SAN DIEGO -- With inside linebacker Manti Te'o ruled out for this week’s contest against San Francisco because of a sprained left foot, the San Diego Chargers will use a rotation of players to replace the Notre Dame product.

Walker
Sixth-year pro Reggie Walker is listed as Te’o’s backup on the team’s unofficial depth chart and will see time next to Donald Butler with the starters. But depending on what personnel grouping defensive coordinator John Pagano employs, free-agent addition inside linebacker Kavell Conner should see time with the starters as well.

Butler said it’s good to have experienced players to fill in for the injured Te’o.

“It’s huge,” Butler said. “It’s not a drop off at all. It’s a next-man-up mentality, and they’ve come in and have done well these last couple days.”

Walker is Mr. Versatility for Pagano’s defense. He can play all four linebacker positions for the Chargers. Signed after final roster cuts last season, Walker, 27, started six games for San Diego in his first year with the team. In 451 snaps, he finished with 42 tackles -- including five tackles for loss -- and three sacks.

“It’s valuable to have a guy like that,” Pagano said. “Any time you’re in a backup role and can come in and start games for you, it’s a plus.”

Conner
Conner, 27, signed with the Chargers during free agency this past offseason. He started 36 games during his four years in Indianapolis. Conner’s best season was 2011, when he started 15 games, finishing with 104 tackles. Conner also had 13 special-teams tackles for the Colts in 2013.

“It’s a great pickup for us, knowing his positional flexibility, not only as a linebacker but his position on special teams,” Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said about Conner. “He’s a veteran who has played plenty of snaps and has been there before. He’s been a leader on special teams from the very first day that he was here.”

Conner said he’s working to master San Diego’s defense.

“I’m still learning, honestly,” Conner said. “I’m trying to get everything down, learning some of the nuances of the defense and trying to get better every day.”

Pagano said Te’o had been playing well before the foot injury. Through two preseason games, Te’o leads the team in tackles with 11.

Te'o
“He’s been doing really well,” Pagano said about Te’o. “You see the instincts. You see him a lot more comfortable just being able to go out, down in and down out just playing the game, reading things and seeing things. Everything slowed down for him.

“I think one of his key moments was when he saw that screen in the Dallas game, the way he was able to read it and react to it. He has great instincts, and you see it out here on the practice field.”

Te’o missed most of the exhibition season and three regular-season games because of a sprained right foot last year. He played the rest of the season with the injury but needed surgery after the 2013 season was over to repair a fractured bone in his foot.

Te’o injured his left foot this time and was seen wearing a boot after practice to protect the injury. However, Te’o is not expected to be out for an extended period of time.

“I’m just being patient with it, being smart,” Te’o said. “You have to just let your body heal.”
SAN DIEGO -- Two impact defensive players for the San Diego Chargers are expected to see their first action this preseason on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

Cornerback Jason Verrett and outside linebacker Dwight Freeney both fully participated in practice this week and are physically ready to play on Sunday. Verrett took off a red jersey this week that Chargers head coach Mike McCoy made him wear during practice to remind the TCU product to go easy in order to protect a surgically repaired shoulder.

Kampman
Verrett
Freeney
Freeney is returning from a torn quad that cut short his 2013 season, but appears healthy and ready to return as one of the better edge rushers in the NFL. Both sat out of the first two exhibitions for San Diego.

McCoy would not say definitively if Verrett or Freeney would play on Sunday.

"We’ve got a plan for everybody," McCoy said.

But the 40 or so family and friends Verrett has attending the game will be disappointed if San Diego’s first-round selection from this year’s draft does not make it out on the field on Sunday. Verret hails from nearby Fairfield, California. The TCU product said he feels healthy and is ready to show what he can do.

"It’s going to be love," Verrett said. "My family’s going to be pretty deep out there, so there’s going to be a lot of adrenaline, and a lot of pressure. But at the same time, it’s still football."

One person ready to see Verrett play is Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano.

"He’s been getting a lot of reps here in practice," Pagano said about Verrett. "The first live action probably his nerves will be going a little bit, but that’s always about having first-time action in an NFL game. But it’s going to be exciting. I’d love to watch him fly around and make a bunch of plays."

Like Verrett, Freeney says that he will prepare as if he will play against San Francisco, but ultimately that decision will be left for McCoy and the rest of the coaching staff.

