Examining the Kansas City Chiefs' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

The Chiefs could go a lot of different directions here. The only certainty is a healthy Smith will start. Daniel, the veteran backup, could be traded if the Chiefs determine that either Bray or their other developmental prospect, Aaron Murray, is ready to be the No. 2. That’s unlikely, so the Chiefs need to determine what to do with Murray. They didn’t draft him to release him, so he could go on the injured reserve list. The Chiefs could also keep four quarterbacks.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

There’s room for another player here if the Chiefs believe they need to keep two running backs in addition to Charles and Sherman, the fullback. They needed three in last season’s playoff game in Indianapolis. Thomas is listed as a back and might get some work as one, but he’s too small to be an every-down player if that’s what the Chiefs require. So Cyrus Gray, a useful special-teams player, or Joe McKnight could also stick.

WIDE RECEIVER (5)

Other receivers will have ample opportunity to make the team, because the Chiefs have a need. But they won’t keep another receiver without that player earning the spot.

TIGHT END (3)

Kelce’s troublesome knee could impact the roster decisions here. If his knee remains balky, the Chiefs could keep Sean McGrath.

OFFENSIVE LINE (10)

The Chiefs will, pardon the pun, go heavy here. Andy Reid likes to stash some developmental linemen.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

There’s no need to keep more, not with Poe playing so many snaps and the Chiefs occasionally using only two linemen, and sometimes one.

LINEBACKER (10)

This assumes that Houston returns to the Chiefs in time for the start of the regular season. If not, the Chiefs will need another body.

CORNERBACK (5)

A position of importance is an area of concern. Only Smith, a starter, and Owens, a nickelback, are proven.

SAFETY (4)

Abdullah has more experience at free safety, but the Chiefs might be better served by going with the bigger Commings as their starter.

SPECIALISTS (3)
Cairo Santos has an impressive leg, but it’s difficult seeing the Chiefs going with a rookie kicker instead of the veteran Succop.
Examining the Oakland Raiders' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

Matt Schaub

Derek Carr

Matt McGloin

Yes, Schaub was acquired to be the franchise quarterback, no ifs, ands or buts about about it. And still ... if Carr, who was elevated to second string in organized team activities, challenges Schaub, let alone replaces him, that is bad news for coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie, who would have missed on yet another quarterback decision. The irony would be in Carr shining and thus potentially saving Allen and McKenzie. Stay tuned.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Darren McFadden

Maurice Jones-Drew

Latavius Murray

George Atkinson III

McFadden and Jones-Drew have no doubt seen better days, but the plan is to keep each healthy by spelling the other. Yet the two need reps to get going. Murray is enticing after missing his rookie season with injury, and Atkinson is a legacy in silver-and-blackdom who would make his bones returning kickoffs. CFL Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets might be the odd man out.

FULLBACKS (2)

Marcel Reece

Jamize Olawale

Reece’s versatility has paid off with a pair of Pro Bowl appearances even if, critics point out, he is underused in the offense and not a great blocker. Good things usually happen, though, when the ball is in his hands. Olawale is surprisingly fast for a fullback.

RECEIVERS (6)

James Jones

Denarius Moore

Rod Streater

Andre Holmes

Brice Butler

Juron Criner

No, the Raiders do not have that prototypical No. 1 receiver (Jones would seem to be the best fit), nor do they have a slot man (Moore?). What they have is a group of young, hungry pass-catchers with similar skill sets. Streater looks ready to take that next step and Criner showed flashes of his old motivated rookie-camp self in offseason workouts.

TIGHT ENDS (2)

Mychal Rivera

David Ausberry

To quote Jimi Hendrix: "Are you experienced?" To answer for this group: No. Much is expected of Ausberry, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, and Rivera surprised as a rookie. It would not be shocking to see the Raiders add a vet here at the end of camp.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

Donald Penn

Gabe Jackson

Stefen Wisniewski

Austin Howard

Menelik Watson

Khalif Barnes

Tony Bergstrom

Matt McCants

Kevin Boothe

A rebuilt offensive line -- Wisniewski at center would be the lone returning starter -- promises to be a physical unit, even with a rookie at left guard (Jackson) and a second-year player at right tackle (Watson). In fact, a line of Penn, Jackson, Wisniewski, Howard and Watson would average 6-foot-4, 326 pounds.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

Justin Tuck

Antonio Smith

Pat Sims

LaMarr Woodley

Stacy McGee

Jack Crawford

C.J. Wilson

Justin Ellis

Tuck and Woodley bring experience and Super Bowl rings, even as Woodley is making the conversion from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end, which he last played in college. Smith did not practice at all in the offseason while recovering from a procedure following a weight room mishap and Ellis, the Raiders' first fourth-round draft pick, is the most intriguing interior prospect.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Sio Moore

Nick Roach

Khalil Mack

Kaluka Maiava

Miles Burris

Kaelin Burnett

The arrival of Mack as the No. 5 overall pick moved Moore from strongside linebacker to the weak side, and has purportedly made injured and expensive veteran Kevin Burnett expendable. Burris was seeing first-team reps at Will linebacker in the final OTA session and Maiava is hoping to bounce back from an injury-plagued season. Kaelin Burnett's play on special teams might save his roster spot.

