AFC West: Andy Studebaker

" Alex Barron practiced Tuesday at left tackle for the Oakland Raiders in place of Jared Veldheer, who has an arm injury. Barron entered camp as a long shot to make the team, but he has had a good camp and could even start at right tackle. Veldheer is getting an MRI on his triceps. He is one of the Raiders’ better players. They need him to be healthy.

Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston and guard Lucas Nix returned to practice Tuesday afternoon after missing time due to injuries. Cornerback Tracy Porter is not practicing after leaving Monday’s practice early.

" San Diego Chargers rookie receiver Keenan Allen didn’t finish practice as a precaution due to a lingering knee injury. With starting receiver Danario Alexander out for the season and fellow starter Malcom Floyd out until at least Week 1, the Chargers have to do what it takes to keep Allen fresh and healthy.

" Former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker signed with Jacksonville.
Left tackle Branden Albert's absence from the Kansas City Chiefs' voluntary offseason program may be another sign the team is moving to trade him.

New coach Andy Reid and his staff were at the program Monday. Albert was not, even though he signed his franchise tag tender last month. These programs are voluntary, but players are encouraged to participate.

The Chiefs are shopping Albert and they have had some talks with the Miami Dolphins, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Schefter has reported the Chiefs want a second-round pick this year and a conditional pick next year in return. The Dolphins have two second-round picks in this month’s draft and they have a need for a left tackle.

The Chiefs could use the No.1 overall pick in the draft on Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel whether Albert is kept or not.

With most key players there, Albert could be staying away because he thinks he is going to be traded. Either way, it won’t make the team happy that Albert is not participating.

In other AFC West notes:

Kevin Weidl looks at the first-round needs Insider of each AFC West team.

Matt Williamson grades the free agency of every AFC team. Insider The Broncos and Chiefs did very well, but not so much for the Raiders and Chargers, according to Williamson.

In a video, ESPN’s Adam Schefter discusses West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith's visit to Kansas City Monday. I agree with Schefter in that I think the Chiefs are trying to drum up interest to deal their pick.

Giants receiver Domenik Hixon visited Carolina. He has visited the Raiders.

The Chiefs have cut backup linebacker Andy Studebaker.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers talks about the team’s offseason in a radio interview.
Andy StudebakerAP Photo/Ed ZurgaAndy Studebaker jumped on an improbable Philip Rivers fumble in the final minute Monday.
The game that gave the Kansas City Chiefs serious life for the rest of the 2011 season was a microcosm of the early season.

“Guys on the sideline were saying, ‘It ain’t over 'til it’s over. Keep playing and keep digging in, because you don’t know what is going to happen,'” Kansas City coach Todd Haley said Monday night. “We’ve got some fighters.”

Haley was answering a question about the late fumble by San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers that took a victory out of the Chargers hands and enabled the Chiefs to come back and win in overtime, forcing a three-way tie with the Chargers and Raiders for first place in the AFC West. In truth, Haley was speaking about the season and not just one game.

There is no doubting these Kansas City Chiefs are fighters. The Chiefs enter November after being one of the stories of the NFL in October, and they are living proof that a devastating start doesn’t necessarily scuttle an entire NFL season. Their unlikely 23-20 overtime win over San Diego in Week 8 was the Chiefs' fourth straight win after starting 0-3.

It wasn’t just that the Chiefs entered October winless; they looked in as worse shape as any team in the NFL.

They were outscored 89-10 in their first two games. They were ranked No. 32 in ESPN.com’s NFL Power Rankings in Week 4. They were considered a prime contender to win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. There were reports that Haley was on the verge of being fired, and they lost running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki -- all are among the organization’s top five players -- to season-ending knee injuries in a span of two weeks in September.

Kansas City was a surprise AFC West winner in 2010 at 10-6 -- after winning a total of 10 games spanning 2008-10 -- and it looked as if the team was going back to being a bottom-feeder.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Todd Haley
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesCoach Todd Haley won't change his hat or shave his beard as long as the Chiefs keep winning.
Now, though, the talk is of a back-to-back division title. ESPN.com’s playoffs predictor says the Chiefs will emerge from the AFC West scrum in first place (this is the first time since 1989 that there's a three-way tie in a division). The Chiefs are the first team in the NFL to win four straight games after starting 0-3 since the 2000 Pittsburgh Steelers.

There is a strong chance the Chiefs will move further away from their 0-3 start. Kansas City hosts Miami (0-7) on Sunday and hosts Denver (2-5) in Week 10. Yes, it would be an upset if the Chiefs aren’t 6-3 in nine days. They will need to stockpile wins when they can. They have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL from Weeks 11-15, beginning with a Monday night game at New England. The Chiefs then host Pittsburgh, play at Chicago and at the Jets, and host the Packers before hosting Oakland on Christmas Eve and finishing the regular season on New Year’s Day in Denver.