"I’m ready," Freeney said. "I’m letting the coaches kind of gauge this thing. I have confidence in them, and when they’re ready for me to go, I’ll go."

McCoy would not say how long the starters will play, stating that he will leave them in the game as long as needed to make sure they get enough work. Typically, starters play into the third quarter of the third preseason game.

Injury report: Defensive end Lawrence Guy (shoulder), defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (ankle), linebacker Manti Te'o (foot), safety Jahleel Addae (hamstring), receiver Vincent Brown (calf) and cornerback Marcus Cromartie (groin) did not practice on Friday, and are not expected to play against San Francisco on Sunday. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary (shoulder/hip) remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs lost three regulars from last season’s offensive line during the opening days of free agency, but were confident they could absorb those blows. They still had Eric Fisher, the first pick in the 2013 draft, plus three other linemen who played a lot last season and were drafted in recent seasons in the top three rounds.

Stephenson
The Chiefs still might be right, but with the suspension of starting right tackle Donald Stephenson for the season’s first four games for violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, that premise is looking shaky.

Fisher hasn’t played well in the preseason. His arrival as a top left tackle appears a way off, it if ever happens. Neither of the guards, Jeff Allen and Zach Fulton, have been much better. The sum is a line that was pushed around in the Aug. 17 preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers.

And now the Chiefs will have to find a right tackle for the first four games between veterans Ryan Harris and Jeff Linkenbach. Harris was signed by the Chiefs shortly before the start of training camp. Linkenbach came as a free agent in March.

Another option is Allen, who played tackle in college at Illinois and has received some work there during training camp.

But whatever the Chiefs do, they can’t afford any more hits to the offensive line. The player they were initially counting on to start at right guard, Rishaw Johnson, was so disappointing in training camp that he was recently traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As backups now, the Chiefs have center Eric Kush and guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who look promising as developmental players but probably aren’t ready now. There’s also Harris or Linkenbach, whoever doesn’t get bumped into the starting lineup, and guard Ricky Henry, who has played well enough at camp to get the attention of the Chiefs, but has little experience.

Maybe everything will work out for the Chiefs on the offensive line, but a better guess is that at least for a while, things are going to look he way they did against Carolina. Then, they looked like the Chiefs made a bad decision to let Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz walk as free agents.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- ESPN used a vast array of voters from the network’s many NFL platforms, as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus, to rank the league’s top 100 players on offense and top 100 players on defense. In the end, 85 voters picked on defense, 90 on offense.

Today, players ranked No. 60 down to 51 are featured. And for the Denver Broncos, one of their newest players – safety T.J. Ward – checked in at No. 59 on defense.

The voters obviously appreciated Ward’s 112-tackle season for the Cleveland Browns in 2013, a total that included a double-take worthy 11 tackles for loss. But the Broncos were on the hunt for a more physical presence in their defense; guys who play with what executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway calls “that edge.’’

And one of the first targets they zeroed in on, in fact the first guy they signed, was Ward. And they signed him to a four-year, $22.5 million contract with $7 million guaranteed this year ($5 million signing bonus, to go with a guarantee on his $2 million base salary) and his 2015 salary is guaranteed on fifth day of the league year next March.

“All I can say is it was a great feeling, it is a great feeling to come in to a team that was already one of the best teams in the league,’’ Ward said. “... We’re working hard, trying to get that chemistry, but we’re not really going to know what kind of swag we have until we get into the season.’’

But the Broncos see Ward, especially after watching him in the contact work in training camp and the preseason, as a guy who can bring that swag.

The game video shows the Browns chose to use Ward as a down-in-the-box safety almost exclusively, attacking the line of scrimmage. The Broncos like that part of Ward's game to be sure, but have still chosen to broaden his job description some.

They still want him pounding away along the line of scrimmage, but they have used him in coverage as well, bringing that physical edge into the pass pattern. The Broncos' defensive coaches liked his speed and athleticism to do that and believe it gives them more options in how they use Ward.

So, at times he has covered receivers deep down the field and then moved down to weakside linebacker in some of the specialty packages.

“He’s going to do a lot of things for us,’’ said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “We’re always looking for what guys can do, what they can bring to the table so we can maximize everything.’’
Late in the preseason is often when NFL teams consider extending potential free agents offers in an attempt to secure them for the longterm and ending any question of the team’s commitment to the player.

Wisniewski
If the Oakland Raiders are considering making such a move, they need to do so with Stefen Wisniewski.

