AFC West: 2011 Camp Confidential AFC

Camp Confidential: Chiefs

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
1:00
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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Been looking for post-lockout, smashmouth NFL action?

Hope you didn’t come to Chiefs camp during the past three weeks.

Kansas City's training camp wasn’t the most exciting place in the NFL. The Chiefs started very slowly, only going to pads last Sunday. The team’s starters did virtually nothing in a 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay last Friday night. Coach Todd Haley said he may take the same approach this Friday at Baltimore.

It’s a lockout-caused plan for Haley as the Chiefs take the big-picture approach and begin their AFC West title defense.

Haley was concerned about the length of the lockout and didn’t want to rush his team into action because of the lost time. He wants this team to be fresh for the season. Other teams have crammed in as much physical play as possible. Haley, known for his physical camps in his first two years in Kansas City, is taking a much different approach.

At this point, he said, getting his team conditioned to make up for lost time is more important to him than practicing hard. Haley said he will concentrate on heavy football drills toward the end of the preseason to ensure the team stays as healthy as possible heading into the regular season.

The coach is taking some heat for taking the cautious approach. Many fans are concerned that the Chiefs will not be ready when they open the regular season against visiting Buffalo on Sept. 11.

“I’m sticking to my convictions,” Haley said. “This is what is best for this team. I believe we will be ready for the season.”

The Chiefs picked up the intensity in practice this week, but they will not turn their starters loose until the third preseason game. There is even a chance that the starters will play in the final preseason game, which routinely doesn’t happen around the league.

“This is the approach Coach Haley wants us to take,” Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel. “We are fully behind him.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Work with the quarterback: Cassel’s development is still the No. 1 priority for this team, and camp time is essential. There is no doubt that Cassel progressed last season, but he fell off at the end of the season and now has to get used to working with new quarterback coach Jim Zorn after a one-year stint with Charlie Weis as a his offensive coordinator. Weis now has the same job at the University of Florida. Cassel and Zorn lost valuable time due to the lockout. However, they are said to have built a good relationship and gotten comfortable working together this summer.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Kirby Lee/US PresswireChiefs quarterback Matt Cassel will have plenty of options when distributing the ball this season.
2. Spread the ball around: The Chiefs are spending this camp getting their varied passing-game weapons in order. This can be a dangerous passing offense and this camp is being spent on how to best utilize it. Cassel has many directions in which to look. It starts with No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe, but the Chiefs have given him help by drafting Jon Baldwin in the first round and signing slot receiver Steve Breaston, who played for Haley in Arizona and caught 77 passes in 2008 under Haley’s guidance. Add tight end Tony Moeaki and running back/receiver Dexter McCluster and there are a lot of options. Figuring out the best way to utilize all of them is what camp is for.

3. Figuring what’s best for Charles: It has driven many Kansas City fans crazy that the Chiefs don’t give Jamaal Charles more carries. Thomas Jones had 245 rushing attempts last season, while Charles had 230. Jones fell off toward the end of the season, but Charles was spectacular. He had 1,467 rushing yards, second in the league. The Chiefs want to increase his numbers but also want him to stay fresh and healthy, so don’t expect his workload to fly through the roof. To help both Charles and Jones, who will likely get 8-10 carries per game, the Chiefs signed former Baltimore fullback Le'Ron McClain, who runs the ball more than the average fullback. The Chiefs are working all three backs during this camp to figure out the most advantageous carry distribution.

ARE THEY GOING TO JARED?

The Chiefs’ camp got interesting last week when the team picked up former Baltimore left tackle Jared Gaither. Known as an above-average left tackle, Gaither missed all of last season with a back injury. The Raiders considered signing him early in camp, but they passed because of his back.

The Chiefs signed Gaither during camp and he is now practicing with the second team. If his back holds up, there is a strong chance he could move into the starting lineup and send Branden Albert to right tackle. Albert, a first-round pick in 2008, has been a decent but not great left tackle. The Chiefs have long considered making him a right tackle, where many scouts think he’d flourish. If he moves to right tackle, Albert would replace Barry Richardson. If the massive Gaither (6-foot-9, 340 pounds) is healthy and motivated, this could be a significant move for Kansas City.

CHIEFS MAY NEED TO BACK IT UP AT QB

The Chiefs are keeping a close eye on backup quarterbacks Tyler Palko and rookie Ricky Stanzi during camp. The two struggled in the preseason opener last week. If they continue to struggle, Kansas City could potentially consider bringing in a veteran backup such as Jake Delhomme to be the No. 2 quarterback. Still, Stanzi, a fifth-round pick from Iowa, should be a lock to make the team. Palko will have to increase his production to survive the final cuts.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The team loves the addition of nose tackle Kelly Gregg. He has been a leader, has been working hard in camp and has been a positive influence on young players, including draft pick Jerrell Powe.