Don’t expect the Chiefs to fret about any part of the final nine-game stretch. Their start to this season simply taught them to take it one game at a time.

“We know everybody wrote us off at 0-3,” said linebacker Andy Studebaker, who recovered Rivers’ fateful fumble Monday night. “We just kept our course and we just were focused on not letting the season get away from us. And now look at us.”

There are all kinds of theories about why the Chiefs have turned around their season. Some credit the beanbag game Haley (who has to be considered a Coach of the Year candidate) put in the locker room to create team unity. Some believe in the power of Haley’s scruffy beard that will not kiss a razor until the Chiefs lose again.

At the risk of ruining a good story, the Chiefs stopped losing and began winning because they started playing much better on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs were minus-6 in turnover differential in the first three games. They have been plus-5 since. Their yards-per-game differential since the losing streak ended has been 100-plus yards. In the first three games, the Chiefs’ points differential was minus-82. In the past four games, it’s been plus-40.

The Chiefs went back to trusting their running game in Week 4 after the shock of losing Charles in Week 2 wore off. Kansas City led the NFL in rushing last year and Charles had 1,467 yards. Since Week 4, the Chiefs are leading the NFL in rushing attempts per game, and former practice squad player Jackie Battle has emerged as a solid lead rusher.

After Monday night’s game, ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer lauded the Chiefs for sticking to “their convictions” after the key injuries and 0-3 start. Dilfer expects the Chiefs to stick around for the rest of the season because they stay true to their plan and the players believe in the coaching staff.

The defense seems to get timelier every week, and with the emergence of WR Jon Baldwin -- the 2011 first-round pick was outstanding against San Diego, catching five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown -- steady quarterback Matt Cassel has a strong receiving trio in Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Baldwin.

Despite the losses of Charles, Berry and Moeaki, this team looks like an up-and-coming contender, as it did last year.

“We made some mistakes, everybody, coaches and players alike, but we were able to overcome it by sticking together and not giving up,” Haley said of the win over San Diego, but really talking about the season. “I think it will continue to serve us well going forward.”

Division changes course in a snap

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
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Philip RiversAP Photo/Ed ZurgaPhilip Rivers was concise when describing the play that changed Monday's game, "I dropped it."
KANSAS CITY -- In the spirit of full disclosure, I was preparing to write the Philip Rivers' revival story.

That was going to be the story of this night. The old Rivers was back. It was just a couple of snaps away. Easy snaps.

Then, the Joe Pisarcik comparison began.

Halloween night provided one of the wildest NFL games of the season, changing the course of the AFC West -- and perhaps the legacies of two key San Diego figures -- on what should have been a glorified victory formation play.

With less than a minute to play and the score tied at 20 with the Chargers at the Kansas City 15-yard line, Rivers simply fumbled a snap from center Nick Hardwick on first down. After a wild scrum, Kansas City linebacker Andy Studebaker came up with the ball, forcing the game to overtime.

For the record, the Chiefs played brilliant on offense and defense in overtime to take the 23-20 win on a short Ryan Succop field goal midway through overtime. What will always be remembered as the Halloween play, though, was the fumbled snap.

Making the play so compelling is that it was so simple. There was nothing extraordinary about it. It’s not like the diagram of the play will be forever studied.

“I dropped it,” Rivers said.

Added San Diego coach Norv Turner: “Wild. I have never seen anything like it.”

As far as the AFC West standings go, the NFL has not seen anything like this since 1989. The Chiefs (who have won four straight games after being humiliated to start the season), Chargers and Oakland Raiders are tied for first place in the division at 4-3. The last time that happened was in 1989 in the old AFC Central.

The division is set up for a tremendous final two months, as all three teams appear to be evenly matched.

The question, though, is how will San Diego bounce back from this? It was basically two kneel-down plays and a short field goal away from being 5-2 and being in control of the division.

The shell-shocked Chargers -- their postgame locker room was as sullen and as quiet as imaginable -- must quickly find a way to put The Snap behind them. San Diego hosts the unbeaten world champion Green Bay Packers on Sunday and Oakland four days later. If the hangover from this play lingers, the Chargers could quickly be the third wheel in this race.

“We’ve got to find a way to bounce back in a hurry,” Rivers said.