Wisniewski is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next March. As a second-round pick in 2011, he has developed into one of the Raiders’ most reliable players.

“He’s a good, young, tough player [who] should be extended and should be a building block,” ESPN scout Matt Williamson said. “He’s not an elite center, but he’s well above average.”

He’s the type of player teams keep around. If the Raiders were to let Wisniewski test free agency -- as they did with fellow young starters, Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston this year -- they’d be in danger of another team swooping in on him. That, of course, was what happened with Houston and Veldheer.

Keeping Wisniewski is a very achievable task for Oakland. He will command a solid contract but not a salary-cap killing deal. And, of course, Wisniewski is all Raider. He is the nephew of former Raiders’ superstar offensive lineman and coach Steve Wisniewski. In that 2011 draft, it was all but assumed that Lil Wiz was going to end up as a Raider. It’s only natural he remains one.
Matt Cassel, Teddy BridgewaterAP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltMatt Cassel, No. 16, appears to be the Vikings' No. 1 QB despite Teddy Bridgewater's strong preseason.
The third game is generally the most attractive of the NFL preseason since the starters generally play longer than in any other preseason game. So Saturday night’s meeting between the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium could be the most interesting of this year’s exhibition schedule for both teams.

An added bonus is that Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel was a four-year starter for the Chiefs before he was released after a dismal 2012 season in which he threw only six touchdown passes with 12 interceptions.

During his final season, in a home loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Cassel was knocked to the ground for several minutes in the fourth quarter and Chiefs fans cheered. So it should be interesting to see how Cassel is received Saturday night at Arrowhead.

ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Vikings reporter Ben Goessling discuss Cassel's return and the game.

Teicher: Matt Cassel will start at quarterback for the Vikings on Saturday night. How has he played through training camp and the preseason and what kind of fit has he been in coordinator Norv Turner’s offensive system?

Goessling: He’s played well so far, probably well enough that he’ll keep the starting job over Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel has had most of the first-team snaps, and so far in the preseason he’s been accurate and decisive. The ability to get the ball out on three- and five-step drops is a key characteristic of a successful quarterback in Turner’s system, and Cassel has done that well so far. He’s connected with tight end Kyle Rudolph -- whom the Vikings think is going to have a breakout year in Turner’s offense -- and I think Cassel will be competent, considering the pieces he has around him (Adrian Peterson, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Rudolph, etc.). We’ll see how long he can hold the job, but he’s earned the right to be the top guy at this point.

When Cassel is on the field Saturday night, what kind of a test will he get from the Chiefs’ defense? How has the defense looked so far, and how much do you think the Chiefs will show on Saturday night?

[+] EnlargeSean Smith
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Chiefs are hoping that Sean Smith can provide stability at cornerback.
Teicher: The Chiefs generally are a pressure-based defense, but it’s difficult to predict what they will do in a preseason game. They’ve done well in pressuring the quarterback when they’ve blitzed so far in the preseason, but their rush hasn’t generated much when they send only four. The Chiefs are in some disarray at cornerback. They’ve already made a change in the starting lineup, replacing Ron Parker with Sean Smith, but then Smith had a difficult game against Carolina last week. The Chiefs are also missing their best safety, Eric Berry. He hasn’t been practicing or playing because of a sore heel, and they miss him. His place is being taken by undrafted rookie Daniel Sorensen. So there should be some opportunities for big plays for Cassel and his receivers.

If things don’t go well for Cassel and the Vikings early in the season, how patient will coach Mike Zimmer be with him? In that event, would he hesitate to switch to rookie Teddy Bridgewater?

Goessling: That remains to be seen, but I don’t think the Vikings would put Bridgewater on the field before they feel he’s ready. They’re probably not at a point where a quarterback change is going to make the difference between being a contender and missing the playoffs, so if it means sticking with Cassel (or even going to Christian Ponder) to give Bridgewater more time to learn, I could see the Vikings doing that. The most important task facing Zimmer and his staff is developing Bridgewater correctly, and that will have a bigger say in their job security than a few games this season. I think they’ve been impressed with Bridgewater so far, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him at some point this season. I just don’t think they’ll be rushing to pull the plug on Cassel for the sole purpose of putting Bridgewater on the field as soon as possible, or to try to jump-start a season in which they’re not likely to contend anyway.