CORNERBACKS (5)

Tarell Brown

D.J. Hayden

Carlos Rogers

Keith McGill

Taiwan Jones

That’s a big question mark, rather than a dark cloud, over the head of Hayden, who missed the last two OTA sessions and minicamp with an ankle injury and thus, fell behind in his development. Again. The Raiders do have big plans for last year’s top draft pick. Rogers figures to be the slot cornerback while McGill, a fourth-rounder, is a big-bodied corner and Jones’ standing as a gunner on special teams belies his improvement at corner.

SAFETIES (5)

Tyvon Branch

Charles Woodson

Jonathan Dowling

Brandian Ross

T.J. Carrie

Woodson played just one full game with Branch, who was lost for the season with a broken leg in Week 2, so it will be interesting to see how they co-exist. Dowling and Carrie were revelations in minicamp, with Carrie primed to make his mark as the punt returner. Ross, thrust into action because of Branch’s injury last season, will be pushed by Usama Young.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Sebastian Janikowski

Marquette King

Jon Condo

Surely Janikowski’s issues with King as his first-year holder last season are a thing of the past, right?

Denver Broncos' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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Examining the Denver Broncos' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)

The Broncos carried three here last season and thought enough of Dysert to keep him despite a long list of injuries on defense that eventually saw five starters on injured reserve. It could be more difficult to use that third spot on Dysert again. The Broncos would like to, but it might be a luxury they can’t afford this time around, especially if they want a return specialist.

Running backs (4)
The Broncos kept five at this spot as recently as 2012, but this position shapes up to be a quality camp battle, and last year’s rookie to make it -- C.J. Anderson -- could certainly hold off this year’s crop. It would be a rarity to have two undrafted rookie running backs make the final 53, but Clay’s pass-catching ability is intriguing, and the 225-pound Thompson would give the Broncos a bigger back with an understanding of pass protections to go with some special-teams ability.

Receivers (5)

The Broncos have two undrafted rookies at this spot who have turned some heads already -- Isaiah Burse as a returner and Bennie Fowler at wideout -- but Latimer will be the youngster on the depth chart barring an unexpected injury. Latimer and Caldwell give the Broncos some insurance against any potential concussion issues for Welker. Latimer figures to get plenty of quality snaps. The Broncos have kept five here for the past three seasons, although last year's five included returner Trindon Holliday.

Tight ends (3)

The Broncos kept four last season -- they kept three in '11 and three in '12 -- and could keep four again if Joel Dreessen shows some improvement as he recovers from offseason knee troubles. But the need to keep an extra spot open for a potential return specialist or an extra defensive lineman looms large.

Offensive line (9)

The Broncos have kept nine players at this position for the opening week roster in all three previous seasons of the John Fox/John Elway regime, but with all of the shuffling in the search for swing players, they may feel the urge to add one here just in case. But the starting group up front looks to be Clady, Franklin, Ramirez, Vasquez and Clark. However, Montgomery could push hard at center and Justice got a long look at right tackle in offseason workouts and rookie Schofield should get a shot there as well. Perhaps Ryan Miller or Ben Garland could earn the extra (10th) spot.

Defensive line (9)

The Broncos kept 10 here in '11, kept nine in '12 and had eight on the opening night roster last season. They could trim to eight again if they have a glaring need elsewhere, but Vickerson and Smith are both coming back from stints on injured reserve.

Linebackers (7)

The workouts when the pads go on will mean plenty for this group, and there is room here for a wild card, including a late roster pickup, to make the depth chart. McCray likely would have made it as an undrafted rookie last season had he not been injured in the preseason. As it stands now, the final slot may be a battle between Brandon Marshall, who spent much of ’13 on the Broncos’ practice squad before being promoted to the active roster, and Chaney, who was a 16-game starter for the Eagles as recently as 2011.

Cornerbacks (5)

Last season, the Broncos kept seven cornerbacks on the opening night roster, including the injured Champ Bailey, but this time around Carter will enter camp squarely on the bubble, especially if one of the younger corners with some additional size, like rookie Louis Young, shows promise and some special-teams chops. But the top four spots are solidly in place, and the Broncos can sport the four-cornerback look they’d like to in the dime.

Safeties (5)

If Carter’s knee holds up in camp as it has through the team’s offseason workouts, he should be among the final group. Duke Ihenacho made the roster last season but will have a tougher road this time around. Bolden’s ability to be a swing player at corner and safety as well as having some potential as a returner gives him the edge as well.

Specialists (3)

The only question here is if a returner such as Burse or a player to be named later can show enough pop to lure the Broncos into keeping a return specialist.
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NFL Nation's Eric D. Williams examines the three biggest issues facing the San Diego Chargers heading into training camp.

Freeney's health: The Chargers have not had a player finish with double-digit sacks since 2011. Dwight Freeney is the only edge rusher currently on the roster to post at least 10 sacks in an NFL season. At 34, Freeney returns to the field from a torn quad injury that cut his 2013 campaign short, and he is expected to be healthy for the regular-season opener at Arizona. Freeney told reporters during offseason workouts in Jun he was healthy enough to play a game at that point in his rehab. However, San Diego coach Mike McCoy needs to make sure Freeney makes it through training camp and the regular season healthy by limiting Freeney's workload during practice and in games. The Chargers need Freeney to set the tone for a young group of pass-rushers. If Freeney can return to his old form, it will take pressure off of young pass-rushers like Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu. The Chargers finished tied for 23rd in sacks last season with 35. San Diego was even worse on third down, totaling 10 sacks in 2013, second worst in the NFL.