  • The Chiefs are working on increasing their turnover numbers on defense. They had the eighth-fewest takeaways in the NFL last season.
    [+] EnlargeKansas City's Jon Baldwin
    Denny Medley/US PRESSWIREFirst-round draft pick Jon Baldwin, along with new acquisition Steve Breaston, are expected to make an impact this season.

  • Baldwin was hampered by some minor issues. Camp observers said he struggled early in camp getting off the line of scrimmage, but the coaching staff is confident the No. 26 overall pick in the 2011 draft will catch up quickly. Baldwin had a reputation for being difficult in college, but the Chiefs haven’t seen any of indications of that and are more than satisfied with his attitude.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter confirmed that Baldwin is doubtful for the rest of training camp after a locker-room fight with Jones. Baldwin’s incident occurred after the Chiefs brass praised his attitude. This event has to be alarming for the team.

  • Veteran backup Jerheme Urban has been running with the first team with Bowe as Baldwin and Breaston get acclimated. Don’t expect that to last. Baldwin and Breaston were brought in to play a lot of snaps.

  • Haley has paired veterans with rookies to help the younger players through camp. The players room together, and Haley often matches up players from opposite sides of the ball to help team continuity.

  • Veteran Andy Studebaker has been working with the first team at outside linebacker opposite star pass-rusher Tamba Hali. The Chiefs are going to use several players to pressure the quarterback, but Studebaker has a chance to have a key role while rookie Justin Houston learns the team’s system.

  • McCluster has been working mostly out of the backfield as Haley suggested he would in May. Still, expect McCluster to line up at receiver some as well. The Chiefs are looking to create as many matchup problems as they can with McCluster, especially on third downs.

  • Rookie DE Allen Bailey has a chance to contribute right away as a pass-rusher. He has been working diligently in that area in camp.

  • Rookie offensive lineman Rodney Hudson has been looking good. The second-round pick could play at guard and at center.

  • The team also likes the progress of second-year guard Jon Asamoah, who has a chance to shine in the aftermath of the release of Brian Waters.

  • Former San Diego inside linebacker Brandon Siler is making a push for major playing time. He is a solid talent who also helps on special teams.

  • Linebacker Cameron Sheffield has played well. And he could be a contributor. He missed all of last season after suffering a neck injury in the preseason.

  • One undrafted free agent to watch is Temple linebacker Amara Kamara. He has caught on to the defensive scheme very quickly.

  • Cornerback Jalil Brown, a fourth-round pick out of Colorado, has been impressive and has a chance to be contributor in some packages and on special teams.

Camp Confidential: Denver Broncos

August, 17, 2011
8/17/11
12:15
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For a franchise that was accused of turning stale a few years ago, the Denver Broncos have become pros at taking fresh approaches.

For the second time in three training camps, Denver has a new head coach. John Fox takes over after the disastrous 23-month Josh McDaniels regime. From 1995 to 2008, the Broncos were the picture of coaching constancy. It was the Mike Shanahan show. Everyone knew it.

But the Broncos have been in flux and have gone from one of the better-run organizations in the NFL to a team that is grasping for an identity. Denver hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2005 season. It hasn’t had a winning record since 2006.

In comes Fox, who is experiencing a rebirth himself after spending the past nine seasons in Carolina. Fox’s biggest task in Denver is to restore normalcy after the rocky McDaniels era and rebuild a winner.

“There has been instability here, good, bad or indifferent, that’s just the way it has been,” said Fox, whose team will be on its sixth defensive coordinator (former New Orleans secondary coach Dennis Allen) in six seasons.

“We have to build our program here. But I think it can be done. There are good pieces here.”

Many Denver players have raved about Fox. They appreciate his professionalism, his structure and his attention to detail. They believe there is a plan in place, and they trust Fox’s experience. The players also seem to appreciate the fact that Fox is simply in Denver to coach. The front office is run by legendary Denver quarterback John Elway and general manager Brian Xanders. Both Shanahan and McDaniels made personnel decisions.

