AFC West: Allen Bailey

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs have been missing four defensive starters because of injuries since early in the season, so they needed help from unexpected places to keep things from collapsing on that side of the ball.

One player who has done that is end Allen Bailey. Mostly a situational pass rusher in his first three seasons with the Chiefs, Bailey is not only a starter but doesn’t come out of the lineup much. He has played almost as many snaps this season as Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe.

Bailey
“He made a big jump a year ago I thought in football and knowing what’s going on,’’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said of Bailey. “He’s obviously a very gifted guy athletically. He could play 80 plays a week and never get tired. He and Poe are very similar that way. Where’s he’s started to develop is he’s getting all the other things that come really from just playing. The last two years is the first time he’s really played a lot of snaps and this year obviously he’s playing almost all the snaps.’’

The Chiefs lost starting end Tyson Jackson during the offseason as a free agent but signed Vance Walker as his replacement. Bailey instead won the starting job and is now playing well enough that he has a strong grasp on it.

The Chiefs have played most of the season without the other regular starting end, Mike DeVito. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in the season opener and is out for the season.

Though Bailey isn’t DeVito’s replacement, his solid play has eased the loss. Bailey has 2.5 sacks, putting him on a pace for more than 7.5 for the season. That would be the highest total for a Chiefs defensive lineman since Jared Allen had 15.5 in 2007.

“One of the things that’s really great for us is that those two inside guys can make plays for us chasing things down,’’ Sutton said of Bailey and Poe. “That doesn’t happen a lot. A lot of times you’re not fortunate enough to have that kind of player. You maybe have a big, sturdy guy in there who maybe can’t make the plays outside. These two guys can chase screen plays down, wide plays, and they really help your defense.’’

Bailey is in the final season of the contract he signed with the Chiefs as a third-round draft pick in 2011. He’s playing well enough to deserve a new contract from the Chiefs at the end of the season.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Some quick observations on the Kansas City Chiefs' first full-squad offseason practice:
  • The Chiefs went with veteran Frank Zombo instead of rookie Dee Ford in place of the absent Justin Houston as one of the starters at outside linebacker. Zombo started five games in place of the injured Houston last season and had two sacks and one interception. Marcus Cooper, the Chiefs' rookie of the year last season, started in place of Brandon Flowers at one of the cornerback spots. Houston and Flowers were missing from practice, which is voluntary. The only period during the offseason program with mandatory participation is the minicamp June 17-19.
  • The other new starters on defense were Allen Bailey (for the departed Tyson Jackson) at end, Joe Mays (for the departed Akeem Jordan) at linebacker and Husain Abdullah (for the departed Kendrick Lewis) at free safety.
  • Left tackle Eric Fisher didn't participate in the team portion of practice and tight end Travis Kelce didn't participate at all. Fisher had offseason surgeries to repair a balky shoulder and for a sports hernia and participated in individual drills. Right tackle Donald Stephenson moved into Fisher's spot with Jeff Linkenbach starting in Stephenson's usual place. Kelce, who missed all of his rookie season because of a knee ailment, is not a starter but the Chiefs are hopeful he can play a lot and be a productive receiver .
  • Sanders Commings is for now at least Abdullah's backup. But he showed free safety skills when he covered a lot of ground to intercept a Tyler Bray pass along the sideline.
It was a hectic week for the Kansas City Chiefs this week as the free-agent signing period began. They lost five players who were regulars at some point last year (wide receiver Dexter McCluster, defensive end Tyson Jackson and offensive linemen Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz) but signed three players from other teams (linebacker Joe Mays, defensive lineman Vance Walker and offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach) and re-signed two of their own free agents, reserve linebacker Frank Zombo and backup safety Husain Abdullah.

Now, in this week's Twitter mailbag, we're looking ahead, in some cases toward 2015.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Earlier I posted on the team grade given to the Kansas City Chiefs by Pro Football Focus and how the Chiefs made the second biggest leap from 2012 to 2013 behind only the Carolina Panthers.

Flowers
The Chiefs' big jump was fueled by improved performances from several players. On offense, the grade PFF gave to running back Jamaal Charles went up dramatically from one season to the next. PFF's grade for quarterback Alex Smith in 2013 was vastly improved to that of his 2012 predecessors, Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel.

On defense, the grades for defensive linemen Dontari Poe, Tyson Jackson and Allen Bailey, linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, and safety Eric Berry were all significantly up from 2012.

