video When: 8:25 p.m. Saturday. Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. TV: CBS, NFL Network.

The San Francisco 49ers were eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. The San Diego Chargers are living on a prayer and have more than pride to play for when they face their Northern California neighbors on Saturday. NFL Nation reporters Paul Gutierrez, who covers the 49ers, and Eric Williams, who covers the Chargers, break down the matchup.

Gutierrez: The Chargers came out of nowhere last year to claim one of the AFC’s wild-card spots as a feel-good story. Now, the Bolts find themselves on the outside looking in with two games remaining. Was this year’s bar simply set too high by their playoff appearance last year or do they have the rest of the AFC right where they want them with two games to go?

Williams: It’s hard to argue that last year’s surprise playoff appearance was somewhat of a mirage. The Chargers still lack depth at cornerback, defensive line, interior offensive line and running back. And they’ve struggled to score points against the top two teams in the AFC in back-to-back games (the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos). That said, Philip Rivers still is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL when protected and healthy. When Rivers is on, the Chargers can play with anyone in the NFL. And they need Mr. Bolo tie to get on a roll and have a chance to make the postseason for a second straight year.

With the 49ers sitting at 7-7, they will be on the outside looking in come the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. San Francisco has a lot of proud, veteran players such as Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Vernon Davis. How are they handling playing out the string? And do you believe they will show up motivated to play on a short week this Saturday?

Gutierrez: Yeah, that is the question du jour this week in Santa Clara, along with if the Niners should rest their veterans and let their younger guys get the lion’s share of the snaps against the Chargers. Injuries, though, might make it a moot point because said younger guys will be forced to play anyway. But you make a valid point, especially since merely playing out the string is a foreign concept for the Niners in the Jim Harbaugh Era. And the team, from general manager Trent Baalke to coach Harbaugh to the vets themselves, insists it will play hard and try to finish 9-7. Because while pride, as Marcellus Wallace said in “Pulp Fiction,” can be a dangerous thing, it is also a motivating factor. I expect the vets to show up and show out. Still not sure if it will be enough, though.

The Chargers’ fortunes have risen and fallen with the play of Rivers. Earlier this season, he was playing like a NFL MVP candidate. Lately? Not so much. What’s eating the league’s favorite bolo tie-wearing signal-caller, and why has San Diego’s steadiest competitor become so inconsistent of late?

Williams: Injuries have slowed him down a bit. He’s too much of a tough guy to acknowledge it, but chest and back injuries have limited Rivers’ mobility in the pocket and taken some velocity off his fastball. The Chargers have played four different guys at center. Rookie Chris Watt is learning on the run, which means Rivers has been hit more times than when veteran Nick Hardwick was making the line calls. And the Chargers have not run the football well, so they do not have balance on offense. San Diego averages just 3 yards a carry on first down, worst in the NFL.

There has been a lot of talk nationally about Colin Kaepernick’s struggles. You’ve watched him up close this season. Do you believe the 49ers are getting the most out of his unique skill set? And what could they do differently?

Gutierrez: It’s obvious the Niners changed the offense this season, and it’s apparent they tried to flip Kaepernick and turn him more into a pure pocket passer. Yet the closest anyone on the staff will admit to a change is when offensive coordinator Greg Roman acknowledged simplifying the offense, particularly the running game. Whatever the Niners did, they made Kaepernick uncomfortable under center, almost as if you can see him overthinking in the pocket. There’s a reason his numbers are so much better when teams blitz him. He doesn’t have time to think, so he just reacts and makes plays, rather than suffering from paralysis by analysis. So, to answer your question, no, I do not think the Niners are getting the most out of Kaepernick’s skill set. That’s not to completely absolve the QB of his regression. Or, to quote Cris Carter, who addressed the Kaepernick dilemma on ESPN’s "Sunday NFL Countdown:" “Ultimately, I think we are making too many excuses for him. I think the ceiling for Colin Kaepernick is not as high as you guys anticipate. I think you’re going to have to be real creative because he won’t be a conventional quarterback. I think you set yourself up to be let down because his inability to throw the ball at different speeds. ... He does have arm talent, but I’m wondering: Does his brain connect to his arm to make him more diversified as far as what he can do? So, for me, I don’t have as high of expectations for Colin Kaepernick.” Harsh? Perhaps, but this much is true: Whoever is coaching the Niners next year would be wise to adapt his offensive philosophy to Kaepernick’s skill set, rather than trying to make Kaepernick fit into his offense. Especially after CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke went all in with that contract extension for the QB, even if it is team friendly.

