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Turner likes 53-man roster
SAN DIEGO – The Chargers made several transactions Saturday, releasing 26 players and placing two others on Reserve-Injured to reach the mandatory 53-man roster limit.
The remaining group includes 27 players on defense, 23 on offense and three specialists.
One undrafted rookie, outside linebacker Darryl Gamble, remains on the roster. Seyi Ajirotutu, Ogemdi Nwagbuo and Quinton Teal were among the notable cuts. The Chargers also signed veteran linebacker Na’il Diggs.
“Probably the best thing we’ve done is add to our team speed,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “I think that’ll be significant in the kicking game and I think it’ll help us defensively trying to create big plays and turnovers.”
The Chargers kept 11 linebackers, including Gamble, Jonas Mouton and Andrew Gachkar, all rookies; free agent acquisitions Takeo Spikes, Travis LaBoy and Diggs; and first-year player Donald Butler. Turner said his biggest concern is the youth at linebacker, one of the reasons the Chargers signed Diggs and kept Stephen Cooper.
Diggs, a 12th-year linebacker with the capability of playing inside at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, started 12 games for the Rams last season, including Week 6 against the Chargers. St. Louis released Diggs near the end of the preseason this year. He has 139 NFL starts and more than 800 career tackles playing for the Rams, Panthers and Packers.
Cooper also remains on the roster despite a torn biceps. Immediately after his injury, the team expected Cooper to have surgery and miss several months, but Cooper petitioned the Chargers to evaluate him on the field. San Diego’s medical staff determined it was plausible for him to try and then the coaching staff watched him in the final two preseason games.
“I didn’t see him limited by his arm injury,” Turner said.
The team kept six receivers, including first-year players Richard Goodman, Bryan Walters and draft pick Vincent Brown.
Walters, who was cut last preseason, was coaching receivers and returners at Juanita High School when the Chargers called to offer him a practice squad spot Dec. 1. He returned to training camp this season and had a 103-yard kickoff return against Seattle as well as the game-winning touchdown catch against Arizona.
“All day I was looking over my shoulder. Finally at practice, my receivers coach (Charlie Joiner) was like, ‘Hey, did you call your parents yet?’ and I was like, ‘What does that mean, coach?’ But that’s when I knew,” Walters said. “It’s nice just to move on and worry about Minnesota.
The rest of the roster by position includes two quarterbacks, four backs, three tight ends, eight offensive linemen, six defensive linemen, five cornerbacks and five safeties.
Eight rookies made the roster, including seven of eight draft picks. Gamble, a college free agent from Georgia, took advantage of extensive preseason playing time, tying for the team lead with 15 tackles, recovering a fumble for a touchdown against Arizona and adding a sack.
Gamble’s roster inclusion marks the 15th consecutive year a college free agent has made the 53-man roster for the Chargers.
“Last night was my biggest challenge,” Gamble said with a smile. “Sleeping in the team hotel, we only have like 10 channels. ‘Hard Knocks’ came on, so it made me think, ‘Oh, they’re cutting guys.’”
Turner lamented having to cut Nwagbuo, calling him “a great person” and a casualty of the team’s decision to keep more special teams players.
“We went through a rough period. We all lived it together with the kicking game last season and we had some guys that we kept that I think can help us get off to a great start in the kicking game,” Turner said.
He also concluded from the preseason that the rules change moving kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line will minimize the significance of kickoff returners in significant fashion, elevating punt returners to a higher priority.
San Diego likely will keep close tabs on the waiver wire and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them make additional moves between now and the start of the regular season.