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Special teams playing well

Posted Oct 25, 2011

San Diego’s effort in the kicking game against the New York Jets is evidence the Chargers are playing well on special teams.

SAN DIEGO – Hidden behind the Norv Turner-Rex Ryan talk, the history between the Chargers and Jets and the former players that have swapped jerseys in the recent-developing AFC rivalry during last week’s pregame build-up was the difficult matchup for San Diego in the kicking game.

And that’s where it stayed during the game: out of sight. That’s an encouraging sign for Turner, special teams coach Rich Bisaccia and the Chargers.

“I thought we did a great job with our coverage teams,” Turner said. “One of the reasons I deferred (after winning the coin toss, knowing) they’re going to take the ball, is because I wanted to challenge our kickoff coverage and I wanted to challenge our defense.

“First of all we tackled him down inside the 20 and then got a takeaway that ended up being points. I certainly didn’t imagine that happening when we made that decision.”

To wit:

• When Mike Scifres signed a new contract Sept. 7, he described the team’s goal for punt coverage.

“If you can keep it at a 40-yard net, then your defense is going to win field position the majority of the day,” Scifres said. “If we can keep our net averages up we’ll dominate the field and win a lot of games.”

Scifres has topped the 40-yard mark in a season once – in 2008, earning Pro Bowl first-alternate status. Through Week 7, his net average is 39.3 yards. San Diego’s punt coverage is forcing fair catches 42.9 percent of the time compared to 20 percent last season.

• New York Jets’ Joe McKnight still leads the NFL in kickoff return average by a wide margin but the Chargers held him nearly 14 yards below his average on three returns.

• San Diego has improved the average starting field position it allows opponents after kickoffs by five yards in its last three games. Since Percy Harvin ran back the opening kickoff for a 103-yard touchdown, the Chargers have allowed just 23.7 yards per kickoff return.

• The Bolts have forced opponents to start at or inside their own 20 on two-thirds of San Diego’s kickoffs.

Richard Goodman set a season high with a 31-yard return Sunday against the No. 2 kickoff coverage unit in the NFL and appeared close to finding a seam for an even longer run-back.

• The Chargers still have not missed a field goal. Nick Novak (11-of-11) is within two of John Carney’s team record for made field goals at the start of a season. San Diego hasn’t gone this far without a miss since 2005 (seventh game).

NEEDING PRACTICE: Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd all have missed a substantial number of practices this season.

The Chargers made it clear that’s no excuse for the team’s loss Sunday against one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, but San Diego hopes to remedy some near-completions by increasing the volume of reps during the week for those guys, health permitting.

“We’re going to be at our best if you can have every guy practice every day of the week and go play, and do that week after week after week,” Rivers said. “I don’t think that’s really reality in this league. Every team’s dealing with guys in and out of the lineup both in games and in practice and we showed last year we can deal with that.”

Said Turner: “The way we’re going to continue to get better is get all our guys on the field Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in practice, practice together and then go out and be able to play together. Hopefully the guys who have missed a lot of practice will be able to get back and some of those little things that we’re missing, we’ll fix.”

Gates, who’d missed the last three games, caught five passes for 54 yards against the Jets, both team highs. He felt encouraged Monday with how his body responded to playing in a game and enjoyed making plays but said he wished they came in a win.

“I was excited for what Antonio was able to do,” Turner said. “There were two or three other times that I think Philip could’ve thrown to him. If we were in a rhythm of playing and Gates had been playing the last four or five weeks, I think Philip would’ve looked to him first. That comes from just getting back into the groove and playing together.”

BIG COMMUNITY DAY: The San Diego Chargers had an active Tuesday in San Diego, visiting a number of different locations for worthwhile causes.

The busy community week began Monday night with the third-annual JBowl Celebrity Bowling Party at Kearny Mesa Bowl. The event raised money for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research and the Jammer Family Foundation.

It continued early with Kids’ NewsDay as players and Charger Girls sold special-edition newspapers in Mission Valley to raise money for Rady Children’s Hospital and Health Center.

Tuesday afternoon, a group of Chargers players visited Hoover High School. The players presented a $5,000 Hometown Huddle/Play 60 fitness grant to the school, spoke about the importance of fitness and helped host a football camp for students of three local middle schools.

Steve Gregory’s SG Squad hosted a health and wellness fair at Sunset Elementary on Tuesday, encouraging families to make healthy lifestyle choices. The fair provided screenings, CPR classes and dental exams for kids as well as healthy cooking demonstrations for parents.

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