PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Just minutes after Sunday's Pro Bowl had concluded, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller said he hoped to know “pretty soon," how the Broncos defensive staff would look for the coming season.

Then Monday the Broncos formally finished a up deal with their second defensive assistant as linebackers coach Reggie Herring joined defensive line coach Bill Kollar on Gary Kubiak's staff. Herring replaces Richard Smith, who had been strongly considered to be retained from John Fox's staff, but who told team officials this week he has accepted a job to be the Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator.

The Broncos continue to search for a defensive coordinator and need a secondary coach as well. Around the league former Broncos defensive coordinator and head coach Wade Phillips continues to be considered a primary candidate to call defensive plays for the Broncos in the 2015 season.

Phillips was the defensive coordinator on Kubiak's staff in Houston and is expected to visit the Broncos complex in the coming days, possibly as soon as Tuesday. The Broncos have also been rebuffed by the Cincinnati Bengals in attempts to consider Bengals defensive backs coach Vance Joseph for the coordinator job.

According to multiple team sources, the Bengals have blocked Joseph's attempt to take the job because he is under contract with the team. The Broncos interviewed Joseph earlier this month for the team's head coaching job, two days before they met with Kubiak.

The Broncos did continue their efforts to hire Joseph over the last week, but the Bengals have held the line to this point, despite the fact the Broncos' position would be a promotion for Joseph, who was also an assistant coach on Kubiak's staff in Houston. Internally the Broncos held out some hope earlier this week if the Bengals could find an assistant coach who could conceivably replace Joseph -- former Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was one name that kept coming up around the league -- perhaps the Bengals would change their approach.

However, the Broncos have now picked up their efforts with Phillips as well. Phillips took over as Texans interim head coach 13 games into the '13 season after Kubiak was fired. The Texans were 30th in total defense in 2010, 29th in scoring defense and last in the league in pass defense when Kubiak looked to Phillips to repair the unit.

The team drafted defensive end J.J. Watt in the first round of the '11 draft and Phillips pushed the improved unit to No. 2 in total defense in 2011, No. 4 in scoring defense. The Texans were also No. 7 in total defense in 2012 and were No. 7 in total defense in 2013 even as the team finished 2-14.

Phillips was the Broncos head coach in 1993 and 1994 and was fired after a 7-9 finish in 1994 when Broncos owner Pat Bowlen hired Mike Shanahan. Phillips was 16-16 in his two seasons with a loss in the wild-card round following the '93 season.

Phillips had been the Broncos' defensive coordinator 1989-1992.

Charles Woodson still durable at age 38

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Raiders got an early jump on free agency Monday, signing veteran safety Charles Woodson to a contract extension.

Woodson was one of the Raiders' defensive leaders in 2014 when he led the team in tackles and interceptions. The 38-year-old was also the only member of Oakland's starting secondary to play in all 16 games after injuries sidelined Tyvon Branch and cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Woodson was scheduled to become a free agent in March. He had stated his desire to return to Oakland but did it with a caveat, saying he only wanted to come back if the team retained then-assistant defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson.

Robertson was not only re-hired to be a part of head coach Jack Del Rio's staff last week, he was promoted to defensive backs coach as well.

"I wouldn't have spoken so strongly about him if I didn't feel he was so important," Woodson said last week while attending a Golden State Warriors game with his wife and children. "I definitely plan on playing."

Woodson, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, became the first player in NFL history to have at least 50 career interceptions and 20 sacks.

The rest of Oakland's secondary remains uncertain. Brown played very well before getting hurt while Rogers had an up-and-down season. Both are slated to hit the free-agent market, while Branch could be a salary cap casualty.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he accepted good wishes from some of the NFL’s biggest names Sunday night, Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. took a moment to reflect on the season that was now officially over.

Yes, his first Pro Bowl appearance was a nice parting gift to end of the season, but it was not the game Harris or his seven Broncos teammates in the league's all-star game wanted to be playing in University of Phoenix Stadium, not with Super Bowl XLIX to be played on the same field this Sunday.

