Injuries and some uneven play kept the Chargers' linebacker corps in a state of flux Monday, with the team signing free agent Josh Keyes to the active roster, waiving rookie Nigel Harris and hoping the ankles of Jatavis Brown and Denzel Perryman continue to heal.
"It's a real thin group, and we didn't have a lot of depth there to begin with," coach Anthony Lynn said, a day after the Chargers won at Oakland, 17-16, for their second straight win.
"We just don't have a lot of experience there, especially with Denzel out. But overall, I think they're competing well and getting the job done."
The Chargers, who play the Denver Broncos on Sunday in StubHub Center, got some good news Monday on Perryman, the middle linebacker who had ankle surgery in August and is on injured reserve.
Lynn said Perryman, who was third on the team with 72 tackles last season, will return to practice this week and is on course to play Nov. 12 against Jacksonville.
"I expect his impact to be big," Lynn said. "He's a starting [middle linebacker] in this league, and we miss him right now."
Korey Toomer replaced Perryman to open the season, but Hayes Pullard, the former USC standout who signed a few days before the Sept. 11 season opener, has emerged as the starter, getting the majority of snaps at middle linebacker the past three games.
Pullard ranks second on the team with 41 tackles and thwarted a Raiders drive midway through the third quarter when he intercepted a pass that deflected off the hand of running back Marshawn Lynch at the Chargers 10-yard line.
Pullard played last season at Jacksonville under then-coach Gus Bradley, who is now the Chargers defensive coordinator.
"It's so important that you bring guys in that are familiar with your system already because it shortens your learning curve," Lynn said. "He's done a heck of a job. We're glad we have him."
Brown leads the team with 49 tackles but has played the past two games with a high-ankle sprain, an injury he suffered in Week 4 against Philadelphia. After playing 68 of 79 snaps against the Eagles, Brown played 35 of 69 snaps against the New York Giants in Week 5 and 20 of 58 snaps against the Raiders.
"We have J.B. on a pitch count," Lynn said. "He's our most active linebacker, but he has a high-ankle sprain, so we limited him to third downs and passing situations, and we bring Korey in on running downs."
The 6-foot-2, 227-pound Keyes is a former Boston College linebacker who appeared in 12 games for Tampa Bay and Atlanta in 2015 and 2016.
"I don't know a whole lot about him," Lynn said. "I watched him on tape. He's very athletic. He played in a similar system, and his defensive coordinator [in Atlanta] is my linebackers coach right now in Richard Smith, so he's very familiar with him."
Meeting of minds
Left tackle Russell Okung took a red-eye flight to New York on Monday night to attend Tuesday's NFL owners meetings, where commissioner Roger Goodell, players association director DeMaurice Smith and a handful of players will join in a discussion of national anthem protests and players' concerns about racism and social injustice.
Okung, who raised his right fist during the anthem Sunday, wrote an "open letter to all NFL players," posted on The Players' Tribune website Friday, urging them to remain unified in their efforts.
"I'm hoping we come out of this with a lot of progress toward the NFL figuring out how to empower its players to work through this issue," said Okung, who will fly back Tuesday night so he can attend Wednesday's practice. "You have players who are advocating for racial equality, and the NFL wants to have a conversation. I'm glad to be a part of it."
Reserve safety Adrian Phillips, who had a violent helmet-to-helmet collision with Brown while they tried to tackle receiver Michael Crabtree midway through the first quarter Sunday, was placed in the concussion protocol and will miss the Broncos game.
Defensive lineman Corey Liuget, who aggravated a lower-back injury in the third quarter and had to be helped off the field after the game, underwent an MRI on Monday.
"It's been sore," Lynn said. "He's played through it, but he's not right. He's been dealing with it for a couple of weeks."
Lynn said the foot injury that right tackle Joe Barksdale has dealt with all season is turf toe, a condition that will continue to limit Barksdale's snaps.
Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who ranks second on the team with 25 receptions for 266 yards, will miss Sunday's game because of an ankle sprain, as will fellow receiver Isaiah McKenzie. Tackle Billy Winn (hand surgery) also is out, while starting right tackle Menelik Watson (calf strain) is questionable. Quarterback Trevor Siemian and leading receiver Demaryius Thomas, both injured Sunday, are expected to play. ... Running back LeShun Daniels was released from the Chargers' practice squad.