“I get a great feel for Coach Fox,” star cornerback Champ Bailey said. “He’s one of the better coaches I’ve been around ... I like it that he is focused on coaching us on the field. That’s where he wants to be.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireRookie Von Miller will need to play well right away if Denver's defense is going to improve this season.
1. Fix the defense. While the Tim Tebow-Kyle Orton competition has garnered much attention, the real key issue in Denver’s camp has been the defense. This unit was ranked No. 32 in the NFL last season and was generally awful in every major statistical category. Fox and his defensive staff have taken a hands-on approach to improve this group, which is a mix of veterans and youngsters.

If the reconstructed defensive front plays well and rookie linebacker Von Miller makes an instant impact, this group has a chance to improve quickly. It seems to be working early. Denver’s defense has been capable in camp and it looked solid against Dallas in the preseason opener Thursday. Injuries to defensive tackles Ty Warren (who signed to a two-year, $8 million deal) and Marcus Thomas create more uncertainty at a key spot for Denver. It needs to get help there by Kevin Vickerson, Brodrick Bunkley, Jeremy Jarmon and Derrick Harvey in the rest of the preseason. Warren could be out for a long period and Thomas will miss the rest of the preseason.

2. Clarity at quarterback: The Broncos’ camp has been about getting the first-team ready to go with Orton. There is no question Orton is the starter now. If the team struggles, Tebow could enter the picture, but players love playing with Orton and the team thinks he currently gives them the best chance to win now.

Of course, the lack of clarity was team-induced. It spent the immediate days after the lockout trying to trade Orton to Miami. After that fell through, Orton took control of the offense quickly and has given Denver no choice but to make him the starter, TebowMania be dammed.

3. Establish a ground game: Although Fox is a defensive-minded coach, he has a strict philosophy on offense. He believes in stuffing the ball down an opponent’s throat and killing the clock. Denver struggled to run the ball under McDaniels, and Fox said adding a veteran tailback was paramount.

The Broncos jumped on Willis McGahee when he was cut by the Ravens. Expect McGahee and third-year player Knowshon Moreno to combine for plenty of carries. They have worked well in camp, and they combined for 40 yards on six carries in the preseason opener at Dallas. This camp has been spent getting these two involved in the offense as much as possible.

ELVIS IS BACK IN THE BUILDING

The Broncos are raving about the play of Elvis Dumervil. After leading the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009 and getting a contract worthy of that performance, Dumervil tore a pectoral muscle in early August last year and missed the entire 2010 season.

There was concern that his rust and a move back to the 4-3 under Fox could hamper the smallish Dumervil. He flourished in McDaniels’ 3-4 system after being a solid player in Shanahan’s 4-3 defense. Dumervil beefed up to more than 260 pounds, and he‘s been impressive under Fox.

The Broncos expect Dumervil and Miller to become one of the better pass-rush tandems in the league.

RELYING ON THE ROOKIES

[+] EnlargeRahim Moore
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Broncos will also be looking to rookie Rahim Moore to shore up Denver's secondary.
One of the most exciting aspects of this camp for Denver has been the play of its rookies. The Broncos thought they drafted well in April, and after three weeks, they are thrilled with what they see.

“I think we had an excellent draft,” Fox said.

Added Dumervil: “This is the best group of rookies I’ve seen here in awhile.”

Leading the way is Miller, who was the No. 2 overall draft pick. The Texas A&M product has been as advertised. Teammates rave about his speed, explosiveness and his ability to make plays. They expect instant success.

Second-round pick Rahim Moore is vying for a starting spot with Kyle McCarthy at safety and has shown he is ready for NFL play. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, middle linebacker Nate Irving, tight end Julius Thomas and safety Quentin Carter are all expected to be major contributors. This is exactly what this 4-12 team needed -- a solid group of youngsters to build around after a couple of shaky years of drafting by McDaniels.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Safety Brian Dawkins may be turning 38 this year, but the Broncos are still getting a lot out of him. He works well with Fox’s staff, and his leadership has been uncanny during camp.
  • Defensive end Robert Ayers has been getting chances to break out in camp, but he has been slow to show progress. He was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
  • Receiver Brandon Lloyd has been slowed by swelling in his knee. Still, the team expects him to contribute. Lloyd had a breakout season in 2010 -- 77 catches for 1,448 yards.
  • The second-round draft class of 2009 has been a bust. Tight end Richard Quinn is hurt and could be the odd man out. Safety Darcel McBath has yet to develop, and cornerback Alphonso Smith (who Denver traded its 20101 first-round pick for) was shipped out to Detroit last year. This was supposed to be the nucleus of future success, and Denver hasn’t seen results.
  • The Broncos’ passing game struggled in red-zone and third-down situations. That has been a point of emphasis during this camp.
  • Veterans Joe Mays and Mario Haggan are competing to hold off Irving at middle linebacker.
  • Franklin has struggled in pass projection. Still, the team is committed to him.
  • Denver is excited about second-year receiver Eric Decker. Expect Decker to get a chance to contribute a lot.
  • The Broncos like what they have in new tight end Daniel Fells. He is solid as a receiver and as a blocker. He should help in both phases of the game.
  • Right cornerback Andre' Goodman has been steady, and the team is confident he can play well in 2011.
  • Second-year center J.D. Walton continues to improve, and he has shown strong leadership for a young player.