What’s the feeling down there in Kansas City after a surprising 2013 season and a number of defections in free agency? Are the Chiefs in position to challenge the Broncos, or are they primed for a fall after making the playoffs last year?

Teicher: You could say the fall began last season. The Chiefs started 9-0 but lost six of their last eight games, counting the playoff defeat against Indianapolis. They were stung by wasting a 28-point third-quarter lead against the Colts, and I can’t tell you for certain that they’re over that. That issue aside, the Chiefs appear to have some issues that will hold them back. They allowed a lot of big pass plays last season and have shown nothing so far in the preseason to indicate that will change. They’re young and inexperienced on the offensive line, and this showed in last week’s loss to Carolina. And their schedule is far more difficult than it was last season. After opening against Tennessee at home, the Chiefs have four of the next five on the road, including games at Denver, San Francisco and San Diego. The home game in that stretch is against New England. So I’ve picked them to take a step backward this year and finish 8-8.
SAN DIEGO -- For NFL coaches, exhibitions are about player evaluation, player development and ultimately execution -- getting your team prepared for the regular season.

So San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich understands he has a prime opportunity to see all three of those facets in action when his offense faces one of the best defenses in the league in the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

The Chargers are expected to play the starters into the third quarter.

[+] EnlargeFrank Reich
Jody Gomez/USA TODAY SportsChargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich on exhibitions: "You want to be tested in every area."
"The advantage of going against the 49ers is that they’re a good football team," Reich said. "And you’re still in preseason mode, so you want to be tested in every area. They have a great front seven, they’ve been a great defense so it’s a good test for us going up against that NFC West. They’ve got the best defenses around, so it will be a good challenge for us offensively."

Reich said generally the Chargers keep the offense basic during preseason so coaches can see players in one-on-one matchups to better evaluate positional battles. But as teams nudge closer to preseason, the Chargers will start to plan specifically for this week’s opponent.

According to Reich, 80 percent of a game plan will be the team’s base plays each week, so it’s trying to find that 20 percent to give his offense an edge against the opposing defense.

"When you really start to game plan specifically, you’re looking to give your players an edge, an advantage," he said. "How can we create a mismatch by changing a formation, by shifting, by using a different personnel group or by countering something we’ve done in previous weeks -- we have a tendency, now we’re going to counter that tendency."

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers helped Reich evolve as a coach over this past year, with his experience and ability to command an offense.

"That’s one of the great things as a coach," Reich said. "You’re the coach, but when you’re around players like Philip and some of our other players, you realize you’re still learning. And I look at what I’ve learned over the last year just being around him, I think it’s made me a better coach and prepared me for this role I’m in now."

Reich said the expectation for receiver Vincent Brown, who has been out since July 25 with a calf strain, is to jump back into the receiver rotation once he’s healthy.

"Vince is a real pro," Reich said. "And we anticipate that he’s working as hard as he can to get healthy. He had a productive year last year. We had a pretty productive offensive year last year, and Vince was a big part of that.

"He’s a dependable guy who has good feet and runs good routes. And he’s a pro, so he’s the kind of guy that you really don’t even think twice about. When he steps in, you expect him to be there and make the plays that he’s made over the last couple years that he’s been here."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's easy to forget at times, lost somewhere in the record 606 points the Denver Broncos piled on the NFL last season.

Lost in quarterback Peyton Manning's 55 touchdown passes, the team's 13 wins and a Super Bowl trip. The fact that one of the team's elite players -- a "blue" as some longtime personnel executives refer to those at the top of any list -- played in only two games.

"That's an important part of our offense," Manning said. "We had guys, Chris Clark, step in and do a great job, but that's an important position and Ryan Clady is a great player."

[+] EnlargeClady
AP Photo/Ric Tapia"I always felt like if you knew the back side wasn't going to be a problem, as a quarterback you could have more confidence about your ability to get some things done back there," John Elway said. "Ryan gives us that kind of player."
That he is. And in plenty of conversations about where the Broncos can go from last season's remember-when performance on offense, Manning's precision in the preseason, Emmanuel Sanders' signing, the potential of rookie Cody Latimer, the development of tight end Julius Thomas and even the move of Orlando Franklin to left guard are all on the list things that will impact it all.

Clady's return from a foot injury suffered in Week 2 last season is the most significant difference between how the Broncos will line up on offense in the opener and how they lined up in the Super Bowl.

