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Chargers look to bounce back with lift from new COVID-19 protocols

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COSTA MESA — Chargers defensive tackle Linval Joseph couldn’t explain why his team delivered a lackluster performance in last week’s loss to the Houston Texans or why the defense has struggled to be consistent this season.

To Joseph, it was pointless to look back at past miscues when they’re preparing for a must-win game against the Denver Broncos to stay in contention for a playoff spot. It’s also hard to assess the Houston game because 14 active players, including seven starters, were unavailable for COVID-related reasons.

The Chargers (8-7) could regain a postseason spot if they beat Denver, the Rams defeat Baltimore and Tennessee prevails against Miami. If all of that occurs Sunday, then Joseph was right – what happened in the first 15 games of the season doesn’t matter at this point.

“To be honest with you, I’m really past that (Houston) game,” Joseph said Wednesday. “Last week felt different. If you want to say that it was energy, if you want to say it was lack of production, last week wasn’t our best week. I’m just glad that we have the opportunity to go out there and do it against Denver because they beat us the last time around. The only way to get this taste out of your mouth is to go out there, do your job and do it well.”

The Chargers were in need of a cleanse after the ugly loss in Houston. They got their reboot when heavy rain bounced off edge rusher Joey Bosa, running back Austin Ekeler, center Corey Linsley and defensive tackle Justin Jones to start Wednesday’s practice.

The four vital starters didn’t play against the Texans because they were on the Chargers’ COVID-19 reserve list. Bosa, Linsley, wide receiver Jalen Guyton and defensive backs Kemon Hall and Trey Marshall officially came off of the virus list and returned to the active roster on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Jones, backup quarterback Chase Daniel, offensive lineman Senio Kelemete, wide receiver Andre Roberts and edge rusher Chris Rumph II were activated off the COVID-19 list. Ekeler, cornerback Tevaughn Campbell and defensive tackle Joe Gaziano came off the virus list on Monday.

That’s a lot of firepower that the Chargers were without in Houston, but again, there’s no point in looking back, especially since the NFL changed its COVID-19 protocols this week.

Wide receiver Mike Williams, safety Nasir Adderley and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. have a chance of playing against the Broncos because the NFL is allowing unvaccinated players to return to their respective teams after a five-day quarantine if they don’t have symptoms after testing positive.

Initially, Chargers coach Brandon Staley ruled out Williams, Adderley and Harris because the old protocols required unvaccinated players to quarantine for 10 days.

“Everybody is day-to-day on that (COVID) list because they can test out,” Staley said Wednesday. “We should have a tremendous amount of guys coming back this week. Then, some guys were added to the list, as well. We’re just still following these rules as they come. Each day, there seems to be an update. We do know now that there’s that five-day sequence that you can test out before then, so that should give us a good number of guys back for this weekend.”

The Chargers still have COVID-19 issues with linebacker Kenneth Murray, right tackle Storm Norton, offensive tackle Trey Pipkins, kicker Dustin Hopkins, long snapper Matt Overton and defensive back Davontae Harris going on the reserve list the past two days. As of Wednesday, 11 active players and two practice squad players were on the COVID-19 reserve list.

But now the Chargers aren’t as concerned with who’s going to start at right tackle and who’s going to kick field goals because every player has a chance of playing Sunday under the new COVID protocols.

“We’re hopeful that those guys will be back under the protocols,” Staley said about Norton and Pipkins. “We would expect to get both of those guys back in some shape or form. This week, we will practice with a couple guys in that role until they come back. We’ll kind of go from there.”

Perhaps the final score would have been different in Houston if the protocols were changed last week, but there is no point in what-ifs. The Chargers still have a chance to make the playoffs and they’ll likely get to compete this weekend with most of their best players being available.

“It’s been a roller coaster, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Joseph said. “That’s my message for today and until the season’s over with.”


Staley expressed optimism about safety Derwin James playing against the Broncos.

James suited up against the Texans, but he was kept on the sideline as an emergency player. He’s been dealing with a hamstring injury for more than two weeks.

“Trending positive,” Staley said of James. “Feels much better than he did last week. I’m hopeful that he will play in this game.”

James was listed as a limited participant for Wednesday’s practice.

Edge rusher Kyler Fackrell and rookie defensive back Mark Webb were designated for return from injured reserve. The defensive players, who are dealing with knee injuries, participated in Wednesday’s practice. The team has a 21-day window to decide whether to activate them to the 53-man roster.

“He’s getting closer,” Staley said of Fackrell. “I don’t know if it will be this week. We’re fighting hard for that to happen. Definitely getting closer, but I would say he’s a little bit more day-to-day, week-to-week. We’re just going to see how he feels this week.”

Justin Herbert in the rain #Chargers pic.twitter.com/gKoBX5wEIr

— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) December 29, 2021

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