Camp Confidential: Chargers

August, 10, 2011
8/10/11
12:00
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SAN DIEGO -- If anything beneficial came out of the San Diego Chargers’ early-season stumbles in 2010, it was that the team that always seemed to be living dangerously had finally learned its lesson.

Starting slow can catch up to a team. In the three previous seasons under coach Norv Turner, the Chargers overcame slow starts with torrid finishes that resulted in AFC West championships. It didn’t happen last year. San Diego couldn’t overcome an early 2-5 hole and finished 9-7, allowing the upstart Kansas City Chiefs to steal the division title.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelThe Chargers stumbled out of the gate last year to a 2-7 record, thanks partially to a rash of turnovers.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said earlier in this abbreviated training camp that the Chargers must learn from last year’s disappointment and find a way to finally start fast.

Turner is all for starting fast, and he said one emphasis during camp is working to fix what has made the Chargers vulnerable in recent seasons. San Diego's offense has often been sloppy early on, committing too many turnovers. Last season, the Chargers committed 18 turnovers in their first seven games.

“We’ve played good football, but the turnovers hurt us,” Turner said. “When we didn’t turn the ball over, we’d win. That’s what we’re working on. I think the key is not talking about the slow starts, but working on the reason why we started slow.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Getting special teams up to speed. The 2010 Chargers will be remembered for assembling perhaps the worst special-teams unit of all time. San Diego had the No. 1-ranked offense and No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL last year, yet it didn’t make the playoffs because of special teams, which cost the Chargers in every imaginable way. The Chargers have put a major emphasis on the unit during camp. Special-teams practice segments are long and spirited. New special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia is well-respected and determined to get his players on track.

“It is a major point of emphasis in this camp,” Turner said.

2. Get Ryan Mathews ready. This is a big camp for Mathews, the running back who was the No. 12 overall pick in 2010. He alarmed the team when he failed a conditioning test at the start of training camp. Teammates reportedly were surprised Mathews failed the test, and he admitted he should have worked out his legs more during the lockout. That is the last thing a team wants to hear from its rich 24-year-old tailback of the future. He is currently dealing with a minor leg injury that is expected to keep him out of the preseason opener against Seattle. Mathews had durability issues last year, although he flashed at times, and he must show during camp that he is ready to be a lead back and can stay healthy.

“Ryan has to get some carries,” Turner said. “We need to get him some work.”

Turner expects Mathews to continue to work in tandem with powerful veteran Mike Tolbert, who looks as fearsome as always. Tolbert is an underrated weapon. Look for him to see more action in all phases of the run game as Mathews tries to develop.

[+] Enlarge Bob Sanders
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireVeteran safety Bob Sanders has struggled to stay healthy the past few seasons, but has looked good in camp.
3. The veteran safeties. Oft-injured Bob Sanders looks good. It may be too much to ask for the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year to return to his peak form, considering he has played in nine games over the past three years, but Sanders looks primed to bounce back. He and fellow safety Eric Weddle, who last month signed a $40 million deal to stay in San Diego, seem to have a strong on-field connection. They should be fun to watch and should benefit from playing with each other.

“Bob has been amazing,” Weddle reports. “There’s no rust there.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE

The Chargers have their starting receivers together. That wasn’t expected.

The Chargers wanted to bring back No. 2 wideout Malcom Floyd, but they thought they would be outbid for Floyd's services. The market didn't develop as expected, though, so Floyd took a two-year deal that could be worth as much as $7 million to stay in San Diego.

That means the Chargers have No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson (who held out for much of last season, and was given the franchise tag this year) and Floyd in the fold. Last year, because of a rash of injuries at the position, Rivers was throwing to street free agents at the end of the season. Having Jackson and Floyd at his disposal will be a treat for Rivers, who threw for 4,710 yards last season.

