Running back Curtis Brinkley #44 of the San Diego Chargers dives over the Kansas City Chiefs defense from two-yards out for a touchdown during the fourth quarter on October 31, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chiefs defeated the Chargers 23-20 in overtime.
It could be the Mike Tolbert and Curtis Brinkley show Sunday for the Chargers.
Running back Ryan Mathews, limited by a groin injury, missed his third practice of the week Friday and is officially listed as questionable to face the undefeated Green Bay Packers at Qualcomm Stadium.
If he cannot play, the Chargers (4-3) will turn to Tolbert and Brinkley, a complementary pair of former undrafted free agents, to handle the load with Tolbert seeing the bulk of touches.
Brinkley passed his concussion test Thursday and practiced Friday for the first time this week. Tight end Antonio Gates also returned after taking a rest day Thursday, which figures to be a weekly occurrence. Both are probable.
Gates will start Sunday, and the possible rainy conditions could play to his strengths.
"He is made to play in this type of stuff," coach Norv Turner said. "He's got great balance and body control."
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson (hamstring) practiced in full for the second straight day and is also probable.
Wide receiver Malcom Floyd (hip), outside linebacker Shaun Phillips (foot), inside linebacker Na'il Diggs (knee), left guard Kris Dielman (concussion) and defensive end Luis Castillo (tibia) didn't practice all week.
Floyd and Diggs are questionable, Phillips is doubtful, and Dielman and Castillo are out. Rookie wide receiver Vincent Brown, who has seen only 17 snaps in the past three games, should see more of the field Sunday if Floyd can't go.
Mathews and Floyd are considered capable of playing Sunday despite a lack of on-field repetitions.
The Chargers practiced in the rain for the first time this season. Turner said it did not affect who practiced and who did not. Per the National Weather Service, there is a 70 percent chance of rain Sunday.
Ready to Go
The first time Tolbert returned to practice Wednesday from a hamstring injury, he took it easy.
On Thursday, he did a little more.
Then on Friday, despite a slick Mission Valley field, Tolbert went for it.
"Today, I hit it hard, and it felt good," said Tolbert, adding he could have been an emergency option if the team needed him Monday night against the Chiefs.
The Chargers ultimately kept him inactive.
Should Mathews sit Sunday, Tolbert will be needed, and if it's raining, even better, he says.
"I love it. I'm from the South, man," said Tolbert, born in Douglasville, Ga. "If it ain't raining, or it ain't ... a muddy field, I don't like it."
Simulating Crowd Noise
When in a pinch, inside linebacker Takeo Spikes is the man for an idea.
In Week 3, he told his fellow defensive starters to run out of the pre-game tunnel as one. On Friday, he had the Chargers pump up their crowd-noise simulator in practice — despite that they're preparing for a home game.
The gesture wasn't due to the number of Packers fans expected at Sunday's game, Turner said, but because the defense wanted to practice its signals.
"They do a lot personnel groups," Turner said of the Packers offense. "They spread you out pretty good. Just making sure our communication is good."
Spikes said it was about "forcing guys to talk without even saying anything."
"We've been on the road for a month," he said. "When you're used to playing on the road, you never get any crowd noise on third down because (the offense) is at home. Just trying to think ahead and be proactive and in the habit of (communicating)."