I asked this of our reporters who cover both the Raiders and the Rams, and I’m sure you know where this is going, Eric. But do the Chargers, who actually began their AFL existence in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1960, truly expect to be in L.A. before either the Rams, who called SoCal home from 1946 through 1994, or the Raiders, who were in LaLa Land from 1982-94? Hey, if it’s the Rams and Chargers and they share a stadium, at least they could go all in with blue and gold paint, no?

Williams: Would they go with powder blue or royal blue? Joking aside, ideally the Chargers would like to remain in San Diego and get a new stadium built. However, team president Dean Spanos has to take a realistic approach to the stadium issue and financial possibilities that exist in a lucrative L.A. market. The Chargers are keeping a watchful eye on what happens in Los Angeles, with 30 percent of the team’s local revenue -- which includes advertising, sponsorships, club seats and suites -- originating in the Los Angeles market. All of the options have not been exhausted in the respective markets of the Rams, Chargers and Raiders, so I don’t see the NFL letting any of those franchises relocate in 2015. For now, the Chargers will continue to work with mayor Kevin Faulconer in an attempt to build consensus for a downtown football stadium that keep them here. The Chargers announced this week the team’s intentions to renew their lease at Qualcomm Stadium to play there for the 2015 season.

Rookie Chris Borland has benefited from the absence of injured inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. He currently leads San Francisco in tackles. What makes him so effective, and how will his role change when those two players return next season?

Gutierrez: Yeah, the relatively diminutive Borland, all 5-foot-11 of him in cleats, has become a folk for the faithful. His underdog swagger garnered attention but his nose for the ball and sideline-to-sideline speed and tackling acumen won him fans, especially among the coaching staff. But, and this was the big question, how would his small stature hold up in the NFL with his reckless abandon style of play? Well, he hurt his left ankle on Sunday in Seattle and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said this week it would be “a stretch” for Borland, who replaced Willis, to play again this season due to the injury. If Willis and Bowman are both back from their toe and knee injuries next season, Borland is the perfect high-energy backup in the middle of the 49ers’ 3-4 base defense, and he would not have to take as many snaps, keeping him relatively out of harm’s way. At least, that’s one way of looking at it, because Borland plays at only one speed.

Chiefs vs. Steelers preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
video When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh TV: CBS

The Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) say they have been in playoff mode since the beginning of the month, but the Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) may be the more desperate team when the two meet for the third time since 2006 in Pittsburgh this weekend. If the Chiefs lose Sunday, they will need to beat the San Diego Chargers in the regular-season finale and get some help to make the playoffs as a wild card.

The Steelers, on the other hand, would guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs if they beat the Chiefs for a fifth consecutive time in Pittsburgh. And the Steelers are aiming for more than just a spot in the postseason with the AFC North there for the taking.

ESPN NFL Nation Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at one of the Week 16 games that has significant playoff implications:

Brown: Adam, this looks like a favorable matchup for the Steelers given their struggles in the secondary and the Chiefs’ shortcomings at wide receiver. Kansas City still doesn’t have a touchdown catch by a wide receiver, yet it is 8-6 and in the thick of the AFC playoff chase. How have the Chiefs compensated for a lack of a downfield passing game, and how do you anticipate them attacking the Steelers?