Find a home for Flowers: John Pagano said he plans to use recently acquired cornerback Brandon Flowers all over the field, but during training camp San Diego's defensive coordinator must find a consistent home for the 28-year-old Pro Bowler. Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright were San Diego's starting cornerbacks at the end of offseason workouts. But with first-rounder Jason Verrett expected to take the field after his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery and Flowers in the fold, Pagano has options on the perimeter of his secondary. The Chargers need more production from a unit that totaled 11 interceptions in 2013. The Chargers allowed an average of 259 passing yards a contest last season, which ranked No. 29 in the NFL. San Diego also gave up 58 passing plays of 20 yards or more, tied for No. 24 in the league. The Chargers did a better job in these categories during the backstretch of 2013, but continued improvement is needed.

Find snaps for Attaochu: Second-round selection Attaochu brings speed and athleticism as a pass-rusher for the Chargers, something the team sorely lacked last season. Pagano needs to figure out how to effectively use Attaochu without giving him too much to think about on the field in terms of scheme, slowing down his play speed. Pagano could look to the way the Seattle Seahawks used speedy edge rusher Bruce Irvin during his rookie season in 2012 as a blueprint for Attaochu. Irvin played in 405 snaps and finished with eight sacks as a rookie, playing mostly on passing downs. The Chargers could use Attaochu in a similar manner and hopefully get the same type of impact.

Camp preview: Denver Broncos

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
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NFL Nation’s Jeff Legwold examines the three biggest issues facing the Denver Broncos heading into training camp.

History: Say what you want about what the Broncos did in the offseason -- and there’s plenty of ground to cover because their haul in free agency was almost unprecedented for a team coming off a Super Bowl appearance -- the simple fact remains they are swimming upstream against a powerful current of history. No team since the undefeated Miami Dolphins of 1972 has gone on to win a Super Bowl in the season after a loss in the league’s title game. On paper, the Broncos’ depth chart looks poised to be in the championship conversation again, but for the second consecutive season they carry the significant burden of unfulfilled opportunity along for the ride. A double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens ended their 2012 season and left them empty-handed on the Super Bowl front. That loss followed them throughout the 2013 season, even as they rewrote the record book on offense. For some, the regular season was little more than one long opening act for another Super Bowl chance. This time around, a 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVII will mirror their every move. How the Broncos deal with that and how successfully they roll up their sleeves to get to work on the new season will have a lot to say about how things go.

Get rugged: The Broncos’ 2013 season was a study in contrasts. On one hand, they were the highest-scoring team in league history, the first to score 600 points in a season. On the other, they were a drama-filled operation that featured two front-office executives arrested for DUI offenses and Von Miller’s six-game suspension to open the season. Toss in a pile of injuries on defense and the blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the final game, and the Broncos were left staring at the idea that they scored more points than any team that came before them but still didn’t win the title. So, although Peyton Manning and company figure to be fun to watch again, this team will earn its championship chops by what it does when Manning isn’t throwing the ball. By how it grinds it out in the running game from time to time to both protect the quarterback and close out games. And by how defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio implements players who were reeled in by the lure of owner Pat Bowlen’s checkbook and the Manning-led offense, such as DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib, with those returning from injury, such as Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson. Scoring touchdowns shouldn't be an issue, but stopping others from scoring them can’t be one either.

Be right on Ball: There is no spot on the roster where the Broncos have put their faith in the most youthful of hands more than at running back. Ronnie Hillman is set to enter his third season, and he is the oldest player in the position group's meeting room. And if you’re looking for a player for whom the Broncos have cleared the way to shine most, it’s Montee Ball. Let’s be clear, though: Ball earned that optimism by how he played down the stretch last season. He was the most effective runner with the ball in his hands over the last six weeks of the season/postseason. He’s smart and has the requisite work ethic, and the Broncos have seen vast improvements in his work as both a receiver and blocker in the passing game. That gives him the gotta-have-it, every-down potential in their offense. The Broncos aren’t looking to run the ball significantly more than they did in ’13, but when they do, they want to move the chains more efficiently. And when it’s time to slam the door on somebody, they’d like Ball to be the guy to do it.

Camp preview: Oakland Raiders

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
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NFL Nation's Paul Gutierrez examines the three biggest issues facing the Oakland Raiders heading into training camp.

Matt Schaub: Dennis Allen told anyone who would listen this offseason that Schaub, a two-time Pro Bowler who once passed for 4,770 yards but is coming off a nightmarish final season in Houston, is a top-10 quarterback. And even if a project by ESPN.com found that NFL insiders ranked Schaub 25th in the 32-team NFL, that will not dissuade Allen. Far from it. Schaub is his guy. Still, the question of Schaub's confidence after he threw 14 interceptions (with four pick-sixes in four straight games) and lost his job with the Texans will continue to hound Schaub and the Raiders until he proves it is not an issue. To his credit, Schaub, who looked impressive in the offseason non-padded practices open to the media, insists it's in the past. Besides, a change of scenery might do wonders for him. It's not like the Raiders are putting everything on the 10-year veteran; a running attack spearheaded by Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew should get the play-action passing game going … unless Schaub is shot. Which brings us to the intriguing figure that is Derek Carr, Oakland's second-round draft pick who was elevated to second string in minicamp. But Allen appears ready to ride or die with Schaub, for better or worse.