“Just to leave the year with a win somehow, it feels pretty good,’’ Harris said following his work in Team Irvin’s 32-28 win over Team Carter. “But we know what we wanted all year, we didn’t get there, so it won’t be everything we wanted. But it still was a big year for me.’’

Harris returned to the Broncos’ starting lineup in the regular-season opener just seven months after ACL surgery. He earned his first Pro Bowl spot, and changed from a player overshadowed by others with bigger reputations to one who is now considered one of the best at what he does.

The Broncos rewarded Harris with a five-year, $42.5 million contract extension in the season’s stretch run as GM John Elway offered that Harris "is everything we want in a Denver Bronco.'' And while the Pro Bowl is an oft-criticized affair for its less-than-average tempo when the game is played, the players who go often speak of the week’s practices being of particular interest.

“It definitely makes me more hungry to get back and try to get in again,’’ Harris. “I wasn’t drafted, a lot of these guys have gotten to meet me, see how I play, see how I practice. Like I said it’s been one of my favorite things is just getting with these guys, sharing ideas. All of the corners, pretty much everybody in the secondary, it was great to meet them. Playing by Joe Haden, Brent Grimes, Vontae (Davis) -- we just hung out all week. It’s been fun. And Joe Haden, getting to know him, that’s one person that I’ll stay in touch with for sure.’’

Like he did much of the season, Harris played all over the defensive formation, covering all manner of receivers either in the slot or on the outside Sunday night.

The Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff, which directed Team Irvin, moved Harris all over the formation, left and right, inside and outside -- “I mean, has anybody else done that? It was fun.’’

In the end Harris said he will now take a little time off, his first since the offseason following the 2012 season. Last year, coming off his surgery, Harris remained in Denver for the entire offseason, rehabbing his knee.

“I’m going to take a month, maybe a little longer off,’’ Harris said. “Last year, it was my knee, I didn’t want to miss a minute, not a day, because I didn’t want anything to keep me from getting back out there. I’ll be back in a little bit, ready to go, get to work. Because we still want to get in that last game and win it.’’
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He has already accepted his new job, but freshly minted Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison hasn’t actually started his new job.

But within minutes of the final play of Sunday’s Pro Bowl -- Dennison called the plays for Team Carter in his final official duty as part of the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff -- he said he was more than ready to begin the second tenure of his coaching career on the Broncos staff.

Dennison was a Broncos assistant coach beginning with Mike Shanahan’s first season as Broncos head coach in 1995 through the end of Josh McDaniels' first season as head coach in 2009. Within days of Gary Kubiak being hired as head coach last week, Dennison was named his offensive coordinator.

But Dennison had to finish out his duties as Ravens wide receivers coach, a stint that ended in the Pro Bowl when Baltimore's staff replaced Denver's staff after the Broncos and John Fox parted ways Jan. 12, the day after Denver's playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

[+] EnlargeRick Dennison
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsRick Dennison returns to Denver, where his history with the Broncos as a coach and a player stretches nearly 20 years.
“This past year in Baltimore was awesome," Dennison said. “John [Harbaugh] does a great job, Ozzie [Newsome] was great, everybody in the building was great."

Dennison's history with Kubiak is extensive. He was on a Broncos coaching staff with Kubiak for 11 seasons and on Kubiak’s coaching staff in Houston for four seasons. Dennison was on the Ravens staff with Kubiak this season. He was Kubiak’s teammate -- and Broncos executive vice president and general manager John Elway's -- for eight seasons.

So when Kubiak offered Dennison a chance to return to the Broncos, he quickly agreed, with Harbaugh’s blessing.

“It was a chance. It was time to go back," Dennison said. “I’m a Colorado guy. I’ve spent all my summers there even after I left [the Broncos after the 2009 season]. It’s easy to go back to that building, easy to go back to that team and be a part of it."

Kubiak has said he expects to have plenty of the play-calling duties on game day, but Dennison is a valued strategist with a varied background that includes coaching special teams and the offensive line. When the Broncos were at their best running the ball in Shanahan’s tenure, both Shanahan and Kubiak said plenty of that success could be traced back to Dennison’s work.

