In their exhibition opener, the San Diego Chargers will barely resemble the team that went to the Super Bowl more than six months ago.
When the Chargers play host to the Minnesota Vikings tonight, as many as nine starters will be missing from the team that was routed 49-26 by the San Francisco 49ers.Defensive stars Junior Seau and Leslie O'Neal are out with hamstring injuries, center Courtney Hall will sit because he's being brought back slowly from offseason surgeries and running back Natrone Means won't play because he's practiced only twice since ending his holdout.
On Sunday, the Chargers disclosed that cornerback and punt returner Darrien Gordon tore the same rotator cuff he had surgically repaired in the offseason and will likely undergo another operation.
"That means it could be a possible season-ending type of thing," said coach Bobby Ross, who added that Gordon, a first-round draft pick out of Stanford in 1993, would be back no earlier than mid-November. Gordon, who led the AFC at 13.2 yards per punt return, will be replaced at cornerback by either second-year pro Willie Clark or top draft pick Terrance Shaw.
Left tackle Harry Swayne also is coming off an injury, and safeties Stanley Richard and Darren Carrington departed in the offseason.
Lewis Bush makes his first start in place of outside linebacker David Griggs, who was killed in a car crash in June.
Vikings quarterback Warren Moon has been limited since the opening of training camp due to a strained muscle in his right shoulder and isn't expected to play.
The Chargers will welcome back offensive lineman Eric Moten, who hasn't played since tearing up his right knee at Seattle on Oct. 3, 1993.
"It's definitely a new beginning for me and I'm going to approach it as such, try to go out and have a good game for however long I'm in there, and give it all I've got," Moten said. "Hopefully I'll hold together."
Four games into the 1993 season, the Chargers' hopes of repeating as AFC West champions already were unraveling. They were trailing Seattle 31-14 with 39 seconds left, when quarterback John Friesz was knocked into the back of Moten's legs.
"I remember we were losing, it was late in the game and we were just trying to block through to finish the last plays off, not give up the cheap sack," Moten said. "I got hurt."
Moten had been injury free since being drafted out of Michigan State in 1991, starting 31 of 36 games. Now he couldn't even walk; tight end Duane Young and defensive tackle Shawn Lee had to carry him off the field.
The diagnosis was torn ligaments and nerve damage. Some people thought his career might be over.
"I knew it was bad when I couldn't move my foot and stuff," said Moten, who has missed 28 regular-season games and the three playoff games last year, including the Super Bowl. "I thought I was a tough guy. I guess I'm just mortal after all."
At the time, Moten had moved over from left guard to fill in for the injured Swayne. Moten is again filling in for Swayne.
Trainer Keoki Kamau said Moten's injury was the most severe he's seen in 15 NFL seasons. The rehabilitation was difficult as well.
"When I say it's tough, it's almost hard for me to describe some of the things that this guy went through," Kamau said. "I threw every swinging thing at him. We wanted to kind of stimulate the nerve, keep the neurological firing going, sending signals to his leg, those kind of things. That's kind of tedious work."