A few players had their grades drop. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and offensive tackle Branden Albert were among them, but neither player had a huge drop.

One player did have a huge drop; cornerback Brandon Flowers. He will participate in the Pro Bowl on Sunday in Hawaii, more of an honor for what he did in previous seasons than how he played in 2013.

Flowers had some dismal games in 2013, none worse than the torching he received against Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys early in the season, and then by the San Diego Chargers halfway through. In fairness to Flowers, he missed a couple of games early in the season because of a sore knee, and it might not have been right the rest of the way.

Still, it's a fact that Flowers didn't play very well, and it's to the point it's natural to wonder about his future with the Chiefs. He's a 5-foot-9, 187-pound player on a team that now prefers bigger cornerbacks. It's more than a little telling that the Chiefs used Flowers to cover the slot receiver in their nickel defense as the season went on.

Flowers has a big contract (he counts $10.5 million against the Chiefs' 2014 salary cap) and he might not be the best fit for a team that requires it's cornerbacks to play so much one-on-one coverage.

It might be a mistake for the Chiefs to give up on Flowers, who turns 28 next month. Flowers has played well in seasons past, and though he's a little guy, but doesn't usually play like one. He's not afraid to stick his nose into the running game.

But in a division with big receivers like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Keenan Allen, Rod Streater and Andre Holmes, it's a fair question: Is Flowers right for the Chiefs?

It will be interesting to see in the coming months what general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid think.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 10
Preseason Power Ranking: 19

Biggest surprise: The Chiefs plucked rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, off waivers to start the regular season. Cooper played better than the Chiefs had a right to expect for a long stretch of the season as the third cornerback. He had a rough stretch late in the season before bouncing back at the end. At 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, Cooper has the size to match up with the league's bigger receivers. Cooper projects as nothing less than the Chiefs' third cornerback next season and could eventually become a starter.

Biggest disappointment: Offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the first overall pick in the draft last year but rarely played like it. The Chiefs used Fisher on the right side, and he initially had trouble making the transition. He also had trouble avoiding nagging injuries, which caused him to miss four games, including the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Fisher should eventually develop into the kind of player the Chiefs envisioned. He showed great athletic skills that will help him reach his potential. Fisher was usually unable to anchor against a strong pass rush and that's where many of his problems occurred. A year in Kansas City's strength program will benefit Fisher greatly.

Biggest need: The Chiefs need a fast wide receiver to energize their passing game. They gambled by giving Dwayne Bowe a lucrative long-term contract last offseason, but Bowe didn't play like a No. 1 wide receiver until the playoff loss to the Colts. Bowe will turn 30 next season, so if nothing else, it's time for the Chiefs to plan for someone else to step into that top receiver's role. The Chiefs have a couple of fast wide receivers in Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. While Avery delivered some big plays, he dropped too many passes and disappeared too many times. Jenkins hasn't been able to establish himself as a consistent threat.

Team MVP: The Chiefs have at least a couple of defensive candidates but the better choice is running back Jamaal Charles. He supplied much of Kansas City's offensive production, particularly early in the season when the offense around him frequently sputtered. Charles led the league in touchdowns and expanded his game to become a much more dangerous pass-catcher. Coach Andy Reid and his offensive staff did a much better job of getting Charles matched up against linebackers in the open field, and he rewarded them with a number of big plays. If the Chiefs had not lost five of their final seven regular-season games, Charles would have been a strong candidate for league MVP.

Chargers have missed Vincent Brown

December, 6, 2012
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U-T San Diego reports Vincent Brown likely won’t play until next year. He broke his ankle in the preseason. Brown finished last season strong and he was great in training camp. The San Diego offense has missed him.

There is hope for the future though with Brown and flier Danario Alexander, who has been tremendous since being signed at midseason. That likely won’t help coach Norv Turner, but there is some potentially strong firepower in San Diego.

In other AFC West news:

Kansas City Chiefs running back Peyton Hillis will not get a welcome from left tackle Joe Thomas in Cleveland. Thomas said Hillis let his contract situation become a distraction to the team. He left the Browns for a one-year deal in Kansas City this year.

KC Joyner writes why Insider the Broncos are a serious threat in the AFC.

The Chiefs put defensive end Allen Bailey on the injured reserve and signed linebacker Leon Williams. Williams was with the team in camp.