Khalil Mack: You could say that Mack, whom many saw as the most versatile defensive player in the draft, simply fell into the Raiders' lap at No. 5 overall. And that would be just fine with Oakland. Because in remaking the defense, Allen has compared Mack to Denver Broncos All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, whom Allen coached as a rookie. If Mack, who has stepped in at strongside linebacker, shows a smidgen of Miller's pass rushing acumen -- 35 sacks in 40 career games -- the Raiders have a cornerstone. Mack's blend of size, speed and athleticism were evident in the offseason workouts as he appeared to be a physical marvel with quick feet and balance. Alas, the game will change in camp when the pads come on. No, he's not nervous; Mack is looking forward to knocking heads with the pros. Or did you miss his declaration that he is most looking forward to sacking the Broncos' Peyton Manning? Mack has impressed the staff and teammates alike by constantly being in veterans' ears, picking the brain of players such as Justin Tuck. Mack is a sponge. Yes, similar praise was heaped upon Rolando McClain when the middle linebacker was drafted in 2010. This just feels different.

D.J. Hayden: The Raiders were impressed enough with Hayden to make him their top pick last year, even though he was still recovering from the practice injury to his heart at the University of Houston that nearly killed him. After an up-and-down rookie season that ended with a trip to injured reserve, Hayden again hit a speed bump. This time, he missed the second and third organized team activities (OTAs) sessions as well as minicamp due to a sprained ankle. Allen has said that the only player he expects to be a question mark health-wise entering camp is offensive lineman Lucas Nix. But with so many hopes tied into Hayden -- he was penciled in to start at right cornerback -- his injury history has to have Oakland worried. Even if he is a full go at the start of camp, he missed valuable reps in the offseason. Sure, Hayden got mental reps, but they are not nearly as important or effective, especially for a player who many in the organization see as a bonus draft pick since he appeared in only eight games (two starts) last season.

Camp preview: Kansas City Chiefs

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
10:00
AM ET
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NFL Nation reporter Adam Teicher examines the three biggest issues facing the Kansas City Chiefs heading into training camp.

Where is Houston? Having outperformed the contract he signed with the Chiefs as a third-round draft pick in 2011, outside linebacker Justin Houston was absent for all the offseason practices, including the mandatory minicamp. Since Houston’s only leverage for getting a contract extension this year is to stay away from camp until he gets it, it's unlikely he will show without a new deal. That would be a tough blow for the Chiefs. Houston is their top proven pass-rusher and arguably their best all-around defensive player. The pass rush, which was on a record pace for sacks over the first half of last season, sagged measurably after a dislocated elbow caused him to miss the final five regular-season games. The Chiefs would not be left without quality edge pass-rushers. Veteran Tamba Hali, another Pro Bowler, is on the other side, and the Chiefs drafted Auburn’s Dee Ford in the first round. Ford looked promising as a pass-rusher during offseason practice, but it’s a bit much to expect him to immediately be as versatile as Houston. Ford was a defensive end in college and has much to learn before he is on Houston’s level.

Who is at corner? The Chiefs released Brandon Flowers last month, leaving them perilously thin at cornerback. With the exception of 5-foot-9 nickelback Chris Owens, all their remaining cornerbacks are big and capable of getting physical with opposing receivers, as the Chiefs prefer. But the quality is a concern. Veteran Sean Smith steps in as the top cornerback, and he held his own as a starter last season. Marcus Cooper will at least begin camp as the other starter. As a rookie, he played well for the first half of last season as the third cornerback, but his play tailed off badly in the second half, to the point that the Chiefs benched him. Cooper has the physical tools to be a decent starter, but he showed over the final few games of last season that he has a lot to learn. The Chiefs drafted Phillip Gaines of Rice in the third round this year, but during offseason practice it didn’t look like he was ready to contribute. Journeyman Ron Parker played well in his one start last season. But he got a lot of playing time during the offseason and was often exposed.

A rebound for Bowe? In September, Dwayne Bowe turns 30, an ominous age for a wide receiver because that is when many begin to lose their skills. That process might already have started for Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013. Still, Bowe represents the Chiefs’ most realistic hope for improvement at what was largely an unproductive position last season. The Chiefs added former Canadian League star Weston Dressler and drafted speedy De'Anthony Thomas in the fourth round, but they are slot receivers and are merely trying to replace the production lost with the free-agent departure of Dexter McCluster. Otherwise, the Chiefs will go with the same uninspiring cast of receivers as last season, meaning Bowe needs to get back to what he was earlier in his career. That is not an unreasonable expectation. Bowe was never particularly fast, so he doesn’t have a lot of speed to lose. The Chiefs need to do a better job of playing to his strengths, the main one being his ability to find yards after the catch. The Chiefs should get back to the bubble screens that were so productive for Bowe earlier in his career.
The San Diego Chargers bucked the trend of playoff-caliber teams adding bigger cornerbacks to their defenses this past offseason.

Denver, the defending AFC champs, signed 6-foot-1 Aqib Talib in free agency and drafted 5-foot-11 Ohio State product Bradley Roby in the first round. The New England Patriots, who played Denver in the AFC title game last season, replaced Talib with one of the best cornerbacks in the game, 5-foot-11 Darrelle Revis.

The Patriots also signed 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner in free agency to play opposite Revis once he serves a four-game suspension.

Flowers
San Diego’s AFC West rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, released 5-9 Brandon Flowers in a cost-cutting move, and will have a projected starting cornerback tandem of 6-2 Marcus Cooper and 6-3 Sean Smith.

The Chargers recently signed Flowers, cutting 6-1 cornerback Brandon Jones to make room on the 90-man roster. Of course, the Chiefs promptly signed Jones because he fits the team’s profile for a press cover corner.