Teicher: During their five-game winning streak earlier in the season, the Chiefs were excellent on third downs and at scoring touchdowns in the red zone. But things like that don’t generally last and, sure enough, although their red zone production has still been good, they fell off dramatically on third downs. It’s no coincidence the Chiefs broke their three-game losing streak last week against the Raiders by finally unveiling a downfield passing game. The Chiefs had their two longest pass plays of the season against Oakland. I would expect the Chiefs to look downfield against Pittsburgh if they can protect quarterback Alex Smith as well as they did last week. Pass protection had been a weakness for the Chiefs and a big reason they rarely took shots down the field.

Scott, the Steelers have had a season much like that of the Chiefs. They’ve had some big wins against other playoff contenders (Indianapolis, Baltimore, Cincinnati) but some discouraging losses to bottom-feeding teams (Tampa Bay, New York Jets). How do you explain the unpredictable nature of their season?

Brown: It’s been that way since 2012, when the Steelers developed, to the chagrin of their fans, a maddening habit of losing games they should win. Three of their five losses this season have come against losing teams, and the one against the Buccaneers was particularly bad because the Steelers could not protect a seven-point fourth-quarter lead at home against a team that is in line for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft. The Steelers’ recent history is why I thought their 27-20 win in Atlanta this past week was huge. A 5-8 team playing without its top offensive player (star wide receiver Julio Jones) is the kind of opponent that has given Pittsburgh fits. But the Steelers did enough to beat the Falcons and remain on track to win the AFC North.

The Steelers have steadily improved in stopping the run, but they will be challenged in that phase of the game Sunday. Jamaal Charles is one of the best running backs in the NFL and has to be included in any discussion for the NFL’s best player at that position. He’s dealt with some nagging injuries this season. Is a heavy workload catching up with him, and will the Steelers see more of a one-two punch Sunday with Charles and Knile Davis?

Teicher: I don’t know that Charles has been right all season, and he’s frustrated about that. He hurt his foot moving himself out of the dorm at training camp, of all things, and it’s been one thing after another since then. He missed only one game early in the season but now is dealing with both soreness in his knee and a sprained ankle. The Chiefs would like to play Davis more, but they’re not as effective with him in their lineup. Charles is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, Davis 3.6. Charles is much better as a pass receiver and protector, so it’s difficult to see the Chiefs going away from a productive Charles in a game as important as this one.

The Steelers started the season relatively sluggish on offense but have scored at least 27 points in seven of their past eight games and are now one of the NFL’s highest-scoring teams. What changes did the Steelers make to energize their offense?

Brown: They largely just stayed the course. The Steelers were stopping themselves as much as opposing defenses were stopping them earlier in the season, particularly in the red zone. While some fans wanted to run offensive coordinator Todd Haley out of town, the Steelers insisted they were close to putting everything together. I think it’s safe to say they have done that, as the Steelers lead the NFL in a handful of categories, including total offense (424.9 yards per game) and yards per play (6.2). The emergence of rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has added a deep threat to the offense, but the play of the big three (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown) is the biggest reason the Steelers’ offense has ascended this season. The Steelers have achieved the kind of balance that has too often eluded them in past seasons, and don’t discount what has taken place on their offensive line. The unit has stayed remarkably healthy -- its five starters have missed a total of six games -- allowing it to develop the cohesion that has helped take the Steelers' offense to another level.

The line will be tested this week, as the Chiefs have a pair of tremendous pass-rushers in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Do those two allow Kansas City to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing much, and how much better do they make the Chiefs’ defensive backs?

Teicher: The Chiefs had one of the best pass-rush games of the season last week, not just in terms of sacks (four) but also consistent pressure on the quarterback. They had Oakland’s Derek Carr off his game all day, and as a result, the coverage down the field was outstanding, maybe the best of the season. The Chiefs blitzed on more than half of Oakland’s pass attempts, which is a very high rate for them. They hadn’t blitzed as much this season and had mostly been content to let Houston, Hali and their other main rushers get the work done. I don’t know whether they will try the blitz as often this week on the road against a veteran quarterback like Roethlisberger. But I think if the Chiefs are going to carry with them this week just one thing from the Oakland game, it’s their ability to consistently get pressure. If they let Roethlisberger get comfortable and stay in his comfort zone all day, it’s difficult to see the Chiefs coming away with a victory.

