SAN DIEGO — Babe Laufenberg will start at quarterback for the Chargers Saturday night against the Rams in Anaheim.
Mark Vlasic will start at quarterback for the Chargers the next Saturday night at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
Mark Malone started at quarterback last Saturday night against the Cowboys in the Chargers' exhibition opener.
None of which goes a long way toward explaining which of those three will start the regular-season opener against the Raiders Sept. 4 in Los Angeles.
Malone probably still has the inside track for the regular job, even though Laufenberg was the match that lit up San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium over the weekend in the Chargers' 24-21 come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
But Laufenberg's strength may be his weakness in his search for the starting job.
"Babe has that innate ability to create plays," Charger Coach Al Saunders said Tuesday.
It's just that Laufenberg, who completed 13 of 23 passes for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns in the final 15 minutes Saturday night, may turn out to be a better finisher than starter.
Privately, the Chargers already suspect that that's the case.
If Laufenberg is the best "relief pitcher" the Chargers have, they can always bring him off the bench. But what happens if he starts, plays poorly or is injured, and Malone or Vlasic has to finish?
That's what Saunders and Jerry Rhome, the offensive coordinator, need to know. So Vlasic will finish the game against the Rams. And Malone will finish against the 49ers Aug. 20.
"We've got to see all three quarterbacks in all three situations (starting the game, the second half and the fourth quarter)," Saunders said. "We've got a couple of weeks to see that. I wish we had a couple of years. But we don't."
Against Dallas Saturday, Malone completed 8 of 12 for 70 yards. Vlasic connected on 11 of 18 for 113 yards.
The future of injured defensive end Leslie O'Neal was the subject of a high-level meeting that included owner Alex Spanos; Steve Ortmayer, the director of football operations, and Dr. Richard Steadman of Lake Tahoe.
Spanos emerged from the meeting, conducted on the team's UC San Diego practice field, and announced that O'Neal's medical treatment will henceforth take place in San Diego under the guidance of Charger physicians.
"Leslie won't be running back and forth to Lake Tahoe every two weeks," Spanos said.
O'Neal begged to differ.
"It's stupid to worry about whether I'll go to Lake Tahoe," he said. "It doesn't matter whether I'm here or there. If there's a major problem, I would have to go there."
But, O'Neal said, he won't fight the Chargers on their desire to continue his rehabilitation locally. Likewise, Spanos said he didn't have a problem with Steadman continuing to oversee O'Neal's condition.
Steadman is the surgeon who operated on O'Neal after O'Neal blew out his left knee Nov. 30, 1986, against the Colts. O'Neal hasn't played a down since.
Accompanying Steadman at Tuesday's meeting was Marvin Demoff, O'Neal's Los Angeles agent.
According to O'Neal, Steadman told Spanos and Ortmayer that O'Neal won't be able to play for at least eight weeks.
Still, O'Neal said he is encouraged with his progress. "I feel like an athlete again," he said.
O'Neal said his biggest problem is staying low while attempting to move to his left.
O'Neal was a rookie at the time of the injury and was leading the team with 12 1/2 sacks.
Saunders was encouraged by Steadman's report, saying he hoped to have O'Neal in uniform and doing football-related drills within the next couple of weeks.
More bad news on John Clay, the tackle acquired from the Raiders in the Jim Lachey trade. Clay suffered a hip flexor muscle strain Tuesday. It was not immediately known how the condition would affect his ability to practice the rest of the week.
But Clay was in visible pain as he limped off the field after the afternoon practice. This follows the back injury that was still bothering him when he came to the Chargers July 30.
Any practice he misses won't help his attempts to learn the Charger offense.
"He needs all the work he can get," Saunders said.
Nothing new to report on free-agent holdout linebacker Chip Banks. Banks and the Chargers reportedly have agreed to terms on a 5-year, $4.8-million contract. But Banks wants a $300,000 reporting bonus in 1990.
Monday, Charger owner Alex Spanos issued an ultimatum, saying that Banks must report to the team by midnight Thursday or he would take the offer off the table.
"These kids are working real hard," Spanos said of the Chargers in camp. "There's no reason Chip shouldn't be out there next to them."
Responding to reports that Banks will sit out the season, Spanos said: "I'll be very disappointed if that's his decision."
Contacted at her Augusta, Ga., home, Banks' mother, Nancy, said she didn't know whether her son would report this week. Asked if she thought her son would play football this year, she said, "I'm hoping he does. But if he doesn't, he doesn't."
Veteran Miami quarterback Don Strock, now a free agent, does not interest Charger Coach Al Saunders. Responding Tuesday to the question, "What about Strock?" Saunders replied, "What about him?" Strock is 37. . . . Saunders says he now hopes to have Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow on the practice field by Thursday. Winslow is still recovering from knee soreness because of arthroscopic surgery. Saunders said Winslow will not play against the Rams Saturday.