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Barnes finds role in SD

Posted Aug 26, 2011

The fifth-year outside linebacker emerged in a limited but defined role with the Chargers last season. Now he hopes to be a major part of the rotation along with Shaun Phillips, Larry English and Travis LaBoy.

SAN DIEGO – Antwan Barnes is no NFL novice.

Entering his fifth season, the outside linebacker spent three years as part of an esteemed Baltimore defense, playing 38 games for the Ravens and making five sacks.

Barnes spent part of 2010 in Philadelphia before getting waived Oct. 9, then signed with the Chargers four days later.

Less than two weeks after arriving in San Diego, he launched the most successful stretch of his career with two third-down sacks in the red zone against Tom Brady. In 11 games with the Bolts, he made 4.5 sacks, nine special teams tackles and six tackles for loss despite playing a limited role in obvious passing situations.

But Barnes felt he had a place on the team, which he remembered as more than one team courted him this offseason.

“That’s the main reason why I came back,” Barnes said. “It was because I had a role and I had a spot on this team with the guys and the coaching staff believing in me.”

Barnes missed two-and-a-half weeks with a quad strain. He’s returned to the field, anxious to prove he can expand his role, but did not know Thursday afternoon how much the coaches hoped to play him against Arizona. Barnes planned to discuss his health with them and hear a decision before he left the building.

No matter if they come Saturday or Thursday against the 49ers, he realizes playing time is crucial for him now.

“A guy in my position, I need it, just because I haven’t been able to get reps,” Barnes said. “Just coming in last year, really just on third down, now I’ve got a chance to do first and second down. It’s coming along.”

INJURIES CREATE CHANCES: The Chargers’ blueprint this offseason at outside linebacker was to provide Shaun Phillips with some help shouldering the burden of getting after the quarterback and stopping the run.

With Larry English returning to health in time for his third season, the re-signing of Antwan Barnes and the addition of Travis LaBoy, it looked like San Diego had acquired the pieces to implement that plan.

It’s still on track, but all four of those cornerstones have missed significant practice time due to injury this month, one of the things that’s opened the door for players like Darryl Gamble to compete for a roster spot or at least a position on the practice squad.

Gamble, a college free agent out of Georgia, made two sacks during an active preseason opener. He got to start on defense against the Cowboys, an unlikely scenario.

“It’s unfortunate for us that we’ve had so many injuries at the outside linebacker position, but for Gamble, he’s lucky,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “He’s getting the opportunity. Guys would pay to get that many snaps.”

Gamble put himself in position to make more plays against Dallas, though his missed tackle in the backfield allowed a long run and his inexperience showed at times. But he’s done enough that how much he improves during the next week will be noted.

“He’s making the most out of it,” Turner said. “He’s got a lot of work to do. He’s got a lot of areas where he needs to improve. But he’s shown physically he’s capable of playing.”
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