San Diego Chargers strong safety Marcus Gilchrist (38) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) in the second quarter of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
After leaving Sunday's game in the first quarter with what was initially diagnosed as a stinger, it was announced Wednesday that center Nick Hardwick suffered a concussion as well a neck injury in the game against the Bengals.
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said Hardwick -- who did not practice Wednesday -- is going through "concussion protocol" and would not divulge whether he expects him to play Sunday.
Concussed players are not permitted to speak with media until cleared.
Backup center/guard Rich Ohrnberger stepped in for Hardwick Sunday and did a formidable job. It's expected he would play against the Broncos if Hardwick isn't healthy. The offensive line has been stout all season despite various injuries, something players attribute to the preparation of coach Joe D'Alessandris.
"Our offensive line has been awesome," said quarterback Philip Rivers after practice Wednesday. "They have really played well together. Even with the shuffle we had throughout the year. It has been a group that collectively has played super well together in both run and pass. I love every one of those guys. They are going to fight for you like crazy and do all they can to get their job done."
THE RETURN OF WELKER
Last time the Chargers played the Broncos, they beat them 27-20 in Denver and controlled the tempo of the game. San Diego's defense held Peyton Manning to 289 passing yards, Manning's third-lowest passing game of the season.
Wide receiver Wes Welker was absent for that game.
Welker, now healthy, has 73 receptions for 778 yards this season. He will play Sunday, and the Chargers will need to account for his presence at all times.
"He's another weapon that you worry about," cornerback Shareece Wright said after practice Wednesday. "You just know he's dangerous and he's Peyton Manning's go-to guy on third down. You gotta know where he is at all times."
The trick is to not give Manning anything he can expose, Wright added.
"That's his thing. He sees what defense you're in and he calls a play that's going to beat it."
STOPPING THE RUN
The Chargers held the Broncos to 18 rushing yards in their last meet-up.
Don't expect that to happen again, said defensive end Corey Liuget.
"That was a huge step for us, but I'm pretty sure they weren't happy with it," Liuget said. "I don't know how they're going to play this game, but I know they're not going to allow us to stop them for 18 yards again. That's unacceptable and I know they're going to come and buckle their helmets tight and run that ball."
The Broncos rank 15th in the league in rushing, averaging 117.1 yards per game.
Dwight Freeney was in the locker room Wednesday, making himself available for the first time since suffering a torn quadriceps in September and going on injured reserve.
"It's excruciating," Freeney said, of not being on the field in the postseason. "I am losing my mind watching it on the sideline. I'm ready to jump on the field. You do so much in the offseason trying to get to a point where you can be in this moment, so not to be out there with my guys is killing me. I'm going to be there however I can, from an advice standpoint, mentally, whatever."
Freeney said he stays involved as much as possible, giving young guys advice and cheering his teammates on from the sideline and through text messages and calls.
The one thing he can't give them too much advice on is how to figure out Peyton Manning's secret code, despite being teammates with Manning in Indianapolis for a decade.
"I don't know how much you can really give, just because Peyton knows that I know that he knows I'm here," Freeney said, laughing. "It's one of those deals where he studies this game and every week he changes up signals or things he does. I can give them a little advice based on tempo and what he's trying to do from an offensive standpoint, but signals and all of that, even I still haven't figured it out."
Freeney, who signed a two-year contract with San Diego in May, said he is ahead of schedule with rehabilitation and is looking forward to playing to next season.
"I will be back. I still enjoy playing the game, especially with these guys."
Safety Eric Weddle (hamstring), right guard Jeromey Clary (shoulder) and defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (shoulder) were limited in practice Wednesday.
Besides Hardwick, running back Ryan Mathews and right tackle D.J. Fluker did not practice, both resting ankle injuries. McCoy said Mathews is following the same schedule as the previous two weeks, where he didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday, was limited Friday and played Sunday.
"Just taking it day by day," Mathews said. "Staying in it mentally and doing what I can to better myself."