Dennison said after Sunday’s Pro Bowl he was ready to get to work in his new duties with the Broncos. This past week in Arizona, he had an up-close look at some of the players he will now see in practice each day in the coming season.

Offensive tackle Ryan Clady was on the Team Carter squad the Ravens' staff was coaching, while wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and running back C.J. Anderson played for Team Irvin. Sanders finished the game with 70 yards receiving and two touchdowns as the Broncos had eight players in the game overall, including five on the two teams' defenses.

“I haven’t looked too much at the roster," Dennison said. “But I was part of drafting Ryan and I spoke to C.J. a little bit as well. Emmanuel showed some of the things he can do. … I know there’s a lot there."

The Broncos led the league in scoring with a NFL single-season record 606 points in 2013 and were second in the league, behind Green Bay, in scoring this season. Quarterback Peyton Manning, however, has not formally announced whether he intends to return for the 2015 season.

“I’ve spent a lot of my career in that building, been there for a lot of years," Dennison said. “I’m excited to see some familiar faces and excited to get started."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The most interesting development regarding the Kansas City Chiefs from Sunday night's Pro Bowl is that linebacker Justin Houston didn't play.

Houston's contract is scheduled to expire in March. Danny Parkins of Kansas City radio station KCSP was in Arizona covering the game. He reported via Twitter that Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali said Houston didn't play because he wanted to remain healthy heading into his contract negotiations.

Parkins later tweeted that Houston denied this, saying he was sick.

Nobody could blame Houston for skipping the game for contract reasons. As the NFL's sack leader, he will get a lucrative long-term contract from the Chiefs if the sides can work something out. An injury can only ruin the financial possibilities for him.

But Houston went through the week of practice. If he had no intention of playing in the game, he should have skipped the entire week and let another player take his place.

The other three Chiefs did participate for Team Cris Carter, which lost 32-28 to Team Michael Irvin. Running back Jamaal Charles had four carries for 25 yards, including a 17-yard run that set up a Team Carter touchdown.

Hali had a tackle and an assist. Nose tackle Dontari Poe had two tackles.
With an opening still available to run the team’s defense, new Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak is still attempting to hire Cincinnati Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph for the job.

To this point, according to multiple team sources, the Bengals have blocked Joseph’s attempt to take the job because he is under contract with the team. The Broncos interviewed Joseph earlier this month for the team’s head-coaching job, two days before team officials met with Kubiak in Houston.

However, the Broncos have continued their efforts with the Bengals to hire Joseph in recent days, and now there is a feeling within the Broncos’ front office that if the Bengals believe they can find a replacement on their defensive staff for Joseph, they would be more inclined to let Joseph take the promotion with the Broncos.

One name that has surfaced in the league for the Bengals is former New York Giants defense coordinator Perry Fewell. Fewell, who was fired by the Giants shortly after the season, interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers this past week to be the defensive backs coach.

The Broncos believe that until Fewell is hired somewhere he will be considered by the Bengals as well, and that if hired by Cincinnati it would free Joseph to run the Broncos’ defense. By league rules the only time an assistant coach under contract cannot be prevented from taking a new job is if the move is from coordinator to head coach.

The Broncos have tried to prepare themselves if they can’t secure Joseph, a former assistant coach on Kubiak’s staff with the Houston Texans from 2011-13, and the team reached out to former Broncos head coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips last week.

Phillips took over as Texans interim head coach 13 games into the 2013 season after Kubiak was fired. The Texans were 30th in total defense, 29th in scoring defense and last in the league in pass defense in 2010 when Kubiak looked to Phillips to repair the unit.

The team drafted defensive end J.J. Watt in the first round of the 2011 draft and Phillips pushed the improved unit to No. 2 in total defense and No. 4 in scoring defense in 2011. The Texans were No. 7 in total defense in 2012 and were also No. 7 in total defense in 2013 even as the team finished 2-14.