When fans think of the Steelers, they think of defense, but that’s been a weakness for this season’s team. While the Chiefs certainly don’t have the league's most potent passing game, they made some plays down the field last week against Oakland. Are the Steelers versatile enough defensively to get pressure on Smith and slow down the Kansas City passing game while still limiting Charles and the Chiefs’ running game?

Brown: The Steelers have just 24 sacks this season, and they have been inconsistent as far as pressuring opposing quarterbacks. This past Sunday was a perfect example. The Steelers pressured Matt Ryan early and blitzed the Falcons' quarterback a lot. But once Ryan and Atlanta adjusted, the Steelers weren’t able to get enough pressure on Ryan to get him out of the rhythm he developed. And for how underwhelming the Chiefs appear to be at wide receiver, the Falcons played without star wideout Jones and still threw the ball all over the field against the Steelers. Is Smith as good as Ryan? No. But Kansas City’s running backs are superior to the ones Pittsburgh faced in Atlanta, and the Steelers could give up a lot of yards for the second consecutive week. But if the Steelers make timely stops and get a game-changing play on defense, as they did against the Falcons, that should be enough for Pittsburgh to win unless its offense goes into the tank.
Is a reunion at the Big House going to get in the way of the Oakland Raiders' big plans?

ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting that Michigan is making a push for San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who played quarterback at the school. Harbaugh is not expected back with the 49ers and is expected to be the target of the Oakland Raiders after the season.

Schefter reported Harbaugh is “considering” the Michigan job. There are reports that the school is offering Harbaugh a six-year, $49 million deal.

Here are some thoughts on how it affects the Raiders:

It’s not over yet: This is high speculation season. Lots of rumors are floated. The key is leverage. Harbaugh has plenty of it and it's being played. Let’s see what happens.

Raiders can match that deal: If Mark Davis really wants Harbaugh, he knows he has to pay big. I believe he’s prepared. So, if Harbaugh is patient, more cash could be had in the Bay Area and in the NFL.

What if Harbaugh goes to Michigan? Well, the Raiders will be bummed. Gruden is staying at ESPN. Harbaugh was the big fish. If not, the Raiders will have to lower their expectations. There will still be plenty of good candidates. But no Harbaughs left.

Injury to Sio Moore gives Raiders' Ray-Ray Armstrong a chance to audtion

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Raiders don't have much to play for, having long ago been eliminated from playoff contention. For linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong, however, the final two games of the season qualify as a golden opportunity.

With Sio Moore on season-ending injured reserve with a hip injury, Armstrong is getting a mini-audition on defense after playing almost strictly on special teams since being claimed off waivers from St. Louis on Oct. 6.

A safety in college who went undrafted out of Miami, Armstrong started in place of Moore at weakside linebacker during last week's 31-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Armstrong made a few flash plays in the game and finished with four tackles.

The 23-year-old is expected to start again this week when the Raiders close out their home schedule Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

"It's always good to get game reps," Armstrong said. "I'm going out there just trying to take every game in and get better off of each mistake. You can't get the same speed of a game in practice. It's a lot different."

Moore, Oakland's colorful and outspoken linebacker, was among the team's leading tacklers before getting sidelined by a hip injury he's been nursing for nearly a month. He was placed on the injured reserve list on Tuesday.

That leaves first-round pick Khalil Mack as the Raiders' lone remaining starting linebacker still playing. Middle linebacker Nick Roach, who played every defensive snap in 2013, has been out since suffering a concussion in the preseason.

With Armstrong joining Mack and Miles Burris -- Roach's replacement -- on Oakland's first-team defense, the team has very little depth at linebacker. Undrafted rookie Bojay Filimoeatu is the only other linebacker on the 53-man roster.