Teams such as Denver, New England and Kansas City are trying to emulate the success the Seattle Seahawks have had with tall, lanky cornerbacks like Richard Sherman (6-3) and Byron Maxwell (6-1). Over the past two seasons, the Seahawks have the most interceptions (46) during that time frame.

The Chargers are 25th in the NFL the past two seasons with 25 interceptions. With an average of 5-10 and 192 pounds, San Diego has the smallest secondary in the league. However, defensive coordinator John Pagano will rely on an improved pass rush, along with more speed and athleticism in the back end to improve his team’s pass defense.

San Diego hopes to get an impact from first-round selection cornerback Jason Verrett, who fits the team’s profile for a cat-quick cornerback at 5-9 and 190 pounds. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said before this year’s draft that he believes size is not an issue at the cornerback position. And Telesco can look to past successes with drafting smaller defensive backs in Indianapolis like Tim Jennings and Bob Sanders as evidence of that theory.

“We need guys who can cover people, No. 1, and tackle,” Telesco said in an interview before this year’s draft. “And if they come in a smaller size, they come in a smaller size. If they’re average-sized, they’re average-sized. But if you hold out looking for just Richard Sherman, you’ll be waiting a long time.”

Verrett, who hopes to be fully healthy at the beginning of training camp after offseason shoulder surgery, believes his height will not be an issue.

“It’s just moving my feet and playing a lot smarter on the field,” Verrett said. “I played against a lot of guys that were 6-2, 6-3 (in college). I didn’t really try and get my hands on them too much. And once the ball is in the air, definitely being a competitor (is important).”

[+] EnlargeJason Verrett
AP Photo/Gregory BullJason Verrett expects to be cleared for contact by the time training camp begins next month.
Why size matters

In his return to the NFL, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll focused on developing a defense with an emphasis on speed, ball anticipation and size. That’s particularly evident in the secondary, where Seattle has one of the biggest cornerback tandems in NFL with Sherman and Maxwell.

Carroll brought back the bump-and-run technique made famous decades ago by such physical cornerback tandems as Pittsburgh’s Mel Blount and J.T. Thomas, Oakland’s Mike Haynes and Lester Hayes, and Kansas City’s Dale Carter and James Hasty.

The concept is simple: create pressure on the passer with a ferocious pass rush up front, and make the quarterback complete tough throws over the lanky arms of his rangy defensive backs.

Even though guys like Sherman might get beat by a step or two, with their length, they still have an opportunity to recover and get back in the play.

The best example of that is Sherman’s tipped pass on a Colin Kaepernick offering to Michael Crabtree that linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted, which sealed Seattle’s trip to the Super Bowl last season. Check out the play here.

Sherman was beat by a step on the play, but his length allowed him to knock the pass down.
Maxwell also uses his length to pick off Eli Manning on a shallow cross, which you can check out here.

How to play big

The Chargers have to compensate for their lack of size by playing with great anticipation. And doing that requires good film study, understanding receiver splits, down and distance and what route concepts teams like to run in certain situations.

Few are better at putting this all together than San Diego safety Eric Weddle.

Playing against a much bigger pass-catcher in Dallas tight end Jason Witten, Weddle twice shut him out on third down last year in a win against the Cowboys.

The Chargers played with three safeties, three cornerbacks and a middle linebacker, using a four-man rush, something you might see a lot of this year in passing situations. Check out the video here (starts at the 8-minute mark).

Weddle said better communication will be the key this season in improving San Diego’s play in the back end of the defense, something the young secondary struggled with in 2013.
Justin HoustonDavid Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCTKansas City's top pass-rusher, Justin Houston, has 26.5 sacks in his past 32 games.
Those of us who regularly watch the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t find this to be news, but the confirmation was welcome, anyway. Pro Football Focus recently released its list of the 10 most underpaid players in the NFL, and Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston came in at No. 7.

The only surprise was that Houston wasn’t higher on the list. A Pro Bowler in two of his first three NFL seasons, Houston has become one of the league’s best pass-rushers and all-around defensive players. He has 26.5 sacks in his past 32 games, and PFF gave him a higher rating last season than any other outside linebacker playing in a 3-4 system.

For this, the Chiefs are scheduled to pay Houston about $1.4 million this season. No wonder he stayed away from offseason practice, including a mandatory three-day minicamp.

Houston wants to get paid and he wants his money now. The Chiefs should accommodate him.

Houston has clearly outperformed the contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2011. Normally, it’s not a good idea to spend sympathy on players who no longer like the terms of the contract they once signed, but Houston doesn’t fall into that category. As a middle-round draft pick three years ago, he had little choice but to accept whatever the Chiefs were offering.

Another bad idea is to pay players based on past performance. The Chiefs have done that too many times over the years and been burned. The latest episode happened last year, when one of John Dorsey’s first moves after joining the Chiefs as general manager was to give wide receiver Dwayne Bowe a five-year contract worth about $11 million a season.

[+] EnlargeFord
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsDee Ford gives the Chiefs a young pass-rusher to complement Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
The Chiefs might never get their money’s worth from that deal. But the Chiefs, by giving him a lucrative and long-term contract, wouldn’t be rewarding Houston for what he’s done. They’d be paying him for what he’s going to do.

Houston is 25. Giving him a contract that makes him happy has plenty of benefit for the Chiefs as well. They would be locking up their best pass-rusher and, perhaps, their best defensive player for the foreseeable future.