Phillips was the Broncos' head coach in 1993 and 1994 and was fired after a 7-9 finish in 1994, when Broncos owner Pat Bowlen hired Mike Shanahan. Phillips was 16-16 in his two seasons, with a loss in the wild-card round following the 1993 season.

Phillips had been the Broncos’ defensive coordinator from 1989-1992.

Kubiak has hired Bill Kollar, another former Texans assistant, to be Denver's defensive line coach, and Broncos linebackers coach Richard Smith is expected to be retained in the same job.

With Kubiak having already filled out the team’s offensive staff -- with Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator, as well as Joe DeCamillis as special-teams coordinator -- that leaves the defensive coordinator spot and defensive backs coach as the only two major openings that remain.
Check out some of these surprising similarities between this season’s Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots of the 2003 season. ESPN Stats & Information team found seven things, and maybe eight, that are eerily similar:

1. Russell Wilson leads the Seahawks into Super Bowl XLIX in his third season as a starter, just as Tom Brady led the 2003 Patriots to Super Bowl XXXVIII in his third year starting.

2. The 2003 Patriots finished the regular season 14-2 and were the No 1 seed in the AFC. The 2014 Seahawks finished the regular season 12-4 and are the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

3. Both teams started slow. The 2003 Patriots were 2-2 before winning 12 in a row to end the regular season while this year’s Seahawks were 3-3 before winning nine of their last 10 games.

4. Brady threw 23 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in 2003, a ratio of 1.92. That was the seventh-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL. Wilson threw 20 touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season, a ratio of 2.86. That was the seventh-best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the NFL.

5. The Patriots allowed 14.9 points per game in 2003, the fewest in the NFL and the second-fewest in franchise history. The Seahawks allowed 15.9 points per game this season, the fewest in the NFL and the third-fewest in franchise history.

6. Both defenses relied on shut-down cornerbacks. Ty Law was an All-Pro in 2003 for the Patriots and Richard Sherman is an All-Pro again for the Seahawks.

7. Wide receiver Deion Branch led the Patriots with 57 receptions in 2003, which was tied for 42nd in the NFL. Doug Baldwin led the Seahawks with 66 receptions this season, which was tied for 42nd in the NFL.

8. And here’s the way the Seahawks hope to cap those similarities. The 2003 Patriots ended their season by winning Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Tracking Jim Tomsula's staff 4.0

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
The San Francisco 49ers have yet to announce any hirings to new coach Jim Tomsula’s staff, though there have been reported agreements at defensive coordinator (Eric Mangini), outside linebackers (Jason Tarver) and offensive line (Chris Foerster).

As of Saturday morning, following is the most up-to-date tracker of assistants linked to Tomsula’s staff:

Offensive coordinator – Lane Kiffin is a “front-runner” for the postion. Rob Chudzinski, Mike Shanahan and Marc Trestman were also linked, though Trestman was hired as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator and the Indianapolis Colts have blocked teams from interviewing Chudzinski, whose contract with Colts reportedly ends next week. 49ers quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst is considered an option.

[+] EnlargeSparano
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesTony Sparano is moving from the Raiders to the 49ers as the tight ends coach.
Offensive line coach – Chris Foerster, the Niners’ offensive line coach in 2008 and 2009, is reportedly returning to same position, though he ran more zone schemes in Washington and the Niners’ personnel dictates power blocking.

Assistant offensive line coach – Eric Wolford, the former head coach at Youngstown State is purportedly joining Foerster, after reportedly accepting a job at Oklahoma State.

Quarterbacks coach – Chryst, the Niners’ quarterbacks coach since 2011, is reportedly set to return, though his duties are not yet known. He was linked to Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator position before they hired Adam Gase.

Tight ends coach – Former Oakland Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano is set to come down Interstate 880.

Running backs coach – Tom Rathman is reportedly set to return in the same capacity.

Offensive assistant – Ronald Curry, with the Niners since 2013, was wooed by Buffalo, though Niners reportedly denied permission for the Bills to interview him.