Spencer Hadley, a practice squad player who was converted to fullback earlier in the season, was moved back to linebacker for Wednesday's practice to add some depth.

Interim Raiders coach Tony Sparano said he was encouraged by Armstrong's debut against the Chiefs.

"I thought Ray-Ray played well in the game the other day," Sparano said. "I felt him quite a bit, felt him in some pressures. I thought he did some really good things in the run game, got around the football quite a bit. He was active and played with a good edge to him.

"Ray-Ray's a young player, and I'm sure at some point you could get that young guy on a mistake that jumps up out of there, but that didn't happen this past weekend. This guy wasn't a linebacker prior to a few years ago, so all of a sudden he's playing linebacker and starting out there and doing those type of things. His skillset is more of a sub type of a player, but I liked what he did out there. He kind of had a little bit of slink to him and found the football."

Armstrong was a bit more subdued in his self-evaluation.

"I think it went OK but the end result is you want to win, so it doesn't matter how I played," Armstrong said. "Getting that win is what we're all going out to do. You're a backup so you have to expect those things, that at any point in time you can get out there. With limited reps in practice you still have to perform and do your job."

Raiders not talking about Sio Moore's injury

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Raiders are keeping mum about Sio Moore's injury and are not saying if the second-year linebacker will require surgery in the offseason.

Moore was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday after battling a hip injury for several weeks. Oakland's second-leading tackler, Moore did not play in last week's loss to Kansas City. He also missed two games earlier this season with an ankle injury.

Interim Raiders coach Tony Sparano, however, declined to discuss details about Moore's situation and would not confirm or deny if the linebacker was headed for surgery.

"That's not something were going to talk about right now," Sparano said. "He's on IR."

Several other players might not be far behind.

The Raiders' injury report is filling up faster than a water bucket in the Bay Area, with seven players unable to practice and two others limited during Wednesday's workout.

Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson is the latest to go down. Wilson injured his knee after recovering a fumble in the third quarter of last Sunday's loss to the Chiefs. He was tackled by Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith following a 21-yard return that led to a Sebastian Janikowski field goal for Oakland.

Wilson was among the seven who did not practice on Wednesday. The rest of the injury report is below.

Did not practice: CB Tarell Brown (foot), WR Vincent Brown (groin), CB Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring), TE Brian Leonhardt (concussion), WR Denarius Moore (knee/ankle), RT Menelik Watson (foot/ankle).

Limited: QB Derek Carr (right thumb), CB TJ Carrie (ankle).
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs are basically in playoff mode with two games left in the regular season. The most realistic of scenarios for the Chiefs to make the postseason is to win both of their remaining games, beginning with Sunday's contest against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

The Chiefs certainly need to play with a sense of urgency against the Steelers. At 8-6, their room for error is gone. That's what losses to two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders, do to a team.

The Chiefs at this time last year were 11-3 and had clinched a playoff spot. They were playing for playoff seeding and, after losing in Week 16 to the Indianapolis Colts, they had a meaningless final game against the San Diego Chargers.

So this role is new to the Chiefs since last year's arrival of coach Andy Reid.

"You embrace it," quarterback Alex Smith said of the situation the Chiefs find themselves in. "You've been working hard to put yourself in this position. You wanted the stages to get bigger and bigger and be more meaningful and here we are. I think you embrace that and embrace the entire week of preparation and then go out there on Sunday and have fun and enjoy it."

Every Chiefs player is aware of the consequences of Sunday's game. But, as Reid points out, they have to be careful it doesn't rule the way they prepare this week.

"I don't think you focus on that," Reid said. "I think you focus on the thing we've talked about each week and that's studying the opponent. That part doesn't change. You're always going to bring intensity to every game. That's what you strive to do. You strive to do that consistently. That won't be any different this week in how we approach things.