Chiefs DE Glenn Dorsey is out Sunday

September, 30, 2012
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KANSAS CITY – Just when the Kansas City Chiefs were getting healthy on defense, they are dealing with another key injury.

Defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey is inactive for Sunday’s game against San Diego. Dorsey injured his calf this week in practice. He was listed as questionable on the injury report. Ropati Pitoitua and Allen Bailey will likely rotate at Dorsey’s right defensive end spot.

As expected, receiver Dwayne Bowe (groin) is active and expected to start. Fellow receivers Steve Breaston and Dexter McCluster are also active. They were questionable along with Bowe. Rookie receiver Devon Wylie is not active.

Starting safety Kendrick Lewis is inactive for the fourth straight game, even though he has been practicing for the past couple of weeks. I’d expect him to play next week at Baltimore. He has been out since August with a shoulder injury.

As expected, running back Peyton Hillis (ankle) and tight end Kevin Boss (concussion) are out.

Flowers might be on track to play

September, 14, 2012
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There is no guarantee Brandon Flowers will make his season debut Sunday at Buffalo, but there are signs that he will be on the field.

The Chiefs have listed Flowers as questionable to play Sunday. He has been out with a foot injury since July 31. Flowers has practiced fully the past two days. Also, backup cornerback Jalil Brown is questionable with a groin injury.

There are four Chiefs out, though. They are defensive tackle Anthony Toribio (ankle). Safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder), receiver Devon Wylie (hamstring) and defensive lineman Allen Bailey (ankle).

However, if the Chiefs get Flowers back, it will be a big boost. Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel told reporters Friday that Flowers could be eased back into action.

“I think that you have to kind of temper it and know that conditioning will be a factor, and if the guy is able to play, you may have to monitor his reps,” Crennel said. “Then, some of that will depend on how the game goes. Probably asking him to play 100 plays would not be the thing to do, but if you can mix in here and there and give him a break now and then, then maybe he can get through a game.”

In other AFC West news:

Oakland long snapper Jon Condo practiced on a limited basis. If he is not cleared to play by Sunday, Nick Guess will be promoted from the practice squad. Linebacker Rolando McClain (ankle) and running back Taiwan Jones (ribs) both practiced on a limited basis and are questionable to play. Receiver Denarius Moore is probable after missing several weeks with a hamstring injury. The Raiders are expected to ease him back into action Sunday.

The Chargers announced they have sold enough tickets to avoid a local television blackout Sunday against Tennessee in their home opener. The team received a 24-hour extension. The team is urging fans to wear white at the game. The Chargers will be wearing white jerseys and uniform pants.

Denver cornerback Chris Harris did not practice for the second straight day with an ankle injury. Tony Carter would be the nickel cornerback at Atlanta on Monday if Harris can’t play.

Observation deck: Seahawks-Chiefs

August, 24, 2012
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A look at the Chiefs’ 44-14 home loss to Seattle on Friday night:
  • Yes, I’m sure many Chiefs fans are freaking out over a home blowout like this. But I can’t join the in the hysteria. Maybe I’m wrong, but the preseason is just the preseason, big win or big loss. Now, if the Chiefs get throttled at home by Atlanta in 16 days, then the hand-wringing should commence. But this loss doesn’t mean the Chiefs will be awful in that game.

  • The Chiefs may be the answer to a trivia question: They were the opponent of Russell Wilson's first preseason start. The rookie quarterback was terrific in his staring debut. He beat up the Chiefs pretty good. Should Kansas City be worried that a third-round pick whipped them? It’s not ideal, but again, it’s the preseason, so it really doesn’t matter. Plus, the Chiefs have some injuries. Still, like their performances against St. Louis last week, the Chiefs’ defense showed it is not quite ready for prime time.
  • Kansas City defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey, Anthony Toribio and Allen Bailey were all banged up some Friday. Toribio’s injury allowed first-round pick Dontari Poe to play with the first unit, which was valuable.
  • Brady Quinn spelled Matt Cassel and it looks like he will win the backup job over Ricky Stanzi, which has long been expected. Quinn threw 10 passes and Stanzi didn’t play. You’d have to think that battle has been decided.
  • The Chiefs’ offense was spotty. But it did have a 17-play, 80-yard drive. The Chiefs have had long scoring drives in all three preseason games, which is a good sign.
  • Receiver Dwayne Bowe played some as expected. Bowe ended his holdout last week.
  • Running back Nate Eachus made a push for a roster spot with 98 yards on 10 carries.
  • Receiver Dexter McCluster had a strong game with seven catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- This isn’t a training camp for the leisurely.