It's a big enough difference that the Broncos' football boss, John Elway, will routinely end a rundown about the changes on offense with "and we get Ryan Clady back."

"I think I definitely can make a difference," Clady said. "That's why I'm here -- to help the team out and make this a better team than we were last year."

Other than Manning's otherworldly 13 Pro Bowl selections, no other player in the Broncos offense has been named to more than Clady's three. In 2012, the left tackle was simply one of the league's best, surrendering just one sack all season as the Broncos made the transition from their read-option look in '11 to Manning's first season with the team.

The Broncos then signed Clady to a five-year, $52.5 million deal before the 2013 season, a deal worthy of the cornerstone player he is in the team's plans, only to see him play just two games. And while Clark filled in admirably, the Broncos' choices in terms of protections and their ability to send help elsewhere in the formation increase with Clady's ability to go solo against the league's best rushers.

When Elway has been asked about "foundation players" in roster building, quarterback and left tackle are still often the first two on the list.

"I always felt like if you knew the back side wasn't going to be a problem, as a quarterback you could have more confidence about your ability to get some things done back there," Elway said. "Ryan gives us that kind of player."

And much like Clady's practice battles with Elvis Dumervil were often highlights -- Dumervil has often credited Clady "with getting me to the Pro Bowl, working with him every day" -- Clady's battles with DeMarcus Ware have been good for both players.

As Mike Shanahan's final No. 1 pick in his Broncos tenure -- Clady was the 12th pick of the '08 draft -- Clady was in the Broncos lineup the last time the team practiced against another team in training camp. The Dallas Cowboys came to Denver with Ware, who was on the doorstep of what would be the third of his seven Pro Bowl seasons in Dallas, often lined up across from the then-rookie.

"It was kind of a wake-up call for me because I was like, ‘I don't know how long I'm going to last in the league going against guys like this every week.' It was definitely a challenge, for sure.”

Clady said his surgically repaired foot continues to feel better each week and he has not missed any practice time in the preseason.

"I don't think I'm quite there, but I'm getting there," Clady said. "It's close. It's just something you have to work into. It's the National Football League with the best athletes in the world. You can't just jump in off an injury and expect to be great. It takes some work, and I still have a little bit of time."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Emmanuel Sanders’ first training camp with the Denver Broncos hasn’t exactly gone the way he hoped it would.

The wide receiver, one of the marquee signings the team made in free agency, has had an on-again, off-again type of camp schedule because of a thigh injury he suffered in an Aug. 4 practice. He has missed several practices since, including just before and just after playing 20 plays on offense in the preseason opener, and his status is still questionable for Saturday’s preseason game against the Houston Texans.

Thursday, the third of three practices against the Houston Texans this week, was Sanders’ first day back on the practice field since Aug. 14.

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsEmmanuel Sanders is hoping to get some more work with Peyton Manning in a preseason game setting.
“The quad injury feels good,’’ Sanders said. “Felt really good (Thursday). I didn’t have a problem with it, so I’m extremely happy about that, of course. Good to be out here with my guys practicing, just getting better, and gaining chemistry with Peyton (Manning). It’s looking good right now. Hopefully I’ll be playing on Saturday, but I’m not going to give it 100 percent right now. I’m going to go talk to the trainers and we’re going to take it day by day.’’

Whether or not Sanders plays Saturday will be decided at a Friday night staff meeting. Sanders’ status, as well as all of the playing-time decisions, will be outlined at that meeting.

Broncos head coach John Fox said the work this week against the Texans, because of the intensity, will have an impact on how much the starters play Saturday night. Starters typically play into the third quarter of the third preseason game, but Fox has said he might adjust that, given all of the competitive snaps the two teams had this week in team drills.

Saturday's game will also represent the last preseason playing time for most of the regulars, as they are routinely held out of the last preseason game. On Sanders, Fox said the Broncos liked what they saw Thursday, and despite Sanders’ hope that he will play, the decision won’t be made until Friday evening.

“Yeah we will … evaluate him (Friday),’’ Fox said. “We just have a short workout in the morning and we will meet (Friday) night and determine whether he goes or not.’’

The Broncos will take into account the fact that Sanders played in those 20 plays against the Seattle Seahawks and then missed practice time the following week.

