Loss to Broncos leaves Chargers largely irrelevant

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Loss to Broncos leaves Chargers largely irrelevant

SAN DIEGO (AP) It's been a long time - 2003, to be exact - since the San Diego Chargers have been this irrelevant before Thanksgiving.

Back then, Marty Schottenheimer was their second-year coach, quarterback Drew Brees was benched because he struggled so much and LaDainian Tomlinson was in the third season of a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

The Chargers were awful, heading toward an NFL-worst 4-12 finish and their eighth straight year out of the playoffs.

The current Chargers aren't as bad, but are teetering on the brink of oblivion.

The Bolts (4-6) all but ceded the AFC West title to Peyton Manning and the Broncos by losing 30-23 at Denver on Sunday, leaving them with only a desperate shot at a wild-card spot.

Philip Rivers is under siege behind a shaky line every time he drops back to pass. His turnovers are piling up at an alarming rate. He committed three more at Denver, running his total to 43 in the past 26 games.

This season he's thrown 14 interceptions and lost four fumbles. Last season he was picked off 20 times and lost five fumbles.

Rivers has been sacked 26 times in 10 games, including four times at Denver.

Coach Norv Turner admits he worries about the quarterback's well-being.

``Yeah, I am. I mean, I think for the quarterback position, all you've got to do is look at two weeks ago and there's three or four guys that are laying on the ground with concussions or separate shoulders or whatever,'' Turner said Monday.

``It's a very demanding position. Some of the things we do from a game-plan standpoint, the things we're calling, the way we're doing things, is to try to limit his exposure and still give ourselves a chance to win the game. We're all very competitive. Philip's a very competitive guy. The way we put a game plan together is very competitive.

``We're used to having success offensively, we're used to scoring a lot of points, we're used to moving the ball. That probably doesn't fit with where we're at right now. When we can we take that aggressive nature, and there's sometimes we can't.''

After a 3-1 start, San Diego has lost five of six. On Sunday it hosts AFC North-leading Baltimore, which will be without safety Ed Reed, who was suspended for one game by the NFL on Monday for repeated hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players, and captain Ray Lewis, who remains on the injured reserve-return list with a torn triceps.

Besides their on-field struggles, the Chargers are hurting at the gate. With some 10,000 tickets still unsold 72 hours before the deadline, they appear headed toward their second local TV blackout this season. Their final three home games also are in danger of being blacked out.

It's expected that Turner will be fired at season's end if the Chargers miss the playoffs for a third straight season.

Every loss, which magnifies glaring roster deficiencies, brings more calls for general manager A.J. Smith to go, as well.

Team president Dean Spanos has declined repeated requests for interviews.

In past years, Spanos has waited until season's end to make decisions. He brought both Turner and Smith back in January despite the Chargers missing the playoffs for the second straight season after making the postseason four straight years and five of six.

Turner's contract runs through next season, at approximately $3 million, while Smith has two more years on his, at a total of about $4 million. While Spanos might be inclined to fire Turner, he might not be so quick to eat Smith's contract.

Firing Turner and keeping Smith would mean Spanos would give the GM another chance to hire a coach. Turner was an unpopular choice from the start, perceived as a coach whom Smith could control.

Turner replaced Schottenheimer, who was fired after going 14-2 in 2006 largely because of his icy relationship with the authoritarian Smith. Smith and Schottenheimer reportedly didn't speak to each other for two years.

At some point, Spanos' son, John, is expected to be promoted to oversee the franchise's football operations, although not with the title of general manager. John Spanos currently is director of college scouting.

If Smith is fired, the leading in-house candidate to replace him would be Jimmy Raye, the director of player personnel. Senior executive Randy Mueller, who serves as a national scout, is a former GM of the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints. It's not known if Dean Spanos would tap him for GM.

Smith hasn't returned repeated calls seeking comment on his roster.

The biggest problems are on the offensive line, where Smith hasn't adequately replaced two top players on the left side who were forced out of the game due to injuries, and at wide receiver, where he didn't adequately replace Vincent Jackson after he signed with Tampa Bay for $55 million.