Special teams coordinator – Former New York Jets special teams coach Thomas McGaughey is linked to the Niners’ opening after Brad Seely, released by the Niners, was hired by the Oakland Raiders for the same position. McGaughey worked with Tomsula in NFL Europe.

Defensive coordinator – The 49ers are set to hire Mangini, who was the 49ers' tight ends coach last season. He was the New England Patriots' defensive coordinator in 2005 and was head coach of the New York Jets (2006-08) and Cleveland Browns (2009-10). He was denied permission by Cincinnati to speak with Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph, whose NFL coaching career began with the Niners as a secondary coach.

Senior defensive assistant/linebackers – Former Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver was hired. He ran a 4-3 defensive scheme in Oakland, but is a 3-4 strategist at heart.

Secondary – Former New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is reportedly a candidate after former secondary coach Ed Donatell was released and followed Vic Fangio to the Bears.
SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Chargers refuted a report from a St. Louis radio station that the team has a deal in place for a new stadium in Los Angeles.

Andy Strickland of CBS Sports radio 920 AM in St. Louis reported Friday that according to high-ranking officials in St. Louis, Chargers owner Dean Spanos has a deal in place with Goldman Sachs to build a stadium in Los Angeles, and the NFL asked him to hold off from announcing or releasing those plans.

You can listen to that report here.

Earlier this month, a developer and a company operated by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke unveiled plans to build an 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood, California, on land he owns near Hollywood Park.

“He’s very, very unhappy that all of sudden Kroenke goes ahead and does his thing without the NFL’s approval,” Strickland said, referring to Spanos.

Mark Fabiani, the Chargers’ special counsel and the point person on the stadium issue, refuted the report.

“Although we have worked for years with Goldman Sachs as our investment banker, the remainder of the story is untrue,” Fabiani said.

Goldman Sachs helped set up a financing plan for the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium. However, the investment banking firm was not responsible for raising revenue to help pay for the project.

The Chargers also had to dispel similar speculation in 2010 after a report from a Canadian sports talk radio show host claiming that the Spanos family had sold 35 percent of the Chargers to Los Angeles entrepreneur Phil Anschutz, who heads up AEG’s efforts to build an NFL stadium in Los Angeles.

Fabiani reiterated the team’s commitment to working toward a solution on a stadium deal in San Diego before testing the waters elsewhere.

“If we didn’t want to be here, why would we have worked on this for 13 years?” Fabiani said. “There’s been plenty of opportunities to move to Los Angeles. People forget Ed Roski has had a stadium entitled in the City of Industry since 2008. And by entitled, I mean done, ready and everything settled – every environmental review cleared and every lawsuit settled.

“AEG has had an entitled site for a couple years downtown, ready to go and everything settled. So if Dean had wanted to move, he would have moved a long time ago.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos, given they are not one of the two teams that will get down to their Super Bowl work in Arizona next week, are in the business phase of the offseason.

They have a substantial list of 17 prospective free agents, restricted and unrestricted combined, to work through. That includes some of their front-line players -- nine starters -- and two of the five team captains in wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

But the big picture shows that the Broncos have plenty of core players, including all of their players in Arizona for the Pro Bowl, under contract well beyond next season.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesDemaryius Thomas is a free agent, but the Broncos could still put a franchise tag on him.
None of the Broncos’ eight players taking part in the Pro Bowl practices this week leading up to Sunday’s all-star game are prospective free agents. Demaryius Thomas (ankle, toe), tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) and quarterback Peyton Manning (thigh) were also selected for the Pro Bowl, but elected not to participate because of injuries.

Of those three, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas will be free agents while Manning, signed through the 2016 season, has not stated whether he will return for the 2015 season.

Of the other Broncos in the Pro Bowl:
Of the Pro Bowl group, only Manning (38) and Ware (32) were older than 28 this season. So if the players stay reasonably healthy, it means the Broncos have several key players locked up for two or more seasons, before most become 30-somethings. Demaryius Thomas will almost certainly get the team’s franchise player tag if no long-term deal is worked out this offseason, so that’s another player to mark down for 2015.