Armed with the best roster the franchise has seen in years, the Kansas City Chiefs are moving quickly under new coach Romeo Crennel. For those who visited the Chiefs camp last year, this pace is foreign.

“There are no wasted moments,” said quarterback Matt Cassel.

The final training camp under former coach Todd Haley will live in infamy in the Heartland. Last season's camp was essentially a three-week walk-through exercise. Haley chose to go that route because he wanted to ease the players back into the program after a lost offseason due the lockout. The plan didn’t work, because the Chiefs were physically and mentally behind the rest of the league. They suffered several major injuries early in the season, were drubbed in early games, and it set the tone for a disappointing season.

However, speed is back in vogue as Crennel tries for success in his second go-round as a head coach. The tempo change has paid off so far. The Chiefs have looked crisp in practices and they were dominant on both sides of the ball against Arizona in the preseason opener last week.

The idea is to keep the forward tempo moving into the season as Kansas City tries to win the AFC West for the second time in three seasons.

“It’s exciting to see what is happening here,” Cassel said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we are all on the same page and all want to have success together.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The ACL Club: In addition to bringing in several free agents, the Chiefs are getting back three standouts. Safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki all suffered torn ACLs last September, but all are on pace to be major contributors this season.

“All of those guys look great,” Cassel said. “They’re going to help us a lot.”

2. Dwayne Bowe’s absence: It is over now. Bowe signed his franchise tender Friday, a day after camp ended. The Pro Bowl receiver did not participate in the offseason workouts, either. Bowe likely reported in time to learn the system of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and get into football shape. With him being out, the Chiefs' offense clicked and it gained a lot of confidence. Having Bowe back heading out of camp should only make this unit stronger

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Romeo Crennel
Denny Medley/US PRESSWIREChiefs coach Romeo Crennel has the respect of his players.
3. Good vibrations: This team is in a good place. The players love playing for Crennel. One of the reasons Crennel was promoted from interim coach was the players’ respect for him. It has continued now that he is the permanent coach. He is the polar opposite of Haley, who was known as somewhat of a loose cannon. Crennel offers a calm, steady hand. Players love that he’s organized and up front. There is a lot of trust.

“They’ve worked hard and they know the possibilities this team has," Crennel said. “Every team feels good about itself this time of year, but this team’s attitude is in the right place.”

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

This is the best overall roster in the AFC West. It is one of the deepest rosters in the AFC. There is proven talent throughout the roster and the team has the right mix of veteran and young players. Still, the Chiefs are the youngest team in the NFL. They are the only team in the league not to have a player over the age of 30.

“When I was on my visit, I just looked up and down this roster and saw so much talent,” free-agent pickup, tight end Kevin Boss said. “It is just loaded with talent.”

