The San Diego Chargers defense is cramming for a chemistry test.
Its first problem is two days away.
Injuries to key starters separated the unit during training camp, and the disjointed product struggled, at times, in game action, conceding touchdown drives in both its series last week against the San Francisco 49ers.
Nose tackle Antonio Garay is healthy. Linebackers Shaun Phillips and Larry English, too.
With Sunday's season opener against running back Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings approaching, the unit is making up for lost times this week with a focus on building chemistry.
“It's good to have all the guys back together,” linebacker Takeo Spikes said. “I know fans, people are eager to see what we're going to do. It's going to be a great test. I like it. From our perspective, I like where we're at because after this game, we really get to see where we are, even though we didn't have all the starters playing together in the preseason.”
So far, the process of coming together, players say, has come along.
English, who missed the bulk of camp while rehabbing a foot and then knee injury, calls communication and repetition the keys to playing in-synch football.
He said the chemistry is “getting better, day in and day out.”
“We're close but we're not there yet,” English said. “That's why we have two or three days left to prepare and put the finishing touches on it … Are we going to be perfect? No. But is it going to be where we want it to be? That's what we're concentrating on.”
Chargers coach Norv Turner said Thursday that English is still shedding the rust from his time away.
If he doesn't start Sunday, Travis LaBoy will likely be his replacement and become one of five new starters on defense this year.
Rookie defensive end Corey Liuget, middle linebackers Spikes and Donald Butler, and safety Bob Sanders are the others.
“They haven't had a lot of time together, and that's a concern,” coach Norv Turner said. “We're going to have to work to become a unit that plays together on every down. There's going to be some adversity at times for our guys, and we're going to have to fight through it.”
A Healthy Start
With arguably the league's best running back coming into town, a healthy nose tackle has been an encouraging sight this week at Chargers Park.
"Everything feels great," Garay said. "Like I was never gone ... I was out there yelling and talking, so I think everyone pretty much knew I was back. I was running my mouth and making sure I was running my feet just as fast."
English is also feeling healthy.
The former first-round draft pick has been ailed with injuries, it seems, since the team selected him 16th overall in 2009.
"This is the best I've felt in a while," English said. "My muscle feels good. My foot, knee -- everything. Everything feels good."
Wide receivers Vincent Brown (hamstring) and Patrick Crayton (ankle), and middle linebacker Jonas Mouton (shoulder) are the only three players who haven't practiced this week.
Not This Time
The Chargers defense has the task of facing Peterson, who ran for an NFL-record 296 yards and three touchdowns in the two teams' last meeting on Nov. 4, 2007.
Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb, in his last meeting against the Chargers, threw for 450 yards and two touchdowns on Nov. 15, 2009.
Defense end Jared Alen hasn't faced the Chargers since he played for the Kansas City Chiefs. On Dec. 2, 2007, Allen sacked quarterback Philip Rivers twice and caught a 2-yard touchdown pass.
While none those performances happened against this year's personnel, Turner said there is one takeaway that can be made from previous stats.
"You know what guys are capable of," Turner said. "They are obviously proven players, great players. We know what they're capable of doing, and you're not going to stop guys like that. We just need to limit them."
No Blackout for Chargers
Enough tickets were sold for Sunday's season opener to lift a blackout in the Southern California region.
The game, which begins at 1:15 p.m. PST, will be televised live.
Blackout for Everybody
All 1.4 million San Diego Gas & Electric Co. customers were left in the dark Thursday, including Chargers personnel in Mission Valley.
Most players were either in the locker room or shower when the blackout occurred. Afternoon meetings were pushed to early Friday morning as a result, and players went home early at about 4 p.m.
The power outage caused most NFL fans in San Diego to miss the league's season opener between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. The Packers won 42-34.