The painful realty for San Diego is Rivers was playing his best football of an uneven 2011 season for much of Monday night’s game. After two first-quarter interceptions continued his worst start since taking over in San Diego in 2006, Rivers became his old self in the second quarter. He was accurate and made plays out of nothing as he always has. Rivers put the Chargers in position to win.

Had Rivers (who leads the NFL with 11 interceptions and 14 turnovers) taken the snap from center cleanly, the NFL headlines Tuesday would have been all about how he got over the hump. Now, his problems are more dramatic than at any point this season.

What happened between his second interception of the first quarter and The Snap has been erased. Now, the story remains: What’s wrong with Rivers?

Rivers is a fiery competitor and a terrific player. He will bounce back from this, but you have to wonder what kind of mental damage The Snap could have on him. Right now, this play has a chance to be his legacy. Rivers is no Pisarcik -- the culprit of the Miracle at the Meadowlands when he turned a victory formation into an Eagles win in 1978 -- but Rivers has to overcome a similar plight.

If the Chargers end up out of the playoffs, calls for Turner’s firing will be loud and Monday night will be recalled as a perfect example of this talented team finding ways to hurt itself.

Like all classic games, there is already a legend building in Kansas City that an untimely (timely?) fireworks display near the parking lot area -- and facing the direction the Chargers were headed in the final seconds -- could have affected Rivers on the fateful play.

It was the buzz in the Chiefs' locker room after the game, but no one in Chargers' locker room thought it had any bearing.

“No, I wish I could say I did,” Rivers said when asked if he heard the fireworks during the play.

Fireworks had nothing to do with the fumble. It was simply a freak play on the freakiest of American nights.

As stunned as the Chargers were by the turn of events, the Chiefs were as exuberant.

“I believed it when I saw it,” deadpanned Kansas City pass-rusher Tamba Hali.

If you didn’t see it, believe me, it was hard to imagine The Snap that changed the AFC West.

AFC West mailbag

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
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Midweek mail call:

Justin from Cheyenne, Wyo., wants to know if I’m impressed the way Kyle Orton has handled his unique situation this summer.

Bill Williamson: He does deserve credit for the way he has handled himself. Orton was in a weird situation after the lockout. He showed up to Denver’s training camp, expecting to pack his bags and be traded to Miami. He even talked contract with the Dolphins. But he and Miami couldn’t come to an accord. Orton then publicly said he was all in as Denver’s quarterback. He has been a professional and he has played well this summer. His attitude has made a potentially sticky situation fairly smooth.

Mikey from Kansas City wants to know if Justin Houston could start for the Chiefs this season.

BW: I think so. He is pushing Andy Studebaker at outside linebacker. Houston has been a playmaker. He has been very impressive for a player who missed a portion of training camp due to a contract holdup. He was a first-round talent who fell to the third round because of character concerns. But he has shown very early that he has NFL ability.

Mitchell from Canada wants to know if Orton and Brandon Lloyd could soon get new deals from Denver. Both are free agents after this season.

BW: I could see it. I think Lloyd could get one before Orton. I wouldn’t be shocked if Denver tries to lock him up soon. It will want to see what kind of impact Orton has on the team before deciding what to do with him. If he leads the team to several victories, I could see Denver trying to tie him up before he gets to free agency.

Camp Confidential: Chiefs

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
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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.

AFC West union reps

March, 3, 2011
3/03/11
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Some players in the AFC West are working hard. They aren’t on the field, but their current work is designed to get everybody back on the field. Let’s take a look at the AFC West union representatives:

Denver Broncos

Rep: Safety Brian Dawkins

Co-alternates: Guard Russ Hochstein and quarterback Kyle Orton

My thoughts: Dawkins has long been involved in the union. He is one of the most connected players in the NFL with the union. The Broncos will be well informed during this time of uncertainty.

Kansas City Chiefs

Rep: Center Rudy Niswanger

Co-alternates: Safety Jon McGraw and linebacker Andy Studebaker.

My thoughts: There isn’t much star power in this group. But all three representatives are well respected in the locker room.

Oakland Raiders

Rep: Tight end Zach Miller

Co-alternates: Linebacker Ricky Brown and quarterback Bruce Gradkowski

My thoughts: Miller is personally invested in this fight. He needs to know whether he’ll be an unrestricted or a restricted free agent when this dispute is settled.

San Diego Chargers

Rep: Center Nick Hardwick

Co-alternates: Defensive lineman Jacques Cesaire and tackle Jeromey Clary.

My thoughts: Hardwick has long been in involved in players’ rights. He’ll keep his teammates well informed.

Around the AFC West

September, 17, 2010
9/17/10
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Denver

The Broncos are starting to air it out.

