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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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Five observations from Day 1 of Ravens training camp

Five observations from Day 1 of Ravens training camp

OWINGS MILLS – Here are five observations from Day 1 of Ravens’ training camp:

1. Joe Flacco didn’t look like someone who had not practiced since November.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with Flacco’s arm. Early in drills, he effortlessly floated a long pass to rookie Chris Moore on a ball that traveled at least 55 yards in the air. Secondly, Flacco moved well wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired left knee, moving out of the pocket several times without any sign of favoring the injury. It remains to be seen if Flacco feels discomfort after several days of practice, and of course, he is not taking any hits. But this was a good first step.

“It felt really good to be out there,” Flacco said in quotes provided by the team. “I wasn’t as efficient as I’d like to be, but I felt comfortable. I just need to throw it a little better and complete some more passes.”

2. Veteran tight end Ben Watson didn’t have the greatest practice.

The usually sure-handed Watson dropped two passes early. Maybe Watson was nervous in his first practice with Flacco, or maybe he was adjusting to the pace of Flacco’s throws. But Watson will be looking to bounce back quickly, competing for playing time at tight end with Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, and Maxx Williams.

3. The starter at inside linebacker could be rookie Kamalei Correa.

While Correa is taking reps both outside and inside, the Ravens are searching for a starter at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley. If Correa wins the starting job, it means the Ravens’ top two picks, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Correa, could be starters from Week 1.

4. Pitta looks like Pitta, running patterns and making catches.

Fans still love Pitta, and he received a huge ovation whenever he made a catch. Pitta’s attempt to come back from his second major hip injury is a feel-good story and people are rooting for him.  However, a major test for Pitta will come Saturday when the Ravens put on pads for the first time.

5. John Urschel could be the starter at left guard, but he is also taking reps at center.

Urschel is the favorite to replace Kelechi Osemele as the starting left guard. However, Urschel’s best position may be center. If anything happens to starting center Jeremy Zuttah, the Ravens could shift Urschel to center and play either Ryan Jensen or rookie Alex Lewis at left guard.

RELATED: STANLEY'S ROOKIE SHOW PERFORMANCE WAS ONE FOR THE AGES

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Ronnie Stanley sings 'Ignition Remix' in chicken suit for his teammates

Ronnie Stanley sings 'Ignition Remix' in chicken suit for his teammates

OWINGS MILLS - When the Ravens drafted left tackle Ronnie Stanley, he never expected to sing in front of teammates wearing a chicken suit.

Welcome to the Ravens, and to the traditional rookie talent contest. Stanley led off this year’s draft class as the first-round pick, and apparently, he was a hit. The chicken suit was courtesy of wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., who purchased it for Stanley.

Where exactly do you find a chicken suit that fits somebody 6-foot-6, 320 pounds? But Smith found one. If you are a smart rookie, you don’t say no to Steve Smith. That left Stanley with no choice but to perform wearing the suit.

Stanley chose the R. Kelly song “Ignition Remix” for his selection.

“I knew it was crowd pleaser,” Stanley said after Thursday’s practice. “I know every word to the song. That was the song I picked, so I was practicing all throughout this break that we had.”

Under the circumstances, Stanley felt he did well.

 “I actually didn’t know about the chicken suit until yesterday,” Stanley said. “I did what I had to do. I knew since I was going first, I had to set the tone. That was the first time I sang in a chicken suit.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was impressed.

“He did a great job and we had fun,” Harbaugh said. “It’s nice when your first-round pick, kind of the leader of the rookie class, is able to step up and make a statement about that. I can fit in, so to speak.”

No word on if Stanley plans to go on tour after the season.

RELATED: A FEW RAVENS RUNNING BACKS ARE DINGED UP

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Kenneth Dixon hobbled, Lorenzo Taliaferro placed on PUP list

Kenneth Dixon hobbled, Lorenzo Taliaferro placed on PUP list

OWINGS MILLS -- The Ravens deep running back group grew a little thinner – at least temporarily – on Thursday as rookie Kenneth Dixon left the first training camp practice after tweaking his left knee and Lorenzo Taliaferro was placed on the preseason physically-unable-to-perform list with a lingering foot injury.

Dixon had been very active in the noncontact practice, especially as a pass catcher. But as he caught one pass near the left sideline in an 11-on-11 drill, he was inadvertently bumped out of bounds by linebacker Patrick Onwauasor and fell hard to the ground. Dixon was slow to get up and was ultimately helped off the field by Justin Forsett and a trainer.

Dixon has “a slight thing with the knee,” coach John Harbaugh said after practice. “He should be fine.”

Taliaferro sustained a foot injury last year and had surgery that ultimately ended his season in October.

"Not that there's a big issue with it," Harbaugh said of Taliaferro's foot, "but it's not quite there yet."

Entering his third season, Taliaferro is fighting for a roster spot after missing 16 of 32 games over his first two seasons. Forsett, Buck Allen and Dixon all appear to be locks to make the team, leaving Taliaferro competing for a potential fourth running spot with Terrance West and perhaps Trent Richardson, though he, too, is injured.

Taliaferro joins five other Ravens who had previously been placed on the preseason PUP list – receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, and Richardson.

Players can be activated from the PUP list and return to practice at any time during training camp. If they begin the regular season on the PUP list, they must sit out the first six games.

In addition to Taliaferro’s absence, three players sat out Thursday's practice because they haven’t passed the conditioning test: wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Jerraud Powers and newly signed wide receiver Dobson Collins.

RELATED: FLACCO ISN'T WORRIED ABOUT INJURIES AFFECTING HIS POST NFL LIFE