Julius Thomas’ representatives have made it clear they’re interested in negotiating in the highest-paid-player-at-the-position area, as you would expect, and that might prove too daunting for a Broncos front office that is already planning for a potential salary-cap squeeze in 2016. And, as the Pro Bowl list shows, Miller will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2015 season and Anderson will be a restricted free agent, free to get offers that the Broncos can match, if they wish.

Miller and Anderson are both players the Broncos are going to want to keep, but they'll have to open the checkbook to do it.

The Manning question looms as well on the business side with a $19 million salary that is guaranteed if he’s on the roster on the last day of the league year, March 9.

Another business item that will bear watching among the Pro Bowl selections is if the Broncos will take a look at Clady’s contract for a future reduction. Tight end Jacob Tamme, a prospective free agent in the coming weeks as well, took a contract hit before this past season.

Clady, who struggled with groin and thigh injuries this season and hasn't yet shown his form of 2012 since a season-ending foot injury early in 2013, is slated to count $10.6 million against the cap next season, $10.1 million in 2016 and $10.6 million in 2017. He also has already received the bulk of his guaranteed money, with a $3 million signing bonus in 2013 to go with a $10.5 million roster bonus in July 2013.

That combination always puts a player in the crosshairs for a re-do. Clady’s base salary for 2015 -- $8 million -- is also guaranteed in the fifth day of the new league year, which will be March 14.
The Senior Bowl wrapped up three days of padded practices on Thursday. Usually Friday's practice is a walk-through, as the coaches give players a day to rest their legs and get ready for this weekend's game.

The one-on-one pass protection and route-running drills provided an opportunity to see how players compete, while 7-on-7 and team drills gave us a chance to see how players translated what they learned in the classroom onto the field.

Here are some players to watch for in Saturday's game that could make some sense for the San Diego Chargers in the upcoming draft.

Carl Davis, DT, Iowa: He won the practice player of the week award. At 6-4 and 320 pounds, Davis showed the ability to consistently push the pocket in one-on-one pass drills. I also liked his ability to pursue sideline to sideline in team drills. He's probably more of a 3-technique in a 4-3 scheme, but the Chargers could use more active and disruptive defensive linemen up front.

Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami (FL): At 5-10 and 183 pounds, Dorsett is fast, fluid and easily creates separation with his speed. But Dorsett isn't just a burner. He flashed solid hands and showed the ability to weave in and out of traffic to create explosive plays. Dorsett totaled 36 receptions for 871 yards and 10 touchdowns his final season at Miami. Dorsett's skill set has drawn comparisons to NFL receivers Antonio Brown, John Brown and T.Y. Hilton.

Ladarius Gunter, CB, Miami (FL): Gunter is another speedy player from Miami with good movement skills. I liked how he played physical at the line of scrimmage and transitioned well at the top of the route. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, Gunter also is a bigger, press corner who plays the ball well.

Rannell Hall, WR, Central Florida: At 6-2 and 192 pounds, I was impressed with Hall's effort and ability to make contested catches. He was productive in college, finishing with 49 catches for 500 yards. But he didn't have a receiving touchdown his final season at Central Florida, which is concerning.

Tre Jackson, OG, Florida State: He showed good feet and was stout in one-on-one pass protection during the week. Jackson measured in at nearly 6-4 and 323 pounds, and finished as a three-year starter and All-ACC performer at Florida State.

Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson: At 6-1 and 288 pounds, Jarrett is a bit undersized for an interior defensive lineman. But he has a good get-off and showed the ability to push the pocket inside. Jarrett's strong for his size and put up good numbers for the Tigers, finishing with 99 tackles -- including 19 for a loss -- and four sacks his final two seasons at Clemson.

Arie Kouandjio, OG, Alabama: Big and physical (6-5, 318 pounds), Kouandjio would give San Diego a physical road grader inside to upgrade the team's run game. His brother, offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio, was drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills last year.

Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State: He can come and help the Chargers right now as a slot receiver. He's a polished route runner who understands route concepts and how to set up defenders. He has the suddenness to create separation at the top of the route, and also has the ability to make defenders miss after the catch. Lockett also is one of the best returners coming out of college this year. Lockett's father Kevin played seven years in the NFL as a receiver.

Nate Orchard, OLB, Utah: He won the Ted Hendricks Award as the college football's best defensive end, and Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman. Orchard finished with 84.5 tackles, including 21.5 for a loss, and 18.5 sacks. The Chargers place a value on production, and Orchard has that. At 6-3 and 251 pounds, he also possesses an arsenal of pass-rush moves and plays with urgency. San Diego needs more guys like Orchard on defense.

Kevin White, CB, TCU: At 5-9 and 180 pounds, White is small for the position. But the Chargers had the smallest secondary in the NFL last season. Like his former teammate Jason Verrett, White has excellent shadowing and anticipation skills. He also showed good recovery speed and played the ball well in the air. However, White is not as physical as Verrett, and could struggle in the run game.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – By the time this past season was over, the Denver Broncos' 2014 draft class had been split down a very easy-to-see line.

If you were a defensive player, you were in uniform on game day, you were on the field, you contributed in some way. And if you were an offensive player in that draft class, you practiced a lot. But play in games? Not so much.

And when Mel Kiper Jr. re-graded the 2014 draft for every team in the league, it was a distinction he made as well as he dropped the grade from the C-plus he gave the Broncos this past May.

Cornerback Bradley Roby (first round) gave the Broncos all they hoped for as he quickly became a regular and a player the Broncos trusted enough to lock up in man coverage against some of the league’s more accomplished receivers.

Roby, who played 805 snaps in regular season on defense, was also a willing participant in run fits as well, as he finished as the third-leading tackler on the team with 64 tackles, including five tackles for loss. He looks every bit a future starter and will likely play even more next season if he makes the expected jump from his rookie season to Year 2.

Linebackers Lamin Barrow (fifth round) and Corey Nelson (seventh round) played sparingly in situational roles on defense – 49 snaps and 109 snaps, respectively – but both were regulars on special teams, with Barrow playing 74.4 percent of the snaps on special teams and Nelson 65 percent.

On offense, however, the rookies had mostly a watch-and-learn year. Wide receiver Cody Latimer (second round), despite his potential to contribute in red-zone offense because of his size-speed combination and willingness to win a contested ball, could not overcome the Broncos’ desire for him to be able to handle all of the fine points in a complex offense with a highly-productive position group that included two 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Latimer played just 37 snaps on offense all season.

But that was far more than tackle Michael Schofield (third round), who was a game-day inactive for every game of the season and center Matt Paradis (seventh round), who spent the season on the practice squad.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In all the words that have been written or spoken about friendship, the simplicity of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend," might be the bottom line.

And in the NFL, people hire their friends all of the time, familiarity being a powerful lure for folks trying to make high-risk decisions into low-risk ones. But those who hire a friend must also be prepared to fire a friend.

Which brings us to John Elway and Gary Kubiak. Elway is the Denver Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager who hired Kubiak as the 15th head coach in the franchise’s history. The two really didn't need an interview to get the lowdown on each other.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway and Gary Kubiak
The Denver Post/AP ImagesJohn Elway and Gary Kubiak have known each other for over 30 years.
They have been friends for more than three decades, since both were rookie quarterbacks for the Broncos in 1983. They’re former roommates and Kubiak was Elway’s offensive coordinator for four seasons. Elway, many who know him believe, has wanted Kubiak to be the coach since Pat Bowlen and Joe Ellis hired Elway in 2011 to resurrect the Broncos.

If it goes well, it is the kind of homecoming, put-the-band-back-together story Bowlen always endorsed when he ran the day-to-day operations of the team. If it doesn’t work out, well …

“We don't talk about risk," Kubiak said this week. “We understand the business. We understand it's a battle every day and it's stressful. But we have great respect for each other. We know it's going to be tough. But it's going to be fun being tough with somebody with that you know he had so much confidence in, so much trust in, as a football mind. And what John's done here in a brief period of time with this organization has been tremendous for me."