My take: It’s part of the maturation of Kyle Orton in Denver. Broncos coach Josh McDaniels clearly is more comfortable with Orton, and he trusts Orton more than he did a year ago. Orton didn’t throw deep much at all last year. Yet, in Week 1, he hit five plays of 25 yards or more. This is an important facet to Orton’s arsenal and to Denver’s offense.

Kansas City

The Chiefs extended the contract of linebacker Andy Studebaker.

My take: Nice call. Studebaker is a fun player to watch. He is a playmaker and an energizer. He is an overachiever who helps both on defense and on special teams. He’s the type of player good teams need on the roster. He is fairly inexpensive and he sells out on every play.

Oakland

Left tackle Mario Henderson is taking a lot of heat after a poor performance in Week 1.

My take: Henderson wasn’t great, but let’s not target just him. The entire line struggled last week. It’s not just Henderson’s fault.

San Diego

Here is a look at four teams connected in Vincent Jackson trade talks.

My take: The list includes St. Louis, Seattle, Minnesota and Washington. I know several teams have considered trading for Jackson. A lot of people around the league believe Minnesota will emerge as the team that trades for Jackson. Still, San Diego must be satisfied in this deal or nothing will happen.

Kansas City Chiefs: Three things

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
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Three things Kansas City needs to work on this week in preparation for Monday’s opener against visiting San Diego:

Feed off the energy: Kansas City is going to be rocking. Monday night games in Kansas City are rare these days and this is the first regular-season game at the renovated Arrowhead Stadium. Add that there is legitimate intrigue about this team and the atmosphere is going to be special. The Chiefs have to be prepared to take advantage of the excitement and strike early, showing the Chargers they are in for a tough night.

Rush the passer: One way of slowing down San Diego star quarterback Philip Rivers is to put pressure on him. The question is can the Chiefs do it? They’ve had trouble getting to quarterbacks the past two years. However, the Chiefs did show some ability in the area late in the preseason. Linebackers Tamba Hali, Demorrio Williams and Andy Studebaker must work to make Rivers uncomfortable.

Run it down their throats: Kansas City potentially has something special in the running game with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. They have the chance to wear teams down and really set the tone for a lot of Kansas City victories. The book on San Diego has been that they can be beaten in the running game. That’s how the Jets knocked them out of the playoffs last year. if the Chiefs have a chance to win this game, it will be because the running game dominates the game.

Reviewing the Chiefs vs. Eagles

August, 28, 2010
8/28/10
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Some thoughts from Kansas City’s 20-17 loss to Philadelphia on Friday night:

First, we must address the injuries. Rookie linebacker Cameron Sheffield was taken off the field on a stretcher after a helmet-to-helmet hit. The Chiefs just announced good news. He was released from the hospital Saturday with movement in all of his extremities.

Running back Jamaal Charles left the game in the second quarter with an arm injury. Saturday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Charles is fine.

Despite the injury scares, it was a productive night for the Chiefs. The most exciting aspect was the strong play from the defense. Kansas City has been searching for this type of effort all summer. The Chiefs had five sacks. That’s a tremendous boost for this unit. Linebackers Andy Studebaker and Demorrio Williams each had two sacks. Both Studebaker and Williams have earned major playing time once the regular season starts.

The offense was sloppy at times, but it was steady. The Chiefs turned a turnover into a touchdown on a 16-play, 63-yard drive. If the two units can play like this once the regular season starts, the Chiefs will have a chance to compete in every game.

Other strong points for the Chiefs included another impressive performance by the rookie class and the fact that the still-growing offensive line allowed just one sack.

With most of the key players expected to play small roles -- if they play at all -- in the preseason finale, the Chiefs should march toward their Sept. 13 opener against San Diego feeling pretty good.
We are continuing our AFC West position-by-position rankings with the linebackers. It’s a deep, interesting group:

1. Elvis Dumervil, Denver: Dumervil flourished last year in his first season as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. He led the NFL with 17 sacks. He is a premier player.

2. D.J. Williams, Denver: Williams is a very solid player. He is extremely steady.

3. Shawne Merriman, San Diego: Merriman hasn’t been the same since 2007 prior to his knee injury. Still, he is a fine player who could easily regain his pass-rush mojo in 2010.

4. Shaun Phillips, San Diego: Phillips is an active player who always seems to be around the ball.

5. Rolando McClain, Oakland: This is a high ranking for a rookie. But I expect the No. 8 overall pick in the draft to be an instant impact player.

6. Tamba Hali, Kansas City: Hali is a good player. He is one of the better defensive players on Kansas City’s roster.

7. Stephen Cooper, San Diego: Cooper is a tackling machine. He is a very instinctive player.

8. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City: Johnson was in coach Todd Haley's doghouse early last season. Still, he ended the season strong.