Is there something about this strategy that doesn’t make sense? Is it ever a bad idea to secure a good, young player for the long term at today’s prices?

The Chiefs would occasionally go wrong with this plan. But there is nothing about Houston’s first three years with the Chiefs, on or off the field, that would suggest it would go wrong with him. He dropped to the third round of the draft in 2011 for allegedly testing positive for marijuana at the scouting combine that year, but there have been no suggestions he’s been anything but a positive for the Chiefs ever since.

Houston won’t come at a bargain price. Green Bay’s Clay Matthews is the highest-paid outside linebacker in the league based on average salary at about $13.2 million. Houston’s Kansas City teammate, Tamba Hali, is next at about $11.5 million.

Numbers in that neighborhood shouldn’t scare the Chiefs. Pass-rusher isn’t a bad spot to hold such a heavy investment, one that now for the Chiefs also includes their first-round draft pick, Dee Ford.

The Chiefs drafted Ford in part as insurance for Houston’s holdout. Ford showed promise as a pass-rusher during offseason practice and could possibly do a reasonable imitation of Houston as a rookie.

Even so, there is no way the Chiefs are a better team with Houston off doing his own thing instead of playing for them. But this shouldn’t be about the immediate future, anyway. The Chiefs would pay Houston for his presence over the longer term, and that is when his deal really makes sense.

Hali turns 31 in November. He has yet to show any signs that his skills or production have begun their inevitable decline.

His price nonetheless goes up next year. He costs the Chiefs almost $11.5 million against their salary cap this season and a little less than $12 million in 2015. Having a tandem of Houston and Ford gives the Chiefs the flexibility to move Hali next year, if they feel it’s necessary, and still carry on with a couple of premier pass-rushers.

It’s always easy to spend someone else’s money. From this corner, though, we’ve generally preached fiscal sanity when it comes to that of Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt. You heard it here months ago that the Chiefs should let offensive tackle Branden Albert walk (they listened). You heard no panic from these parts when, in rapid succession during the opening moments of free agency, they lost Albert, guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, receiver/kick returner Dexter McCluster and defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Each one of those players was worth more to his new team than to the Chiefs. They would have been foolish to pay premium prices for any of them.

That is not the case with Houston. They passed on re-signing any of their five prominent free agents so they could save to spend on what’s really important.

If that’s not Justin Houston, what is?
Montee BallAP Photo/Jack DempseyMontee Ball enters training camp atop the running back depth chart.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- You can’t blame a guy with the football résumé Montee Ball has for feeling the way he does.

But Ball, who has been promoted to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart at running back for the Denver Broncos, thinks the ever-increasing reports of the demise of the NFL running back are premature. He believes there is plenty of room for some grind-it-out work, even in a fast-paced, throw-it-around, pass-first attack like the Broncos have.

“I’ve said it before, but I think it’s still a premier job -- to play running back in the NFL," Ball said. "I think there’s a role there, a job to be done that can impact the offense. It's needed."

The Broncos certainly agree, even with all they did with the ball in the air last season, and did not hesitate to clear the way to make Ball the starter this offseason. But the rest of the position group remains among the biggest questions on the Super Bowl hopefuls' depth chart.

And over the next week, we'll take a position-by-position look at where things stand with the team.

Today: Running backs.

How many coming to camp: 7

How many the Broncos will keep: After dabbling with the idea of a fullback in recent seasons -- the Broncos even traded for one (Chris Gronkowski) in 2012 -- they did not carry one on the roster last season.

And while they have tinkered with the idea of Virgil Green lining up in the backfield as both a blocker and ball carrier, they do not have a true fullback on this roster either. They kept five running backs in 2011 and four in both ’12 and ’13.

It is a youthful group overall, with Ronnie Hillman, who is entering his third season, the most experienced player at the position. The Broncos figure to keep four when all is said and done in the preseason, but they don’t have much size -- just two of the seven backs in camp are heavier than 215 pounds -- so Green could become the de facto fourth back if they feel they need a roster spot elsewhere.

The guy to watch: Ball showed every reason the Broncos have promoted him into the lead role during offseason workouts. While the proof will always be in how things go when the pads are on, he showed good vision in the noncontact work, a comfort level as a receiver that showed he's moved past the limited work he did at Wisconsin in that part of an offense and an improved sense of where to be in pass protection.

He projects to have a big year. But the guy who could help the Broncos’ cause, as well, is the last guy to earn the offseason promotion to the top spot, and that’s Hillman, who didn’t keep the job until the end of training camp last year.

Hillman -- who came into the league as one of the youngest players in the 2012 draft, having played just two college seasons, including as a true freshman at San Diego State -- has plenty of talent. And from the Broncos’ perspective, he is their best home run threat at the position.

But plenty of folks don't always make the most of talent, and he didn’t approach things the way the Broncos had hoped last season. It showed in both his play and playing time, as he was even a game-day inactive at times last season. However, Hillman said all the right things this offseason and looked better on the field, as well, in recent months.

The Broncos need the potential pop he can give the offense, and if he doesn’t give it to them, that would be a hefty third-round pick who didn’t work out.

Break it down: The bottom line is the Broncos, because of the way they play offense out of a three-wide-receiver look much of the time, consistently see lighter formations with as few as six players in the box.