“It’s been frustrating, but at the same time, it’s not anything major,’’ Sanders said. “I’m blessed to play this game and I had a minor setback. … What I’ve been talking to (Manning) about is -- and he’s been talking to me about it -- is that the starters usually don’t play in the fourth preseason game and this is important because I haven’t caught a pass in a game from him. We don’t want to go into the regular season with me not catching a pass from him in a game. So this game is extremely pivotal, and hopefully I’ll be out there playing.’’

For the Broncos, keeping Sanders on the field for practice in the next two weeks, as they gear up for the regular season, will be more important than sending him out for a smattering of plays Saturday night. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase said this week that Sanders’ work in the offseason, including a trip with Manning and the other front-line Broncos pass catchers to Duke for workouts, should keep the timing between Sanders and Manning where it needs to be.

Sanders said Manning did text him Wednesday night to say “he would like me to be out here practicing.’’

“At the end of the day, if I feel good, I’m going to play,’’ Sanders said. “ … Right now I don’t feel like I’m putting myself at any kind of risk of any kind of injury. It feels really good and I’m optimistic that I’ll be playing Saturday.’’
SAN DIEGO – Through three weeks of preseason games, the San Diego Chargers have the worst run defense in the league, giving up 5.58 rushing yards per play.

Yes, preseason games are not always a good measure of what will happen during the regular season, but San Diego’s inability stop the run continues a disturbing trend from last season, when the Chargers allowed 4.6 rushing yards per play, No. 27 in the league.

The Chargers allowed 243 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns by quarterbacks in a 41-14 loss at Seattle last week.

The Chargers haven’t been much better defending the pass. Through two preseason games, opposing quarterbacks have posted a 92.3 passer rating. The Chargers have just four sacks in two games.

Those humbling numbers have San Diego players looking for a rebound performance against a pretty good offense when they face the San Francisco 49ers on the road Sunday.

Liuget
“We’re still trying to find our identity for 2014, and make sure we don’t stink this season up,” Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget said. “We want to make sure that we come out and play well, and do what we love to do, which is play football and play defense.”

Added middle linebacker Donald Butler: “I’m ready to get back on the field after that debacle that we showed on Friday. It will be good to get back out there for some live reps.”

Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano boiled down his team’s issues on defense to two things that need improvement: tackling and pressuring the quarterback.

“Those are two things that we didn’t do a great job of last year,” Pagano said. “I thought we did better late in the year, and that really changed for us. Getting the guys back healthy late in the year was big, but it’s just going out and making sure that we're fundamentally sound and playing with incredible effort.

“But those two things are things that we need to do better as a defense.”

Injury update: defensive end Lawrence Guy (shoulder), linebacker Manti Te'o (foot), defensive end Sean Lissemore (ankle), receiver Vincent Brown (calf), cornerback Marcus Cromartie (unknown) and safety Jahleel Addae (hamstring) did not practice on Thursday. Running back Kerwynn Williams (unknown) returned to practice after missing Monday and Tuesday’s workouts. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary (shoulder/hip) remains on the physically unable to perform list. ... Chargers kicker Nick Novak turned 33 years old on Thursday.
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SAN DIEGO – Asked if he had any issues with the field conditions at the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said he had no concerns about his players taking the field on Sunday.

McCoy said his organization has been in contact with the 49ers, and that they've been assured the field will be fine and ready to go for the scheduled kickoff of 4 p.m. ET. The 49ers worked to re-sod the field at the new stadium on Thursday -- day after a public workout was cut short and moved to the regular practice fields because players were slipping.

"We take a look at every field when we go on the road," McCoy said "Players bring a number of shoes every time we go on the road. We're going to go into our normal, pregame routine of everybody walking through the field to make sure they have the right cleats on. It's no different than any other game we're playing."

Chargers linebacker Andrew Gachkar said he's taking the same approach as McCoy in terms of the field conditions. He'll bring a couple different cleats and test them out beforehand during pregame workouts to make sure he has the best footing possible.

"Honestly, I'm not concerned about it at all," Gachkar said. "The field will be the field. It will be ready. They've got to play on the same field we do."

Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano says he has more pressing concerns than the new turf at Levi's Stadium.

"There has been no discussion," Pagano said. "When we get there we will make sure we run around. Any type of new surface that you are going to you want to bring enough amount of cleats to be able to check the surface.

"I got to worry about stopping that offense. That is the most important thing."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Maybe it’s a good thing that Thursday was the last day the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans practiced together this week.