When you look at this roster, there isn’t much not to like.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chiefs will be dismissed as playoff contenders until Cassel proves otherwise. Many don't believe in them because they don’t believe in Cassel, even though he has already delivered a division title in Kansas City. Many scouts don’t think he can be a difference-maker, and that because he is the least talented of the four quarterbacks in the AFC West, he will not be able to overcome the other teams in the division. I believe there is enough talent on the roster to help Cassel lead the Chiefs deep into the playoffs, but he must prove his mettle.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The rap on No. 11 overall pick Dontari Poe is that the defensive tackle wasn’t productive at Memphis. The Chiefs didn’t feel that way. They reviewed every college snap he ever played and were impressed that he played 60 percent of the snaps at 346 pounds. For what it’s worth, Poe’s college statistics and combine measurables compare favorably to Green Bay’s B.J. Raji, who has become a star after being the No. 9 overall pick in 2009. Poe is two inches taller and nine pounds heavier than Raji, yet he ran a 4.9 40-yard dash at the combine compared to Raji’s 5.23. Poe had nine more tackles and four more quarterback hurries than Raji in college despite the fact Raji played 16 more college games. This is not to suggest Poe is going to be a better NFL player than Raji, but it does take some steam out of the argument that Poe wasn’t a productive college player.
  • [+] EnlargeKansas City's Dontari Poe
    John Rieger/US PRESSWIREThe Chiefs like what they've seen from first-round pick Dontari Poe so far.
    When Bowe held out, Jon Baldwin thrived under the professional guidance of veteran receivers Steve Breaston and Terrance Copper. Some folks in camp think Baldwin is making strides because he is taking cues from Copper and Breaston.
  • Defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey are plus players for the Chiefs. Neither is spectacular and they will always get grief for not living up to their draft billing. Dorsey was the No. 5 overall pick in 2008 and Jackson went No. 3 a year later. But both players are excellent run-stuffers and are among the best in the league in that area.
  • While the focus is on Poe at nose tackle, Anthony Toribio and 2011 draft choice Jerrell Powe are also in the mix.
  • Inside linebacker Brandon Siler looks good after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury. He could push Jovan Belcher for playing time.
  • While Haley was known for his ranting and raving on the field, Daboll is also fiery. He scoots around the field, barking instruction.
  • His new teammates love running back Peyton Hillis. His toughness and competitiveness have created buzz during camp.
  • Left tackle Branden Albert is quietly becoming the player the former Kansas City regime thought it was getting when it took him No. 15 overall in 2008. I expect the Chiefs to try to extend the pending free agent at some point. He’s been stellar.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if the Brady Quinn-Ricky Stanzi battle to be Cassel’s backup continues all season, but with Quinn winning the job initially. The Chiefs like where they stand with both players.
  • The Chiefs are excited about the potential of tight ends Moeaki and Boss. Expect both to have high-profile roles in the offense.
  • Second-year pass-rusher Justin Houston has been terrific, and the Chiefs are bubbling over at what kind of pass-rush combination Tamba Hali and Houston can become.
  • The team appreciates the flexibility of third-year player Dexter McCluster, who has bounced from receiver to running back to receiver again. McCluster may never have a classically defined role, but he will have a role in this offense.
  • Undrafted rookie receiver Josh Bellamy still has a chance to make the 53-man roster, but in a numbers game, he could wind up on the practice squad.
  • So far, so good for new center Rodney Hudson. The second-year player looks comfortable playing with Cassel and vice versa.
  • Camp observers believe kicker Ryan Succop has gotten bigger and stronger, which will help with his field goal range.
  • The team's fourth-round pick, receiver/returner Devon Wylie, is explosive. He will be given a chance to contribute.
  • Keep an eye on defensive end Ropati Pitoitua. He has outplayed 2011 third-round pick Allen Bailey and he may be a keeper.
  • Brandon Flowers’ foot injury has allowed second-year cornerback Jalil Brown to blossom. I expect Brown to be on the field often in the regular season.
  • Fourth-string quarterback Alex Tanney is a curiosity because of his YouTube trick throwing video. But Tanney isn’t making much real football tread in this camp. The best he could hope for in 2012 is the practice squad.

AFC West links: Tyvon Branch's security

July, 19, 2012
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Denver Broncos

The Denver Post's Mike Klis predicts the Broncos will go 9-7 this season and lists reasons why they could win or lose each game on the schedule. Klis: "To illustrate the extreme parity the NFL enjoys, 9-7 last season was enough for the New York Giants to make the playoffs and eventually become world champs but 9-7 wasn't enough for the Tennessee Titans to make the postseason."

Kansas City Chiefs

Nick Toney of KCChiefs.com attempts to answer three questions surrounding the defensive end position with training camp looming.

Allen Bailey is expected to play a bigger role for the Chiefs this season.

Oakland Raiders

Safety Tyvon Branch is grateful for the security his new four-year deal with the Raiders brings. "It gives you that (comfort) that you're going to be around for the next couple of years," Branch said in a conference call. "It definitely gives you a little more peace of mind. It's just one of those things that you don't have to worry about anymore. You know where you're going to be."

Could the Raiders have found a "diamond in the rough" in Miles Burris?

San Diego Chargers

Getting on the same page as his new receivers is going to be important for quarterback Philip Rivers.

Tackle Jeromey Clary says he is back to his pre-lockout strength.

Ranking the defensive linemen

June, 11, 2012
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We continue our AFC West positional rankings with a very young and overly unproven group of defensive linemen:

1. Richard Seymour, Oakland: Seymour is aging, his play is slipping some and this may be his last year in Oakland. But he is still at the top of this list.