"You're at that time of the year where if you're still in the hunt then every game is magnified. Both teams are in that frame of mind. Both teams know that you're down towards the end of the season so it should be a heck of an environment for a football game and a great atmosphere and the players, there's a little extra juice involved in these things.

"At the same time, you better go through the process. If you eliminate the process, then you've got problems."
SAN DIEGO – With two games left in the season and fighting for their playoff lives, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has not been an active participant in the early portion of practice available to reporters this week.

Rivers was in uniform, but did not do any individual drill work on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Rivers was not on the field during the early portion of practice available to reporters.

No reason was given for Rivers’ absence from practice by the team on Wednesday. However, Rivers was listed as having a chest and back injury on the team’s injury report last week. Rivers has started 142 straight games, the NFL’s second-longest active streak behind Eli Manning (166).

Along with Rivers, running back Ryan Mathews (ankle), receiver Keenan Allen (shoulder), defensive tackle Corey Liuget (ankle), tight end Ladarius Green (concussion, ankle) and punter Mike Scifres (shoulder) were not on the field for the early portion of practice on Wednesday.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- We know the Kansas City Chiefs control their destiny with regard to making the playoffs as a wild-card entrant. Wins in each of the final two games and the Chiefs are in regardless of what happens in other games.

The Chiefs can still get into the postseason even by losing Sunday against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. But at that point they'll need some help to get in.

The Chiefs, if they lose to the Steelers, could be eliminated from postseason contention this weekend. If the Chiefs lose and the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals win, the Chiefs are out. No playoffs for them.

The Ravens are at Houston in what looks like a sure thing for Baltimore. The Texans are down to their fourth-string quarterback on Sunday.

The Bengals are at home on Monday night against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos could still be the AFC's No. 1 overall seed so they should be motivated to win.

So if the Chiefs lose in Pittsburgh, their fans will be in the uncomfortable position of rooting for Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Uncomfortable, but in this case necessary.

Again assuming a loss by the Chiefs, a defeat for either Baltimore or Cincinnati would keep the Chiefs' playoff hopes alive for the season's final weekend.

One other thing: San Diego's game on Saturday night against the San Francisco 49ers is meaningless for the Chiefs with regard to their playoff fortunes. Whether the Chargers win or lose has no impact on the Chiefs and their chances to get into the playoffs. The Chiefs would need to beat the Chargers on the season's final weekend regardless.

So no need to root against the Chargers Saturday night unless of course you want to. I get that it's a reflex action by now.

Chargers need to get off to a fast start vs. 49ers

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams talks about the team getting off to a fast start offensively to dictate tempo against 49ers.

Broncos did right thing re-signing Chris Harris Jr.

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold talks about the five-year extension signed by defensive back Chris Harris Jr. and why it makes sense for both sides.

Raiders pleased with progress of Khalil Mack

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17

ESPN Raiders reporter Bill Williamson talks about first-round pick Khalil Mack coming into his own entering the Bills game.

Chiefs will need pass rush against Steelers

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher says if Kansas City can get after Ben Roethlisberger it has a chance to beat Pittsburgh.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Once again the Denver Broncos have won the AFC West -- that’s four consecutive years now. Once again, some high-profile free agents have had leading roles in that, players like quarterback Peyton Manning, defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward.

But then again, stare a little more at the depth chart and the benefits of finding those who fit, those who, as John Elway puts it, “know and understand the culture we want with the Denver Broncos" become clear.

[+] EnlargeCJ Anderson
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelC.J. Anderson has sparked Denver's running game, averaging nearly 100 yards in the past six weeks.
The Broncos' leading rusher, C.J. Anderson, is a player who arrived as an undrafted rookie in 2013. The current starting middle linebacker, Steven Johnson, arrived as an undrafted rookie in 2012.

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who just signed a five-year, $42.5 million extension to stay with the team, is among the league’s elite at his position and he arrived as an undrafted rookie in 2011. All are examples of the ability to not only draft depth and impact in the salary-cap era, but to add to that when the draft has concluded each year, as well.