The Chargers released left tackle Marcus McNeill on March 13 after he failed a physical. McNeill, who had a neck injury, didn't get any offers and retired. San Diego felt confident having re-signed Jared Gaither after he played well in the final five games last season.

But Gaither - previously released by both Baltimore and Kansas City - has been injured most of this season. Their third option at left tackle would have been Brandyn Dombrowski, who allowed four sacks in a home loss to the Raiders last season and has missed all of this season with a foot injury. Rookie free agent Mike Harris has started five games at left tackle.

Left guard Kris Dielman retired March 1 due to the effect of a concussion and was replaced by Tyronne Green.

Due to inadequate protection, Rivers has been scrambling most of the season.

``It was a tough day,'' Turner said of the Broncos game. ``He got hit, he got banged around, he got harassed, but I thought he battled through that and obviously made big plays in the second half.''

So how long can Rivers survive?

``It's what's happened to us,'' Turner said. ``It's very difficult. Through a normal game you're going to have some plays that don't come up exactly the way you want it, you're going to have some plays where you have to get rid of the ball quicker than you like, you're going to have some plays where you're under a little bit of pressure. That's the National Football League.''

On Sunday, the Chargers had some injuries on the line.

``That put a lot of pressure on the guys up front. That pressure obviously is transferred over to Phillip,'' Turner said.

Asked how much he misses McNeill and Dielman, Rivers said: ``Those are questions that are really hard to answer because you certainly miss guys that played a lot of great ball here for many years. At the same time, I'm glad we have the guys we have. ... That is all the big what-if game. We have gone out and had the chance to win every game we've played in other than the Atlanta game that got away from us right off the bat. We just haven't played well enough to win. Individually I haven't and collectively we haven't as a team.''

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Secretary of Defense gives thumbs-up for Reynolds to pursue NFL

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Secretary of Defense gives thumbs-up for Reynolds to pursue NFL

Ravens wide receiver Keenan Reynolds can officially defer his military service to play in the NFL, secretary of defense Ashton Carter said Friday. Carter made the announcement during his graduation speech at the Naval Academy.

Two weeks ago, Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, strongly recommended that Reynolds be allowed to pursue his NFL career. Now Reynolds has the official go-ahead.

“It is a blessing to hear the news from Defense Secretary Carter,” Reynolds said in a statement released by the Ravens. “I am truly excited to proudly serve my country while having the ability to fulfill my dream of playing for the best organization in the NFL.

“I would like to thank the Navy for allowing me to represent them while taking advantage of this unique opportunity. I would also like to thank (Ravens owner) Mr. (Steve) Bisciotti and the Ravens organization for believing in me and giving me this chance.”

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement, “This is good news, and congratulations on to Keenan on his graduation today.”

The Ravens selected Reynolds in the sixth round of the draft, and are intrigued by his potential as a returner and receiver after a stellar career at Navy as a quarterback. Reynolds finished his Navy career as the FBS all-time leader in touchdowns (88).

Reynolds has sought advice on making the transition from quarterback to receiver-returner from CSN’s Brian Mitchell, who was a Pro Bowl returner with the Redskins, and from Hines Ward, a Pro Bowl receiver with the Steelers. The next challenge for Reynolds is to win a spot on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, and many people will be rooting for him.

Can Ravens WR Michael Campanaro stay healthy enough to secure roster spot?

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Can Ravens WR Michael Campanaro stay healthy enough to secure roster spot?

OWINGS MILLS – Third-year wide receiver Michael Campanaro will have a difficult time making the Ravens in 2016 if he does not stay healthy. He is not off to a good start. A calf injury forced Campanaro to miss the first week of OTA’s, and his return date remained uncertain.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh expressed empathy for Campanaro following Thursday’s practice.

“He tweaked his calf a couple of weeks ago and he’s working hard,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve just never seen a guy work as hard as this guy has worked in the last year and a half. There will be a time he will get past this stuff. This stuff will stop happening and hopefully it’s training camp, and that’s what we’re hoping for him. The guy works tremendously hard and he was in phenomenal shape, and we’re still expecting really good things from him.”

