The Chargers are feeling more upbeat about Antonio Gates' chances of playing on Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
Gates, their All-Pro tight end, practiced for the first time this week on Thursday. Gates sprained his right foot on Sunday in the win over the Buffalo Bills.
"I tested it out and basically I'm going to wait until (Friday) and see how it feels," said Gates, the team's top receiver with 56 catches for 784 yards and seven touchdowns. "We'll just decide from there to see if it's sore or I have any pain.
"Still, it feels better, obviously, than it did (Wednesday). So that is a good sign."
Coach Marty Schottenheimer also gave Gates' performance two thumbs up.
"He did some work out here today," Schottenheimer said. "(His availability) is going right down to game time. We are cautiously optimistic. He ran and he cut. It was positive."
Gates is no longer wearing the walking boot his ailing foot has been encased in since he was hurt in the third quarter of Sunday's game. His limp was also gone.
"I'm going to constantly prepare to play this weekend and take care of the foot," Gates said.
If Gates can't go, he would be replaced for Justin Peelle, a fourth-year pro. Peelle, who's forte is blocking and not catching Drew Brees passes, filled in for Gates in the season opener, when he was serving a suspension.
--LT Roman Oben (foot) didn't practice again on Thursday and it is looking as if he will miss Sunday's game. Leander Jordan would get his third NFL start at left tackle if Oben can't go.
--OLB Steve Foley (strained abdominal) has practiced all week and appears primed to return to the starting lineup.
--OLB Shawne Merriman, who has a team-high seven sacks, is nearly halfway to the rookie sack record set by Jevon Kearse in 1999, when he recorded 14 1/2 for Tennessee.
--ILB Ben Leber (foot) didn't practice Thursday and it appears his season is close to being over. He will undergo foot surgery next week, which will likely land him on injured reserve.
--OLB Shaun Phillips might see his playing time diminish slightly with the return of Steve Foley. But Phillips has learned both outside linebacker spots, so they could be on the field at the same time. Phillips has five sacks, second only to Shawne Merriman among the Chargers.
--WR Vincent Jackson drew raves from coach Marty Schottenheimer for his work this week. His balky hamstring is fit and the rookie could see some playing time Sunday.--K Nate Kaeding will continue kick off, despite coach Marty Schottenheimer saying earlier in the week he was considering using P Mike Scifres in that role.
For the second time this season, the Rams have lost quarterback Marc Bulger to a shoulder injury. After Bulger suffered the first injury Oct. 17 against the Colts, the Rams won their next two games with Jamie Martin under center and without wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
Facing a possible lost season with a record of 4-6, Martin returns, this time with Holt and Bruce back on the field. Rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick again will be Martin's backup, and he took more snaps in practice this week than he did the last time he was one injury away from playing. Martin did suffer bruised ribs last week against Arizona.
Interim coach Joe Vitt was pleased with Martin's work this week.
"He was really sharp the last two days, really sharp," Vitt said Thursday. "His ribs were a little hurt going into (Wednesday's) practice, but I thought he was really sharp. He threw the ball well, good anticipation. He had a good zip on the ball. The receivers did a good job of running routes and catching for him."
Asked if he is comfortable giving Martin the entire playbook to run, Vitt said, "He has the entire playbook, but then we'll whittle it down. He's been in this system his whole life, so he knows what to do. He knows where to go with the ball, he knows his progressions. He knows his pre-snap reads, he knows all that stuff. We haven't cut it back for him."
As for what has impressed him about Fitzpatrick, who played well in the preseason and beat out Jeff Smoker for the No. 3 job, Vitt said, "He's mobile. He has a strong arm. He's extremely smart. He's really devoured the offense. He understands it. He can make the impromptu play. He stays alive. He's accurate on the run. He's really got a great future."
But for now, as the Rams try to salvage something positive out of this season, Martin is the man.
"I have come to expect good things from Jamie," Holt said. "He's been here before; he's been in this situation before. We rolled with Jamie the last two games before we went into the bye week. He has proven that we can win with Jamie. We are OK, we are fine with Jamie. We are fortunate enough to have a guy that understands the system."
Martin has a passer rating of 83.2 in the four games he's played, and he says he's ready.
"This is my career," Martin said. "I'm a career backup to be ready in these situations. Having those two games earlier in the year under my belt really helps to kind of calm down this week and know what to expect and hopefully have some good games."
Also ready will be Fitzpatrick.
"You're always excited about the opportunity to play," Fitzpatrick said. "Hopefully everything goes well and Jamie throws for 300 yards and we win the game. But if something happens and I have to go in, I'm definitely going to try to seize the opportunity."
--DE Leonard Little was added to the injury report Thursday as probable with an ankle injury. Said interim coach Joe Vitt, "He got a cortisone shot yesterday in his ankle, and you want to rest that thing for 24 hours afterwards. He'll be ready to go tomorrow."
--LT Orlando Pace missed some practice Thursday because of a hamstring injury, but he is listed as probable and expects to play Sunday.
--RB Marshall Faulk has practiced sparingly this week, just like last week because of a knee injury. Faulk is probable and is expected to play his usual role in the offense.
--S O.J. Atogwe practiced better Thursday than he did Wednesday because of a toe injury suffered against Arizona. While he is questionable, interim coach Joe Vitt said, "He moved around really well today. He really did. He practiced really well."
--QB Jeff Smoker had other options, but he elected to leave the Eagles practice squad this week and re-sign with the Rams. A sixth-round pick in 2004 by the Rams, Smoker was released at the end of training camp this year, but came back after Marc Bulger's first shoulder injury. "I think he threw the ball well today, and he's kept his weight down," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "I think he really feels comfortable here. He's been in the system for two years. Yeah, I'm really happy with him today. He did (have other options), but you'll have to ask him about that. I don't know what he wants people to know. We were all very thankful that he chose to come back here. He likes it here, he knows the system and he knows his teammates."
Outside linebacker Karlos Dansby was upgraded from questionable to probable Thursday, an important development as the Cardinals prepare to play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Dansby is a mainstay on the defense, playing every down, including all nickel situations. He missed last week's game with a groin team, and he was listed as questionable early this week.
The club will need him if it's to slow down Jacksonville's offense, especially its running attack. Dansby is physical and can run.
The Cardinals already are playing without several defensive starters, including nose tackle Russell Davis and end Bertrand Berry.
The situation at offensive guard remains scary. Both starters last week, Alex Stepanovich and Jeremy Bridges, could be out Sunday.
Stepanovich is doubtful with a shoulder injury, and Bridges is questionable because of an ailing ankle. Bridges has yet to practice this week.
If they can't play, they'll be replaced by Adam Haayer (left guard) and Fred Wakefield (right guard). Both are more comfortable at tackle, and they'll be facing two of the best defensive tackles in the league in Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.
--WR Anquan Boldin caught his 200th career pass last week. In his third year, Boldin has reached that mark faster than any other player in NFL history.
--RB J.J. Arrington has taken on an increased role over the past month, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him replace Marcel Shipp in the starting lineup before the season ends.
--WR Bryant Johnson will miss this week's game with a sprained shoulder. This will be the third straight game he's missed. He'll be replaced by rookie LeRon McCoy.
--TE Eric Edwards is taking on an increased role as a receiver. The club had been using its tight ends in pass protection earlier this year. But with the offensive line playing better, the tight ends are running more routes.
--CB Eric Green will get his second straight at left cornerback, playing in place of the veteran Robert Tate.