It was something Elway addressed when offering that Harris was one of their top targets among the list of impending free agents.

“It’s the same old adage that we say every year is that it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted or how you get here," Elway said. “The bottom line is -- hopefully we can coach them -- but the bottom line is it comes from the player. It comes from the player from inside out and what he can do as a player."

And Johnson, Anderson and Harris all flashed that inner fire when they arrived, not so much wide-eyed, but full of hope and confidence. Elway said he could see in the first two days of Harris' first training camp -- it was Elway’s first training camp as the team’s top football decision-maker -- the cornerback had designs on making the roster.

“I can still remember the first time we took the field, and the first two practices, he stood out," Elway said. “And I said, ‘We have something here.'"

“You see football awareness, football character -- just the awareness more than anything regardless of what position," Broncos head coach John Fox said. “You see that very quickly, I think, as a football coach and you can definitely identify that with [Harris] immediately. You can’t define whether a guy is going to be a two-year starter or a Hall of Famer but you know he belongs. They are wired right and you could see that early on with Chris."

For his part Johnson made an immediate impact on special teams and always seems to be hovering near defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio or Fox to repeatedly tell them he’s ready to go into a game if they need him. So much so Del Rio has joked that “I never have to go looking for Stevie, he’s always right there."

“I just want to let them know I’m ready," Johnson said. “That they can trust me, that I stayed in the playbook and I’m ready to go."

For Anderson, who was in danger of losing his roster spot in minicamp because he had gained some weight and looked a little sluggish in some of the workouts, it was a matter of earning Manning’s trust, to be assignment reliable.

And after injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, Anderson has provided the boost in the run game the Broncos were looking for down the stretch. He’s rushed for 597 yards in the past six games, or 87.9 percent of his season total (679), and is looking to hang on to the top spot on the depth chart moving forward.

In all, the Broncos have kept at least one undrafted rookie coming out of training camp, when the rosters go to 53 players, for 11 consecutive years.

“[The Broncos] have shown they will play undrafted guys if they end up being the best guys," Anderson said. “As a player you just want a chance, an opportunity. If you do the work, know your assignments and get results, they will play you."

“When I got here, in my first camp, Champ [Bailey] told me it didn’t matter if I was drafted or not. If I played, did it right, the Broncos would put me in," Harris said. “That’s how it should be."
SAN DIEGO – The Chargers might have finally reached the tipping point in terms of injuries this season in order to realistically have a chance of making the playoffs.

Inside linebacker Donald Butler (dislocated elbow) has been placed on the injured reserve with their respective injuries. Mike Scifres and Keenan Allen have broken collarbones, putting the rest of their seasons in jeopardy.

Ryan Mathews did not practice on Tuesday after missing last week’s game with a severely sprained ankle. And Philip Rivers did not throw during the early portion of practice available to reporters, obviously resting from chest and back issues he has been dealing with.

Tight end Ladarius Green (concussion, ankle) returned to practice after missing last week’s game against Denver. Dwight Freeney and D.J. Fluker also were on the field practicing on Tuesday.

QB Snapshot: Derek Carr

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
A quick observation of quarterback Derek Carr and how he played in the Raiders' 31-13 loss in Week 15:

Earlier in the season, there were a lot of questions about how Oakland Raiders rookie Derek Carr would endure a rough season.

With two games remaining in a miserable season for the 2-12 Raiders, there is little question how the second-round pick from Fresno State is doing.

Carr is one tough customer. While the Raiders have been thrashed on a regular basis, Carr has withstood the storm. Sunday's lopsided loss at Kansas City was a perfect example of Carr's tireless play.

He suffered what appeared to be a significant ankle injury in the second quarter and was hobbling badly. But Carr finished the drive, bounced back and didn't miss a snap for the rest of the game. He ended up throwing 56 passes in the loss.

Carr fights to the end. He will continue to do so through the rest of his rough rookie season, and he and the Raiders will end up being better for it in the future.



Saturday, 12/20
Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22