They didn’t always take advantage of that in the run game last season, especially in the red zone, and would like to this time around. That takes an offense that is already the highest scoring in league history and gives it an unnerving ability to close out games or score touchdowns when there isn’t much room for receivers to work. Knowshon Moreno had the best season of his career in 2013, but the Broncos came away believing they left a lot of rushing yardage on the table because they either didn't block those smaller formations well enough or run well enough if there was room to work.

Also, there is the matter of pass protection, and the guy who shows he’s the most consistent -- it’s how Moreno got, and kept, the top job last year on the way to 1,000 yards rushing and 60 receptions -- will be the guy who gets the third-down snaps or the second-and-long plays as well.

“Protecting Peyton Manning is huge, just huge," Ball said. “We all know that."
With the countdown to training camp down to its final days for the Denver Broncos, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said there aren't many things on the to-do list for the players before they formally begin the trek toward what they hope is a shot at Super Bowl redemption.

"The main thing right now is everybody has so much time on their hands, so just stay in shape and stay out of the news," Harris said Friday. "That’s just something I’ve been trying to keep tabs on guys, lead by example, just come in with a clean slate and no bad stories before we get there."

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
John Leyba/Getty ImagesChris Harris Jr., who is coming off knee surgery, said he should be back to full strength during training camp.
Since the Broncos adjourned from the last of their OTA workouts last month, they, like every team’s players, have largely been on their own unless they were recovering from injury. The Broncos players will report July 23 for training camp at their suburban Denver complex with the first practice set for July 24.

Broncos strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson handed each player a workout plan for the month they would spend away from the team’s complex before training camp opened, and Harris Jr. said there was plenty of incentive for each player to follow the plan because they should know what is expected when they return.

"Guys know what’s at stake this year, at least they should -- it’s Super Bowl or bust for us," Harris said. "It means a lot for this team for all of us to come back and hit the ground running fast. Especially the young guys, if they weren’t paying attention at OTAs and minicamp, but to make this Broncos team this year, these cats on defense better be working out because Peyton Manning will make you look crazy."

Harris, who has gone from an undrafted rookie who made the roster in 2011, to one of the team’s defensive mainstays, was making the rounds Friday at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, as he appeared on several of the network’s broadcast and digital offerings.

The fourth-year cornerback said he had hoped to attend one of the NFL’s broadcast boot camps this offseason, but that his rehab schedule as he returns from ACL surgery did not allow him the time.

"It’s something I look forward to doing when I retire, definitely," Harris said. "I planned on going this year, but doing the rehab all summer took my whole summer, so next year I’m definitely going to try to do one of those boot camps."

Harris, as he said last month, reaffirmed Friday he expects to be cleared for full participation by roughly the halfway mark of the preseason, but that the decision also will hinge on an upcoming visit to his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews.

"I’m doing everything, there’s really nothing I can’t do right now," Harris said. "I still have to go see Dr. Andrews at the end of the month and get checked up, and he’ll pretty much let us know the plan from there."
John ElwayPhoto by Kevin Reece/Getty Images
Score: Broncos 31, Packers 24
Date: Jan. 25, 1998
Site: Qualcomm Stadium

We have a winner. The voters and I agree that The Helicopter is the Denver Broncos' most memorable play.

John Elway played quarterback for 16 seasons for the Broncos, started five Super Bowls, and was the winningest starting quarterback in NFL history when he retired following the 1998 season. He went 148-82-1 with 47 game-winning or game-saving drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.

For many, he will always be the face of franchise, now as the team’s top football decision-maker.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Broncos' history?

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    80%
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And if Elway says his put-it-all-on-the-line dive for a first down in the Super Bowl is the favorite play of his career, as he has stated on several occasions, it’s probably worth a long look for any list, and it sits at the top of this one.

In terms of franchise context -- the context of Elway’s career before the play and what the play meant on the game’s biggest stage -- it is the most memorable play of all the plays the Broncos have run. It was Elway’s fourth career Super Bowl start, his career was in the homestretch, and a Super Bowl ring had eluded him to that point.

The Broncos -- with a passionate fan base that has produced an ongoing streak of multiple decades worth of sold-out home games -- had done plenty through the years, but had not won a Super Bowl since the team’s inception in 1960.

And with the title on the line and the game tied 17-17, Elway did what Elway had done so many times in so many situations; he turned trouble into football prosperity. But this time he hurled his then-37-year-old body at three Packers defenders to do it.

Tucked in the game’s play-by-play, it reads simply as an 8-yard run for a third-quarter first down. But for the players on the field with Elway, those on the sideline, the coaches who saw it unfold, and thousands of the team’s faithful who simply call it The Helicopter, it will always stand alone.

The late Mike Heimerdinger, the former Titans and Jets offensive coordinator who was a wide receivers coach in Denver at the time, once simply called it "probably the greatest thing I ever saw on a football field. You just knew when he started to run he was going to do it, and when he got up and went back to the huddle you just knew we were going to win that ring."
Marcus AllenAP Photo
Score: Raiders 38, Washington 9
Date: Jan. 22, 1984
Site: Tampa Stadium

We have a winner. The voters picked 17 Bob Trey O as the most memorable play in Oakland Raiders' franchise history, and I concur with the selection. Indeed, 17 Bob Trey O, or when Marcus Allen ran with the night in Super Bowl XVIII, is the play I consider most memorable in the long and winding history of the Raiders.

Sure, the Sea of Hands and the Holy Roller may have better monikers, but Allen reversing field on a busted play and breaking off a then-Super Bowl record 74-yard touchdown run on a play called 17 Bob Trey O tops the list.

