AFC West: 2012 Camp Watch

Chargers Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The San Diego Chargers will be under the radar and they will love it. The nation has become tired of the Chargers. For years, San Diego has been a preseason darling. It has been a perennial popular early Super Bowl pick but has fallen short of the playoffs the past two seasons.

As a result, not much attention is being paid to the team anymore. I expect this team to welcome the lack of attention and use it as a motivational tool. The Chargers, who must win this season to save the job of coach Norv Turner, know the only way they will become relevant again is if they win. I expect this to be a focused group and one that will relish the idea of being the chaser and not the team being chased.

One thing that might happen: We may see how talented first-round pick Melvin Ingram is, and how important he will be to the San Diego defense. The Chargers received a gift when Ingram fell to the No. 18 spot in the draft. Many NFL scouts think he was the value of the draft.

The Chargers expect to use Ingram in several roles in training camp and in the preseason. He will likely be a pass-rushing linebacker. But he can also play in the defensive line. Because he has a lot to learn and grasp, Ingram may look lost at times, but it will pay off soon in the form of dynamic defensive play, which the Chargers desperately need.

One thing we won't see: The Chargers' kicking competition will likely not be settled in training camp. I think it will continue through the preseason.

Both Nate Kaeding and Nick Novak will be given a chance to win the job. Novak had a nice season in 2011 after Kaeding, a longtime standout, suffered a torn ACL in Week 1. Kickers win their jobs because of their performances in games, so preseason performances will likely go a long way in determining this battle.

Raiders Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:40
AM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL

One thing I'm certain of: The Raiders will be careful with running back Darren McFadden. He is the team’s best player and he is the key to the team’s success in 2012. The problem with McFadden, one of the best running backs in the NFL, has been his health. He has had durability issues since coming into the NFL in 2008. He missed the final nine games of the 2011 season with a serious foot injury.

McFadden is 100 percent healthy and the Raiders want him to stay that way. Yes, McFadden needs to reacquaint himself with the zone-blocking approach and the West Coast offense, but he will not be overworked. McFadden, who missed some time in camp last year with an eye injury, must be ready for the regular season, especially since the Raiders don’t have any experienced backups as of now. Punishing him in camp doesn’t make any sense.

One thing that might happen: We could see clarity at the receiver position pretty early in camp. The situation opened up earlier this week when Oakland traded Louis Murphy to Carolina for a conditional seventh-round pick. Murphy is a solid possession receiver, but his role in Oakland was up in the air because there is so much potential talent at the position.

I believe Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey will remain the starters, with Jacoby Ford being the No. 3 receiver. The receivers to watch are rookies Juron Criner, a fifth-round pick, and Rod Streater, an undrafted receiver. Both players were terrific in the organized team activities season. If they continue to impress in training camp, they should both put themselves in position to be part of the rotation once the season starts.

One thing we won't see: The coaching staff will not be looking over their shoulders during camp. The coaches will be allowed to coach their way without any chance of being overruled.

That is new in Oakland. The Raiders are about to start their first training camp since the death of owner Al Davis. Davis made several decisions and often overruled coaches on schemes. Oakland safety Michael Huff addressed it earlier in the offseason. New general manager Reggie McKenzie will let new coach Dennis Allen and his staff do it their way. It should help set the tone for the new era in Oakland.

Chiefs Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:20
AM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL

One thing I'm certain of: The pressure is on Matt Cassel. The Chiefs enter training camp feeling highly confident after a strong offseason. Kansas City added several key pieces, and even though it has the youngest roster in the NFL, it has one of the best rosters in the AFC.

Yet, they aren’t getting much national attention and it’s because of Cassel. Few folks believe in him. Fortunately for Cassel, some of the people who believe in him are the Kansas City brass. Instead of replacing Cassel, the Chiefs built around him. And the Chiefs expect Cassel to respond with a strong season. It begins in training camp. All eyes will be on Cassel as we wait to see if he will hold Kansas City back or if he will push them forward.

One thing that might happen: We could see major strides made by Jonathan Baldwin. If so, it will erase memories of a horrible first NFL summer for the 2011 first-round pick. Baldwin’s rookie season was defined (and soiled) by a reported late-training camp fight with then teammate Thomas Jones. Baldwin broke his thumb in the reported incident.

Baldwin, who entered the NFL with some red flags, missed the first five games of the season. He ended up with 21 catches and he flashed some of the superior athleticism that got him drafted in the first round. Baldwin had a good offseason and the Chiefs want him to take a major step in training camp. Let’s see if Baldwin is ready to make training camp positive experience this year.

One thing we won't see: The Big Three will not be overworked in training camp. The Chiefs’ 2011 season was ruined by torn ACL injuries suffered by tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles within a two week period last September.

The Chiefs expect all three standouts to be ready to play this season, but the team will be cautious. So, don’t expect Moeaki, Berry and Charles to practice full go every day in camp. The team will play it smart and have all three players ready for Week 1 of the regular season.

Broncos Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
11:00
AM ET
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL

One thing I'm certain of: The Peyton Manning show is about to begin. Four months after he rocked the NFL by signing with the Broncos, the legendary quarterback is now beginning his first NFL training camp without a horseshoe on his helmet.

Manning will be the story of the NFL this summer. At the age of 36, there will be daily updates as he tries to come back from a surgically repaired neck that cost him the entire 2011 season. Manning has looked good in offseason workouts and he remains on pace to be ready for the season. Still, his every training camp pass will be dissected by media and fans. If Manning throws a dart, you’ll hear about it. If Manning throws an interception, you’ll be alerted. If Manning suffers a setback, sirens will blare. The summer of Manning is about to commence.

One thing that might happen: There could be some clarity at weakside linebacker as the Broncos try to adjust to playing without starter D.J. Williams. He is facing a six-game NFL suspension for using a banned substance.

The Broncos are currently considering Wesley Woodyard, Nate Irving and rookie Danny Trevathan for Williams’ spot. It will be an open competition and the final decision likely will not be made until late in the preseason. But we might see someone emerge in camp. Right now, it is Woodyard’s job to lose, I believe. Yet, Irving and Trevathan will get a look. Trevathan, a sixth-round pick, had a steep hill to climb to win the temporary starting job, but he opened eyes in OTAs.

One thing we won't see: The option. The high school offensive days are over in Denver. I’m sure no one is more thrilled than Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy did one of the most impressive jobs in the NFL last season when he scrapped a traditional NFL offense during the season and tailored an offense to best utilize former quarterback Tim Tebow. But working with Manning is a much better, er, option for any offensive coordinator.

Denver leader John Elway, a legendary quarterback himself, clearly hated that approach and replaced Tebow with Manning as soon as he could. Now, the rest of the offense can rest easy and go back to a traditional passing game with perhaps the best passer in NFL history. This will be a relief to the offensive line and receivers as the Manning era buries memories of 3 yards and a cloud of Tebow in Denver.

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