SAN DIEGO -- Running back LaDainian Tomlinson was back at practice Wednesday for the first time since spraining his right ankle during the season opener, an encouraging sign for a San Diego Chargers team that has struggled to run the ball.
After missing two consecutive games for the first time in his nine-year NFL career, Tomlinson said Wednesday that he hopes he can play in Sunday night's game at Pittsburgh. Not only do the Chargers (2-1) expect the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers to be riled up after falling to 1-2, but San Diego hasn't won in Pittsburgh since the 1994 AFC Championship Game.
The Chargers have been careful to avoid rushing back Tomlinson. They could either chose to let him play Sunday night or have him sit out a third consecutive game and then have the bye week to continue to let him heal.
"I want to play in this game," Tomlinson said. "But again, that's dependent on how the ankle does. I think having the bye week definitely helps us both ways, playing and not playing. I think we're going to wait and see."
Tomlinson participated in all of practice Wednesday.
"I'm just trying to get back into it, just kind of testing it and see how it feels during practice," he said. "Any time you come off being injured, you gain confidence back by practicing. So today was a measuring stick of where I am. It felt pretty good."
Tomlinson said the key will be how his ankle feels Thursday.
"I'm going to continue to get treatment and we'll see as the week goes along," he said.
"It was good to have L.T. practice," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "I thought for what we asked him to do and what he did in the first day back, things went smooth. I'm anxious to see how he feels in the morning. I thought there were a couple of times that he turned it on pretty good. But again, when you're coming back, to me, it's a day-to-day thing, and we'll see where he is tomorrow."
Tomlinson's absence coincided with the Chargers struggling not only in the running game but when they had the ball inside the opponent's 20-yard line. They're 1 of 11 in the red zone in their last two games, with the only touchdown being Philip Rivers' 5-yard run in last Sunday's 23-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
The Chargers usually are strong inside the 20 with Tomlinson, the 2006 NFL MVP.
"Any way I can help this team, I'm willing to do it," he said. "Definitely the red zone is the area maybe I can take some of the pressure off things that we do down there, and teams have to play us a little bit more honest. That's what it's all about, and hopefully I can do that."
The Chargers have gained just 199 rushing yards in three games, ranking them next-to-last in the NFL.
"There's no question throughout the season we're better when we run the ball well," Turner said. "You look at the end of the year last year when we started playing the way we're capable of playing, it was because we got the run going. We haven't run the ball well enough to keep them from just zeroing in on our passer and our pass protections."
Also back at practice was rookie right guard Louis Vasquez, who hasn't played since spraining a knee during the season opener.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press