Since the Broncos and John Fox "parted ways" the day after the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Elway has said he and Fox disagreed on how the team would take the next step, from playoff contender to title winner. And while Fox did not address that thought in his news conference in Chicago on Monday, there are those who believe he wanted a little more say on personnel matters, or at least be kept in the loop. Fox also balked at potential coaching staff changes.

Of all the things Elway said following Fox’s departure, the phrase "like-minded," might have been one of the most important. In short, there may be no more like-minded person for Elway when it comes to football than Kubiak.

“Gary’s done it, he’s seen it. He understands, he’s been there; he’s won a world championship with Mike [Shanahan]," said Elway, when asked why Kubiak is the right coach to take the Broncos to the next level. "And so he’s seen it. He’s been with the Baltimore Ravens, who have won several world championships. He’s seen how they do it. ... We talked about comments that this is a place that it’s win a championship or nothing. That’s how it’s always been. Nothing’s changing there. That’s what Pat Bowlen wants. And that’s why it’s great that Gary’s experience here being a Denver Bronco, he understands that."

And there you have it. Kubiak understands that Elway’s goal and the Bowlen family’s goal is to win a Super Bowl. Sure, that’s everybody’s stated goal in the NFL, but to state the goal is one thing, to part ways with a coach who won four consecutive division titles to go with 46 regular-season games in four years is another.

Still, like a lot of things you ask Kubiak about, he is unfazed by that thought. And when you’ve spent as much time with Elway as Kubiak has, he knows it’s just a given with his boss.

“John's the most competitive human being I've ever been around, whether you're playing cards or ping pong, it doesn't matter," Kubiak said. “And that's not going to change. I think I'm very competitive, too. That's probably why we're still standing in this league because if you're not, you're not going to hang out for very long. I think this will be 31 or 32 years for me in the National Football League and I'm sure it's the same, well, it would be the same for John. So, just to get together and battle together every day is something that is very special and something I look forward to."

The jury is out, until games get played and seasons go by, as to whether it works the way Elway and Kubiak want it to -- long-time friends help win Super Bowl trophy for Bowlen -- but Kubiak, more than anyone else the Broncos could have hired, knows exactly what he has signed up for.

As he said: “I want to be part of expectations."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There could be times Sunday night when the Pro Bowl actually feels like August for a few Denver Broncos players.

When, much like a training camp practice, cornerback Aqib Talib could be locked up on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders or left tackle Ryan Clady could trying to slow down Von Miller in a third-and-long situation.

When the Pro Bowls rosters were completed Wednesday night, Talib and Clady were on a team selected by Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin while the other six Broncos who are slated to play in the all-star game, including Sanders and Miller, will be a on team selected by Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin.

The team Irvin selected will be coached by the Dallas Cowboys’ staff and will also feature Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive end DeMarcus Ware and safety T.J. Ward.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (thigh), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (ankle, toe) and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) had been selected for the game, but elected not to play because of injuries. Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas are each scheduled to be unrestricted free agents on March 10.

Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET.
As another New England Patriots controversy captivates the NFL -- this time it's deflated footballs -- an old Super Bowl tale has surfaced and it involves your Oakland Raiders.

Brad Johnson, who quarterbacked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 48-21 thrashing over the Raiders in the Super Bowl XXXVII 12 years ago, said he paid some people to scuff all the bowls prior to the game so they would become easier to handle.

"I paid some guys off to get the balls right," Johnson said. "I went and got all 100 footballs, and they took care of all of them."

Do I think the Raiders got hosed? No. The key here is all of the footballs were affected. Johnson's act made it easier for players on both sides. There's a "nothing to see (or feel) here" type situation. On his Sirius XM radio show, the Raiders quarterback that day, Rich Gannon, addressed it as a non-story.

The Raiders know they were trounced, pristine footballs or not.