Already a bit of an experiment with the two teams electing to go against each other so deep in the preseason, the squads have tried to keep a lid on their emotions through the week as to avoid any injury risk.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clady
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDespite a few tussles with the Houston Texans, Ryan Clady and the Broncos say they benefited from this week's joint practices.
But after a rather uneventful first day of work on Tuesday, a smattering of push-and-shove things broke out in Wednesday’s practice. And Thursday it all boiled over a bit with a two-team sized scrum that included some wild punches thrown in the middle of the last extended skirmish.

"I wasn’t looking at punches or anything," Broncos coach John Fox said. "It just gets that way because they are all very competitive people."

"I don’t really know what happened to be honest with you," Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme said. "I kind of ran down there late to try and help our guys out. Everything kind of got calmed down relatively quickly, so I don’t even know what happened. That stuff is going to happen every once in a while when you have two good, competitive teams."

Initially, in a team drill it was Broncos left guard Orlando Franklin and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt who had some words to go with a push or two. A bit later several Broncos players said it was the Texans' D.J. Swearinger in the middle of things as Broncos running back Montee Ball also reacted harshly after getting pushed in the crowd.

Players from both sidelines then ran to the group and there were some wild swings at that point. After some initial difficulty in getting the teams separated, the coaches were eventually able to move on with practice, but not without a smaller flare up.

As it had been Wednesday, the emotions seemed highest when the Broncos' offense and the Texans' defense were matched up.

Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady said some of the Broncos' younger players had asked what it would be like to practice against another team.

"People ask me -- because a lot of guys have never practiced against other teams – [if] there are going to be fights," Clady said. "It’s kind of the nature of the game. When it’s not your actual teammate, you’re going to want to lash out and fight. It’s one of those things that you have to prepare for it, and hopefully it’s not too bad that you have to end practice or something."

Fox said, in general, he believed the work had been beneficial and that he would do it again. It was the first time Fox’s team has practiced against another team in training camp since he has been a head coach -- a nine-year tenure in Carolina and now in his fourth year in Denver.

"I enjoyed it -- right now my feeling is yes," Fox said. "Whether or not that comes to fruition, who knows."

It will be easier in the future for the Broncos to have another team practice at their complex. The current $35 million construction project at the team’s facility includes an indoor practice complex that will have its own full locker room and full training room facilities for another team to use beyond what the Broncos have for their own team.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos' depth at wide receiver has been tested thus far in the preseason.

Emmanuel Sanders was back in practice Thursday after being held out of both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s workout. He has missed several days of practice since suffering a thigh injury shortly after training camp opened.

Jordan Norwood suffered a season-ending knee injury in Wednesday’s practice, and Wes Welker was excused, for personal reasons, Thursday, which was also the third and last day of the Broncos’ combined practices with the Houston Texans. It meant Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, Andre Caldwell and rookie Cody Latimer got plenty of work with the starters.

And depending on how many snaps the Broncos elect to give Thomas and Sanders in Saturday’s preseason game with the Texans, Caldwell and Latimer could get some premium playing time.

“We’ll meet [Friday] night. … We’ve already talked about coming into this week, it’s more reps, more intense reps this week might affect a little less playing time with the starters,’’ Broncos coach John Fox said.

Norwood
The Broncos will have to consider some additional options at the position as well because of Norwood’s injury. Norwood, who tore his left ACL in Wednesday’s practice and will miss the season, had positioned himself to make the final 53 as the team’s sixth receiver as well as a punt returner.

The fifth-year pro, who has started just four career games, was also poised to get a smattering of snaps with one of the league 's most high-powered offense, or as he said earlier in camp “everything you could ask for as a receiver.’’

The Broncos are expected to move him to injured reserve in the coming days, but had not yet done so as of Thursday afternoon. It also means the team is still on the hunt for a punt returner where Norwood had distanced himself from most of the others who have auditioned for the job.

“Very disappointed for him, very disappointed for us selfishly," Fox said. "Jordan has worked very hard, had a very good opportunity to make our football team, make us better. So, I know he’s very disappointed, as we are.’’

As far as Saturday’s game, the Broncos might tread lightly with Sanders. After missing some practice time before the team’s preseason opener, Sanders played 20 snaps against the Seattle Seahawks only to miss practice time the following week as well as the preseason game in San Francisco last weekend. Thursday marked the first time he has been on the practice field this week, and the Broncos will have a light practice Friday morning.

Welker, too, is expected to be back with the team this weekend, but he might he held out as well.