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Which is the most memorable play in Raiders' history?

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For one, it happened on the game’s biggest stage.

For another, it put a dagger into the defending champs and basically clinched the Raiders’ third Lombardi trophy as it gave them a 35-9 lead on the final play of the third quarter.

Plus, it was the signature play of Allen’s MVP performance, in which he ran for a then-Super Bowl record 191 yards, on 20 carries, with two touchdowns, plus two receptions for 18 yards.

Lastly, it got Allen a plug by the leader of the free world after the game, a seeming U.S. weapon in the Cold War.

“I have already had a call from Moscow,” President Ronald Reagan told Raiders coach Tom Flores in the congratulatory phone call to the locker room. “They think Marcus Allen is a new secret weapon and they insist we dismantle him.”

From his perspective, Allen said the run was like time travel, since everyone else seemed to slow down.

“You’re in such a zone and at the height of instinct,” Allen told ESPN Radio affiliate 95.7 The Game in a Super Bowl week interview this year. “You just really get out of your own way. Don’t question it and just get out of your own way and just go. And that’s what I did. It was just one of those games -- I had several of them -- but, obviously, to have it at that particular time was the greatest thing in the world.”

Allen took the handoff from Jim Plunkett and went too wide to the left of pulling right guard Mickey Marvin, and was met by safety Ken Coffey. Allen had to immediately spin to his left, reverse field, and accelerate through a hole on the right side of the line. Then he raced to the left pylon.

“To make a run like that, in a game like that, at a time like that, it was just, it was pure magic,” Allen told the NFL Network. “It was beautiful.”

Which is why it's also the most memorable play in Raiders history.
LaDainian TomlinsonLisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images  
Score: Chargers 48, Broncos 20
Date: December 11, 2006. Site: Qualcomm Stadium

Voters got it right, picking LaDainian Tomlinson breaking the single-season touchdown record in the San Diego Chargers' 48-20 win over the Denver Broncos that clinched an AFC West title as the franchise's most memorable play.

Tomlinson scored three touchdowns in the game. The record-breaker came on a 7-yard run with just over three minutes left. Tomlinson took a handoff from Philip Rivers running to his left, bounced outside and evaded a tackle to reach the end zone.

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Which is the most memorable play in Chargers' history?

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Tomlinson finished the season with 31 total touchdowns, earning league MVP honors.

Certainly, Dennis Gibson's pass deflection against Pittsburgh served as a watershed moment in franchise history because it clinched San Diego's first Super Bowl appearance. However, that moment lost some luster when the Chargers were overwhelmed by San Francisco 49-26 in the big game.

The other candidate for most memorable was Kellen Winslow Sr.'s valiant performance in San Diego's 41-38 overtime win against Miami in a 1981 AFC divisional playoff game. Winslow finished with 13 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly, blocked a field goal at the end of regulation that allowed his team to earn the win in overtime.

While Winslow's effort might have been the most impressive by a San Diego player in franchise history, it does not match what Tomlinson's performance meant to the franchise in terms of historical significance.

We also would be remiss in not mentioning a performance that did not make the cut -- running back Keith Lincoln's jaw-dropping 329 yards from scrimmage in San Diego's 51-10 dismantling of the Boston Patriots in the 1963 AFL title game, the franchise's only league title.

However, Tomlinson's record-breaking performance stands apart from the others for a few different reasons. The moment represents one of the shining accomplishments of the Chargers' return to a winning franchise during the decade of the 2000s.

Tomlinson's single-season-record 31 touchdowns still stands. His 145 rushing touchdowns ranks second all-time in NFL history, and Tomlinson is perhaps the best player in franchise history.
Joe MontanaJoseph Poellot/Getty Images
Score: Chiefs 31, Broncos 28
Date: Oct. 17, 1994 Site: Mile High Stadium

To me, settling on the three most memorable plays in Kansas City Chiefs' history was the difficult part. Picking just three meant leaving hundreds that were also memorable -- some positive and others negative -- behind.

The voters picked Joe Montana's late touchdown pass to Willie Davis as the Chiefs' most memorable play. The play lifted Kansas City to a dramatic win over John Elway and Denver in 1994 in one of the greatest Monday night games ever. The voting was tight -- with my choice, Otis Taylor's Super Bowl clinching touchdown, falling by two percentage points.

To me, choosing Taylor's TD as the most memorable play in the franchise's 54-season history really wasn't that difficult.

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Which is the most memorable play in Chiefs' history?

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As great as Montana's TD throw and 65 Toss Power Trap might have been, they weren't quite to the level of Taylor's catch and run down the sideline for a 46-yard score in the Chiefs' only Super Bowl victory. That play wrapped up a 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings and -- other than perhaps the final out of the Kansas City Royals' only World Series championship in 1985 -- might represent the greatest moment in Kansas City's sports history.

Let me put it another way: If you're a Chiefs fan, I defy you to watch the video of Taylor's catch and run and not get chills.

Taylor's touchdown isn't as storied as the Chiefs' other touchdown that day, Mike Garrett's 5-yard scoring run. That touchdown remains a big part of Chiefs history and not just because of its significance. The play known as 65 Toss Power Trap is also celebrated in Chiefs' lore because Stram, who was being recorded by NFL Films, announced it was coming and celebrated it after Garrett's touchdown.

But Taylor's TD was far more dramatic. While the Montana-to-Davis touchdown carried plenty of drama, it happened during an October game during a season in which the Chiefs would eventually finish 9-7.

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