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Amid struggles, Chargers reassign special teams coordinator George Stewart

Los Angeles Chargers special team coordinator George Stewart speaks during a news conference.
Chargers special team coordinator George Stewart was reassigned Wednesday in a shakeup of the team’s coaching staff.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The Chargers’ slide toward the bottom of the NFL standings claimed its first victim Wednesday when special teams coordinator George Stewart was removed from his job.

A 61-year-old longtime assistant, Stewart was reassigned and given the title of senior analyst, coach Anthony Lynn said.

Keith Burns and Chris Caminiti will oversee the Chargers’ special teams for the remaining six games, according to Lynn.

“We couldn’t keep going the way we were going,” Lynn said. “So I decided to make that change… I think it’s for the best. Stew and I both agreed to do this. It’s what I thought was best for the team or I wouldn’t have done it.”

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The Chargers have struggled on special teams while going 3-7. They’ve been called for numerous penalties and had three punts blocked over the last five games.

In the first quarter of a 29-21 loss at Miami on Nov. 15, Ty Long had a punt blocked and Quenton Meeks was called for offsides on a field-goal attempt, extending a drive and leading to a Dolphins touchdown.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn admits the Jets defense won the trenches and kept his team from establishing any kind of rushing attack.

“It’s something I thought long and hard about before I did it,” Lynn said. “We just made the decision to do it this morning. But it was something I put a lot of thought into.”

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Stewart is in his fourth season with the Chargers. An offensive lineman as a player, he went into coaching in 1983 as a graduate assistant at Arkansas.

He also worked at Minnesota and Notre Dame before joining the staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1989. Stewart has been in the NFL ever since, his stops including Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Atlanta and Minnesota.

“You’re talking about a confidant,” Lynn said. “You’re talking about a guy that taught me a lot about the game, especially in the special-teams area, a guy that’s always had my back. So it was extremely hard to do it.”

Burns had been Stewart’s assistant. He was a standout special-teams player for Denver, where he and Lynn were teammates.

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Caminiti entered this season with the title of senior coaching assistant. In his second year with the Chargers, he previously was on the staff at UCLA.

On Sunday, the Chargers play at Buffalo, leaders in the AFC East. The Bills had won three in a row before losing at Arizona on Nov. 15 on a Hail Mary in the final seconds. They were off last weekend.

The Chargers just ended a three-game losing streak with a victory over the New York Jets. Before that, they had lost seven of eight after a win in their season opener.

The Chargers have struggled all season holding leads in the second half of games, but coach Anthony Lynn isn’t blaming the issue on players letting up.

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Potentially on their way to a second consecutive last-place finish in the AFC West, the Chargers have the appearance of a team that could undergo sweeping changes over the next several weeks.

Along with looking for improvement on the field, the Chargers also are trying to sell tickets for the 2021 season and further establish themselves in L.A. after relocating from San Diego in 2017.

Their move into SoFi Stadium this season has come without fans in attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are no guarantees for next year, all NFL teams are operating with the hope the situation will change.

Despite their 3-7 record, the Chargers have found a possible long-term solution at quarterback in rookie Justin Herbert. Any personnel moves over the next few months will be made with Herbert’s development among the top priorities.

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“It’s never one person’s fault,” Lynn said when asked about the decision with Stewart. “As coaches, this is what we sign up for. We sign up to work with these young men. If they don’t execute the way we need them to execute, then we lose our jobs. That’s just the way it is.”

Ekeler back at practice

Running back Austin Ekeler returned to practice Wednesday as he continues to work his way back from the injured reserve list. Ekeler has been out since Week 4 because of a hamstring strain.

Lynn said it was too early to know whether Ekeler would be available to play against Buffalo, but the Chargers are expected to be cautious with him.

Veteran Kalen Ballage has emerged as the team’s primary running back, but he was limited in practice because of ankle and calf issues.

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Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. appears ready to return from the broken foot he suffered in Week 3.

”He’s going to get some serious reps,” Lynn said, “and we’re going to see exactly where he’s at.”

The Raiders are off to a competitive 6-4 start after splitting games against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Who has led the way for Las Vegas?

Without Harris, the Chargers have been inconsistent in their secondary, which has been victimized repeatedly, particularly after halftime.

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His potential return comes after cornerback Casey Hayward suffered a groin injury against the Jets. The veteran did not practice Wednesday.

The Chargers are preparing to face a Bills team that ranks fourth in the league in passing yards. Quarterback Josh Allen is averaging 287 yards per game and has completed 68% of his attempts.

He is eighth — one spot behind Herbert — in the NFL with 21 touchdown passes. His rating of 103.2 is ninth, also one spot behind Herbert.

Etc.

Defensive end Melvin Ingram (knee) did not practice. His backup, Uchenna Nwosu, has a shoulder injury and is expected to miss multiple weeks. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) was on the Chargers’ injury report but did practice.… Herbert won the FedEx Air NFL Player of the Week Award on Wednesday after throwing for a season-high 366 yards against the Jets. As part of the honor, FedEx will work with Direct Relief to deliver emergency medical backpacks to a local community clinic or health center.


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