Add veteran Patrick Crayton and third-round possession receiver Vincent Brown, and the Chargers’ receiving corps is stronger than it was expected to be.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

The Chargers couldn’t come to a contract agreement with inside linebacker Kevin Burnett. He was a priority for the team, but Burnett ended up being the one who got away from the Chargers, who otherwise enjoyed a strong free-agent period.

In the end, Burnett wanted more than San Diego was willing to offer, and he ended up signing with Miami.

Burnett had a good season for the Chargers in 2010, with 95 tackles and six sacks, and San Diego wanted him back as part of its 3-4 defense. Now a young player probably will be inserted opposite free-agent signee Takeo Spikes on the inside. Right now, 2010 draft pick Donald Butler (who missed all of his rookie year with an injury) is getting those repetitions with the first team. Second-round pick Jonas Mouton will have a chance to impress in the preseason too, and the Chargers could look for a veteran if the youngsters show they are not ready.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky -- who replaced Ron Rivera, now the head coach in Carolina -- lets his presence be known. He is a high-energy coach who is not afraid to bark instructions constantly. No need to worry about the San Diego defense falling flat after being ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year.
  • Spikes has looked good. He is 34, but he played for Manusky in San Francisco last year and has Manusky's trust. Spikes has never played for a winner and seems energized by being part of this roster.
  • Rookie free-agent quarterback Scott Tolzien has looked good in camp. The Wisconsin product is a smart player who may be a nice developmental prospect.
  • The Chargers are not overly concerned about the foot injury hampering star tight end Antonio Gates, who started camp on the physically unable to perform list because of the plantar fascia injury that ended his 2010 season prematurely. The team will be cautious, and Gates is expected to be ready for the season.
  • Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green continue to vie for the right guard spot. Vasquez had been the starter, but Green proved to be a worthy injury replacement for Vasquez and now is hoping for more playing time.
  • Sixth-round pick Jordan Todman is running the ball well. He could make a contribution as a rookie replacement for the departed Darren Sproles.
  • Cornerback Antoine Cason is going to take over punt returns now that Sproles is gone.
  • Defensive tackle Antonio Garay doesn’t look like a one-year wonder. He is having a strong camp after a huge season in 2010.
  • The Chargers have loved what they've seen from rookie cornerback Marcus Gilchrist so far. He may have a chance to contribute.
  • Last year, Chargers camp was dampened by the holdouts of Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill. This year, there is contract harmony after several players received new deals. It wouldn't surprise me to see Tolbert, Cason and center Nick Hardwick also get new deals in the next year.

Camp Confidential: Raiders

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
10:26
AM ET
NAPA, Calif. -- Hue Jackson doesn’t do anything slow.

He talks fast. He walks fast, and he coaches fast.

The Tom Cable put-your-toe-in-the-water-start-of-training-camp days are over.

There was no warm-up period to Camp Jackson. In his first camp as a head coach on any level, Jackson has not wasted any time. His team has been flying around the field and playing to the whistle on every play since the moment it stepped onto the pristine practice field in Wine Country last week.

Cable believed in getting into the groove of training camp slowly by holding glorified walk-through practices for the first few days while stressing the importance of the classroom. Jackson believes in teaching on the go.

Jackson sees a talented team in front of him, but he also sees a team that needs to block better on offense and tackle better on defense. It’s all about finishing plays on both sides the ball. If you don’t start, you can’t finish.

“It’s a fast game,” Jackson said. “We have to move fast. At all times.”

When they can catch their breath, Jackson's players can see the difference.

"This is totally different, totally different from last year," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly told reporters early in camp. "I mean, he made that plain and clear in the meetings when he was talking about what we had to do. … [Cable] wanted us to learn the stuff. But Hue ain't worrying about that. He just wants to go hard as you can. If you fall out, we'll put somebody else in there."

There is urgency in Oakland. The Raiders teased their fans with an 8-8 record in 2010 -- highlighted by an AFC West 6-0 sweep -- ending an NFL record of seven straight seasons of 11 losses of more. This young team has a chance to continue to improve. Jackson isn’t going to sit around and wait for it to happen.

“We got to go now,” Jackson said. “I talk to them every night about that.”

[+] EnlargeNnamdi Asomugha
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Raiders will look to Chris Johnson and a host of young players to replace Nnamdi Asomugha.
THREE HOT ISSUES

1. How to replace Asomugha and Miller? The Raiders have to spend training camp trying to figure out how to replace two of their best players. Not many teams are dealing with that this summer. But the departures of star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to Philadelphia and tight end Zach Miller to Seattle create holes for the Raiders.