“Get [Welker] back, see what state of mind he’s in, see where he’s at in the gameplan and go from there,’’ Fox said.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are times when Denver Broncos head coach John Fox is fond of telling his team it’s “better to undersell and overproduce."

And after a couple of preseason games when the Broncos produced plenty against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers -- two of the NFC’s expected power brokers in the coming season -- they have spent the past few days this week working the undersell. And working it hard.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning and the Broncos' quarterbacks have looked good during their first two preseason games.
After a Tuesday practice against the Houston Texans, quarterback Peyton Manning said the team’s offense “stunk" and that the Texans "did their jobs a lot better than we did."

And after Wednesday’s practice, offensive coordinator Adam Gase said “nobody is patting themselves on the back."

The Broncos will have the third, and final, practice against the Texans on Thursday. The two teams will then face each other Saturday in Sports Authority Field at Mile High in the third preseason game for both teams. No team in the league is surrendering fewer points than the Broncos this preseason -- 8.0 per game after the eighth preseason shutout in franchise history Sunday -- and the team is eighth in the league in scoring at 28.0 point per game.

Manning has thrown all of five incompletions, and Denver's three quarterbacks have passer ratings of 116.9 (Zac Dysert), 106.8 (Manning) and 97.1 (Brock Osweiler).

So, what’s up with all of the dark clouds? Why no smiley face stickers?

“It’s preseason, you want to get your work in, get everybody on the same page and get ready for the season," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “It’s all about getting ready for Indianapolis in that first game and going week to week from there. You want to play like you can in those preseason games, but lots of teams do great things in the preseason and don’t do it in the regular season; we want to be a team that does great things in the regular season."

Manning called it “staying even-keeled" and “keeping a humble attitude about it."

That, in many ways, comes from Manning, which is exactly what Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway wanted when the Broncos signed him in 2012. Or, as running back Montee Ball put it:

“He’s one of the captains, but he is the captain, whatever he says we’ve got to listen to. He’s been in this situation plenty of times and he understands how the game goes."

So, that’s how the Broncos will approached their final two preseason games, in the we-haven't-done-anything-yet mode. Even this week’s, ordinarily a game when the team’s starters would play into the third quarter, will likely be played with a little different approach.

With the Broncos and Texans having worked for three days -- Wednesday’s practice was in full pads -- the Broncos are expected to dial back some of their starters in Saturday’s game, perhaps even Manning.

Asked if this week’s work would affect some players’ playing time in Saturday’s game, Fox said he would take the practices with the Texans into account when he decides who plays and how much.

Gase added the Broncos still have to make some tough calls on a crowded depth chart, especially when it comes to some of the team’s younger players.

“I know a lot of you guys, nobody wants us to play the third and fourth preseason game," Gase said. “But we need to get better, there’s a lot of things we need to work on, we’re focused on ... we need to start a game against (the Texans) and we need the fourth one to figure out who’s going to shake out and be on this roster."
ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Oakland Raiders have concluded their final price before playing at Green Bay on Friday night, and coach Dennis Allen said the team has not decided if rookie Derek Carr will play.

Carr
Carr suffered an injury to his ribs and a concussion Friday night in a victory over Detroit. He practiced some the past three days. Carr has been upbeat and lucid. Still, Allen said the Raiders will be cautious with their second-round pick.

If Carr can’t play, Matt McGloin will spell starter Matt Schaub. Schaub is expected to play into the second half.

In other Raiders notes:
  • Fullback Marcel Reece practiced fully for the second straight day. He is dealing with a foot injury he suffered against the Lions. It is not known if he will play Friday. Both Reece, who was wearing a walking boot after practice Wednesday, and Allen said they do not think the injury will linger.
  • Second-year cornerback DJ Hayden worked on the side on Tuesday. The Raiders have to decide next week if they are going put him on the physically unable to perform list to start the season. If so, he’d miss at least the first six weeks of the season.
  • The Raiders re-signed kicker Kevin Goessling. He was previously cut. Jeremy Deering was waived/injured. Obviously, with Sebastian Janikowski, Goessling has no chance to make the 53-man roster.
  • Allen said both TJ Carrie and Denarius Moore are vying for the punt-return job, while Latavius Murray and Kory Sheets are trying to win the kick-return job.
  • Receiver Brice Butler has not been cleared from a concussion yet.
  • Allen said receiver Andre Holmes needs to work on his consistency.

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