Campanaro’s season ended last year after just four games due to a herniated disc. As a rookie in 2014, Campanaro was plagued by hamstring injuries that did not clear up until late in the season.

When Campanaro has been healthy, he has produced as a slot receiver. During the Ravens’ 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots that ended his rookie season, Campanaro had four catches for 39 yards, and looked unfazed by postseason pressure.

However, Campanaro’s injuries have kept him from building momentum as a player. Meanwhile, the Ravens have added Mike Wallace and rookies Chris Moore and Keenan Reynolds to a wide receiver group that also includes Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Jeremy Butler, Kaelin Clay, and Chris Matthews.

Campanaro could help the Ravens as a returner, but so can Reynolds and Clay. The Ravens have been waiting for Campanaro to show he can remain healthy. If that does not happen during training camp, it might be too late.

Five observations from Ravens OTAs

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Five observations from Ravens OTAs

The Ravens are wrapping up their first of three -- oops, make that two -- weeks of OTA workouts this week, and Thursday's session was the first open to the media. Here are five observations after catching the first partial glimpse of the 2016 Ravens (partial because more than a dozen players, including many starters, sat out the voluntary workouts either by choice or because of injury.)

This wide receiver group appears impressive

Steve Smith Sr. wasn't even there, but Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace and rookie Chris Moore all look like they will be nice options for Joe Flacco (who, incidentally, watched the OTAs in a T-shirt as he continues his knee rehab.). Heck, the fact that Perriman was on the field is already a big improvement over last year. Kamar Aiken reverts to being a very solid No. 3 or No. 4 option if this group stays healthy. Speaking of health, Michael Camapanaro (calf) missed the workout, and with this group of receivers, including Navy's Keenan Reynolds, Campanaro is one more nagging injury from not making this roster. 

Dennis Pitta could leave the Ravens in a very tough spot

Good for Dennis Pitta to work back from his second major hip injury and get back on the field, even if for noncontact OTAs. He ran, cut and caught well, and he said after the workout that he felt great physically. "My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year," he said. "Like I said, I feel confident in how I can run, how I can move, how I can play." But if Pitta, who turns 31 next month, is indeed healthy, then what? The Ravens brought in Ben Watson this year, and already have two promising young tight ends in Crockett Gillmore and second-year, second-round pick Maxx Williams. None of them are going anywhere. Would the Ravens cut Pitta, one of the most likable players on the team and a close friend of Joe Flacco's, after his grueling rehab? Would they keep four tight ends? That would be highly unusual, but not out of the question with Marc Trestman's offense. Incidentally, tight end Todd Heap was 31 when the Ravens let him go.

Interesting look at inside linebacker

With Daryl Smith gone and C.J. Mosley sitting out, rookie second-round pick Kamalei Correa, billed as an edge rusher, spent a lot of time at inside linebacker. Coach John Harbaugh said afterward that Correa "has inside linebacker traits." The Ravens also appear to be looking at safety Anthony Levine as a linebacker option. He did some individual work with the inside linebackers and spent some time as an inside linebacker in 7-on-7 drills. Coverage was a big issue for Ravens linebackers last year, so if Levine and Correa show they can cover well over the middle, that versatility could be a big plus.

Lardarius Webb seems at home at safety

The move from corner to safety should agree with Lardarius Webb. He drifted over well in deep coverage, but it wasn't encouraging to see a potential interception bounce off his hands. This team had a franchise-record-low six interceptions last year. Webb said moving to safety has been "a great transition. I’m loving it. I have more control of the defense."

Losing a week of OTAs isn't the end of the world

The Ravens have been docked next week's OTA workouts as a penalty for reportedly having players in pads for a brief portion of their rookie minicamp in violation of the current collective bargaining agreement. It certainly isn't a good look, but it shouldn't have much bearing on whether the Ravens can beat the Steelers on Christmas night. Many veterans weren't on the field this week anyway. It might be a speed bump in development for Ravens rookies and other newcomers, but there's a lot of training camp for that. Three days off in June might do some bodies good. If anyone is hurt by this it might be Keenan Reynolds -- the former Navy quarterback is trying to quickly learn the wide receiver position, and he missed the OTAs this week because of his graduation in Annapolis.