The Raiders gave Stanford Routt, formerly a part-time starter, No. 1 cornerback money in the offseason and expect him to take over for Asomugha. Oakland has reportedly toyed with signing another cornerback. But for now, veteran Chris Johnson and a host of young players, including draft picks DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa (who is currently injured), will be in charge of replacing Asomugha, who is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. Safety Michael Huff, who just re-signed with the team, could also play cornerback in some situations.

The Raiders probably need to bring in a veteran receiver or a tight end. Right now, their starting tight end is Brandon Myers, who has 16 career catches. Miller was quarterback Jason Campbell’s favorite target, and he led the Raiders in receiving in 2010. He made the passing game go. A replacement must be established in camp. (Update: The Raiders added former Giants tight end Kevin Boss Friday.)

2. Is the offensive line ready? This has long been Oakland’s weakest spot, and Jackson vowed earlier this year to improve it. Finding a suitable unit will be a top goal in training camp. The team drafted Stefen Wisniewski in the second round, and he will start at center. Joe Barksdale was drafted in the third round, and he could battle Khalif Barnes at right tackle if he has a good camp. If second-year guy Bruce Campbell gets healthy quickly, he could make a push at guard, where the Raiders lost longtime starter Robert Gallery in free agency. The team wanted to sign left tackle Jared Gaither, but he is still dealing with back issues. This unit remains a work in progress.

3. Is Campbell ready to be consistent? This is Jason Campbell’s second season in Jackson’s system, and he is expected to make strides. He must show consistency in camp, and he must continue to grasp Jackson’s offense. He started slowly last season and was replaced. But he finished strong. Jackson is a believer in Campbell. Campbell needs to continue to build chemistry with his receivers and entrench himself as the leader of this offense.

CLEAN UP THE MESS

The Raiders have long been one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. It goes back to their golden era. Whether it is a cheap hit or a false start, the yellow flag is a familiar sight for the Silver and Black.

Jackson wants to end that part of Raiders lore.

The Raiders were ranked first in the NFL last season in accepted penalties with 604. It seems penalties have been overlooked in Oakland because it’s long been an issue. Jackson said he thinks that is nonsense. Playing clean football is an emphasis of this camp.

[+] EnlargeRaiders coach Hue Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREWhat does coach Hue Jackson think of the Raiders' penalty problems? "It's embarrassing. ... You can't win if you keep going backward," he says. "I've told the team it's got to stop. It's not cool at all."
“It’s over,” Jackson said. “It’s embarrassing. ... You can’t win if you keep going backward. I’ve told the team it’s got to stop. It’s not cool at all.”

DEFENSE STARTS UP FRONT

While the offensive line is still in flux, the Raiders are set on the defensive line. This camp is about establishing dominance for the group. If the Oakland defense improves despite Asomugha’s departure, the front four will be responsible.

There are several excellent pieces on the unit. It all starts with defensive tackle Richard Seymour. A likely future member of the Hall of Fame, Seymour is the best player on the team and the leader of his unit. Add Kelly, polished second-year player Lamarr Houston and run-stuffer John Henderson, and the Raiders are primed to dominate teams up front. Pass-rushers Matt Shaughnessy and Trevor Scott (if healthy) give this unit an important dimension.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Jackson has often lauded second-year linebacker Rolando McClain during camp. He said he thinks McClain has developed in the offseason, and McClain is expected to be a stalwart.
  • Running back Darren McFadden was spectacular during camp before he suffered a broken orbital bone. He is expected to miss two weeks. The Raiders expect him to make a serious Pro Bowl push. He and restricted free agent Michael Bush should be a good tandem again.
  • Second-year linebacker Travis Goethel could potentially push Quentin Groves at weakside, or Oakland could look for an upgrade elsewhere.
  • The team is excited about fifth-round receiver Denarius Moore. He is polished and very fast and has a chance to contribute. It will be interesting to see him in the preseason.
  • Seventh-round pick David Ausberry looks good as he makes the transition from receiver. He’s a project, but he has excellent size and speed.
  • Fourth-year receiver Chaz Schilens is finally healthy, and the Raiders think he can live up to his potential. But his health is the key.
  • Kelly looks tremendous. He is in great shape and looks primed to build upon his strong season.
  • Trent Edwards will be given every opportunity to beat out Kyle Boller as Jason Campbell’s backup.
  • Jackson said he thinks the Raiders fourth-round pick, speedster running back Taiwan Jones, could make his mark this season. It will be fun to watch him in the preseason.

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