2. Elvis Dumervil, Denver: A dynamic pass-rusher who is a game changer.

3. Tommy Kelly, Oakland: Underrated player. He may play nose tackle in 3-4 looks.

4. Lamarr Houston, Oakland: A potential star has ability to take over.

5. Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City: He was supposed to be great. He’s not, but he’s solid.

6. Matt Shaughnessy, Oakland: The Raiders missed this pass-rusher when he was injured last year.

7. Tyson Jackson, Kansas City: See Dorsey.

8. Robert Ayers, Denver: He became a solid player against the run last season.

9. Corey Liuget, San Diego: The Chargers expect big things from him in his second season.

10. Dontari Poe, Kansas City: Let’s see what this immensely talented rookie can do.

11. Cam Thomas, San Diego: An underrated player. He has a real future.

12. Antonio Garay, San Diego: It was important that the Chargers re-signed this rotational standout.

13. Vaughn Martin, San Diego: The Chargers think he has a chance to flourish soon.

14. Derek Wolfe, Denver: The second-round pick will be given the chance to make an instant impact.

15. Justin Bannan, Denver: A valuable rotational piece.

16. Luis Castillo, San Diego: The Chargers think he can still help.

17. Dave Tollefson, Oakland: A valuable backup on a strong line.

18. Jacques Cesaire, San Diego: The veteran is heady and he can make plays.

19. Desmond Bryant, Oakland: A solid part of the Raiders’ line.

20. Ty Warren, Denver: The Broncos hope he can make an impact after missing the past two seasons.

21. Kevin Vickerson, Denver: He gained weight to help in the middle.

22. Jason Hunter, Denver: A limited player, who has some play-making ability.

23. Allen Bailey, Kansas City: The Chiefs think he can develop quickly.

24. Kendall Reyes, San Diego: I wouldn’t be surprised if this second-round pick makes some plays right away.

2011 AFC West draft rewind

February, 14, 2012
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As each team in the AFC West prepares for the NFL scouting combine next week, let’s review the AFC West 2011 draft classes:

DENVER BRONCOS

First pick: Linebacker Von Miller , No. 2 overall

Total picks: Nine

Stars: Miller was the shining star of this class. He won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and he looks like he will be a dominant pass-rusher for years to come. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, a second-round pick, performed well as a starter and safety Quinton Carter really came on toward the end of the season. Carter was a fourth-round pick.

Dud: There is concern over safety Rahim Moore who regressed as the season went on. The second-round pick was not nearly as far along as Carter at the end of the season. Moore is a hard worker and there is hope for him, but the Broncos expected more from him.

Good start for Elway era: This was the first draft class under new Denver leader John Elway. The Broncos made some good draft decisions and the process seemed very organized. It was the first sign that Elway was prepared for his new role.

What’s the future of this class? This was a good class. Third-round pick Nate Irving will compete to start at middle linebacker and the Broncos are excited about tight ends Julius Thomas (fourth round) and Virgil Green (seventh round). Regardless of what happens with the rest of this class, Miller himself makes this group a winner.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

First pick: Receiver Jon Baldwin, No. 26

Total picks: Nine

Star: The player who created the most excitement was third-round pick Justin Houston at linebacker. He had first-round talent, but character issues dropped him to No. 70 overall. He was a playmaker, had 5.5 sacks and looks like he can be a major star.

Duds: Baldwin wasn’t terrible, but he was a disappointment because he suffered a broken thumb in a camp fight with veteran Thomas Jones. Baldwin didn’t debut until October. He showed flashes and I think he will be a fine player, but he hurt the team by fighting with Jones. It was a terrible start to his career.

Character questions? Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli had a reputation for steering clear of players with character issues. He changed course by taking Baldwin and Houston because of their draft value. It worked with Houston but the Baldwin fight raised more concerns. It will be interesting to see if Pioli takes any chances this year.

What’s the future of this class? I like it. Third-round pick Allen Bailey has a real chance to shine at defensive end and second-round pick Rodney Hudson may have a chance to start at either guard or center this season. Fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi had a chance to be the backup quarterback this year. It was a good group.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

First pick: Guard Stefen Wisniewski, No. 48

Total picks: Eight

Stars: Wisniewski and fifth-round pick Denarius Moore at wide receiver. Wisniewski looked like an eight-year veteran. The nephew of former Raiders’ star offensive lineman and assistant offensive line coach Steve Wisniewski was born to be a Raider and he looks like a future star. He’s bright, athletic and he has a mean streak. Moore opened eyes in camp and made a lot of plays during the season. There were plays when he simply took over and he ended up with 33 catches for 618 yards and five touchdowns. I wouldn’t be shocked if he doubles those totals in 2012.

