You sign as a college a free agent and he impressed us from the beginning. You'd like him to be in a position where he's learning and waiting his turn but he's a doing a good job preparing to play."
They liked Harris so much they cut former Raiders starting left tackle Mario Henderson in favor of him.
Harris will have his hands full Monday night. The Raiders didn't have Matt Shaughnessy in the lineup in either of their games last season. He is considered the Raiders' best pass rusher. Wimbley was a pass rushing linebacker but he had his four sacks without Shaughnessy to help take on blockers.
This will be a trial by fire for this undrafted rookie. We'll see how worried the Chargers are after Monday night.