Duds: It would be unfair to call the Raiders' third-round picks -- cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke and offensive lineman Joseph Barksdale (who Oakland traded its 2012 second-round pick to get) -- duds. But neither player made any real impact. They are projects and they have a chance to be good in the future, but they just weren’t standouts as rookies.

End of an era: This was the final draft selected by the legendary Al Davis. I have a feeling Moore may be Davis’ final gift to the Raider Nation.

What’s the future of this class? If Van Dyke, Barksdale, defensive back Chimdi Chekwa and running back Taiwan Jones can become major role players, this will be a great class. If not, Wisniewski and Moore will carry a class that didn’t feature a first-round pick. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor technically wasn’t part of the Raiders’ 2011 class because he was taken in the supplemental draft later in the summer. Drafting him cost Oakland a third-round pick in 2012. He was a rookie last season and it will be interesting to see how he develops. He was a Davis pick and the new regime may or may not like him. Either way, he is still a project.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

First pick: Defensive end Corey Liuget, No. 18.

Total picks: Eight

Stars: Liuget wasn’t great in a class that featured several impact defensive players. But he did look like somebody who will make an impact down the road. Third-round pick, receiver Vincent Brown, also showed nice progress. I think he could end up having a very solid career.

Duds: Second-round pick Marcus Gilchrist struggled at cornerback when he started. Still, his future is not lost. He could be moved to safety or perhaps he could be a nickel. The Chargers waived running back Jordan Todman. The team hoped the sixth-round pick could become the next Darren Sproles. Todman is now with Minnesota.

Back to the future? The Chargers surprisingly took Liuget even though many observers thought that San Diego would take an offensive lineman or a pass-rusher. Now, a year later, the Chargers are looking at offensive linemen and pass-rushers with the No. 18 pick.

What’s the future of this class? I think the other three classes in the division all have better potential. I’m not sure if this will ever be a great class, but Liuget and Brown can really help it. Linebacker Jonas Mouton (second round) missed the entire season with an injury. He will get a chance to play this season.

Camp Confidential: Chiefs

August, 19, 2011
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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.
The San Diego Union Tribune reports San Diego running back Darren Sproles will soon decide between playing for the Chargers, Saints and Eagles. I don’t think the Chargers are going to offer the moon, so Sproles is probably looking at a smaller deal than expected. The Chargers could use him, but I think the team is also OK if he leaves.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said San Diego receiver Malcom Floyd may be the next receiver to go off the board after Santonio Holmes and Sidney Rice have agreed to big-dollar deals. Schefter reports Minnesota, among other teams, may make a run at Floyd. The Chargers likely will not match a huge deal for Floyd.

The Chiefs just announced they signed six draft picks. They are: Allen Bailey, Jalil Brown, Ricky Stanzi, Gabe Miller, Jerrell Powe and Shane Bannon. UPDATE: Agent Joe Linta just told me second-round pick Rodney Hudson has agreed to terms with the Chiefs.

Here is another connection between defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin and the Chiefs. It would be a great fit.

The Saints have agreed to re-sign left tackle Jermon Bushrod. He had been connected to Kansas City.

Denver signed second-round pick Rahim Moore and now have signed its top three picks.

The Lions have some interest in San Diego inside linebacker Brandon Siler.

The Bears will release tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. The Chargers liked him when he was there. If he could come cheaply, I could see him coming back to San Diego. The Chargers missed him.

Guess we can forget that Chad Ochocinco-Hue Jackson reunion. The receiver is headed to the Patriots. Jackson coached Ochocinco in Cincinnati and the two remain close. Just a thought, but maybe the idea of New England getting another receiver will make the Jets ramp up their effort to sign Nnamdi Asomugha.

The Broncos have their eyes on one of John Fox’s former players to fill a key need.

UPDATE: The Bengals agreed to terms with former Oakland starting linebacker Thomas Howard. He was a backup last year and he was not in Oakland’s plans.

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