9. Brandon Siler, San Diego: This is a young player to watch. He showed very nice play-making ability last season.

10. Larry English, San Diego: English needs to make major strides in his second season. The No. 16 overall pick in last year’s draft was a bit of a disappointment.

11. Kamerion Wimbley, Oakland: Wimbley joins Oakland after a trade from Cleveland. He was an average player in Cleveland, but he does have some decent pass-rush skills.

12. Trevor Scott, Oakland: Scott is an interesting player. He is making the full-time move from defensive end to weakside linebacker as he attempts to replace Thomas Howard. If it takes, I can see him jumping up this list next year.

13. Mike Vrabel, Kansas City: Vrabel’s skills are slipping. But he is such a smart, strong leader that he belongs on this list.

14. Robert Ayers, Denver: Ayers had a very slow rookie season after being the No. 18 overall pick last year. He has to make strides in his second season.

15. Quentin Groves, Oakland: He will likely be a role player after coming over in a trade from Jacksonville.

16. Wesley Woodyard, Denver: Woodyard has to continue to get better but he has solid potential.

17. Andy Studebaker, Kansas City: It will be interesting to see how Studebaker develops. He has some good play-making ability.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune, a very solid resource for Vikings news, reports that a Sage Rosenfels trade to Oakland may be unlikely at this time. The National Football Post previously reported that Oakland and Vikings had preliminary talks about Rosenfels, who was the Vikings’ No. 3 quarterback last year.

From an Oakland perspective, I think the best way to read into this is that the Raiders are clearly trying to upgrade at quarterback as both Donovan McNabb’s and Rosenfels’ names have surfaced in trade talks. Neither of these players may end up in Oakland, but the Raiders are searching for quarterback help.

The Denver Post has an interesting look at the journey of coach Denver Josh McDaniels, who has proved to be a polarizing figure.

Exclusive rights free-agent linebacker Andy Studebaker has re-signed with the Chiefs. Studebaker is an interesting player. He made a big impact in a limited role last year. He could be a player who emerges as a consistent playmaker.

Pregame notes from San Diego

November, 29, 2009
11/29/09
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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman is active and he is expected to start against Kansas City. He didn’t practice all week with a foot injury.

Kansas City linebacker Mike Vrabel is inactive with a knee injury. He will be replaced by Andy Studebaker, who had two interceptions and a half sack in the Chiefs’ upset over Pittsburgh last week.

San Diego defensive lineman Luis Castillo is not active. He suffered a calf injury at Denver. Alfonso Boone will start in his place.

Brandon Siler will start ahead of Kevin Burnett at linebacker.

San Diego center Nick Hardwick is inactive for the 10th straight game with an ankle injury. He practiced in a limited basis last week.

New San Diego right tackle Jon Runyan is inactive. He probably won’t be ready to play until two weeks from now at Dallas.

Players to watch: Chiefs and Chargers

November, 26, 2009
11/26/09
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With Oakland and Denver playing Thursday, our player to watch feature this week will focus on the Chiefs and Chargers, who meet in San Diego on Sunday:

Kansas City linebacker Andy Studebaker: Studebaker became an instant fan favorite in Kansas City with a remarkable performance in his first start. Studebaker played an instrumental role in the Chiefs’ upset win over the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers. Subbing for the injured Mike Vrabel, Studebaker had two huge interceptions and a half sack. Expect him to get more chances to be a playmaker Sunday.

San Diego safety Steve Gregory: Gregory has been a major part of San Diego’s defense since he took over as the nickel defensive back. He has been effective in blitzes and has created havoc in every game he has had a big role in. Gregory recovered two key fumbles deep in San Diego territory in the first half at Denver. Watch for Gregory to make more big plays against the Chiefs.

Evening AFC West news and notes

November, 25, 2009
11/25/09
7:35
PM ET
Denver quarterback Kyle Orton (ankle) and safety Brian Dawkins (neck) are both probable to play Thursday against the visiting Giants. Both players practiced fully Wednesday.

Denver right tackle Ryan Harris is going to miss his fourth game with a toe injury. He could return next week at Kansas City. Denver has missed Harris while he has been out. The Giants will be missing two key players Thursday.

Oakland defensive end Richard Seymour is probable to play at Dallas on Thursday. He left Sunday’s win over Cincinnati in the first quarter with a lower back injury.

Kansas City linebacker Mike Vrabel was limited in practice due to a knee injury. He missed Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh. His replacement, Andy Studebaker, had two interceptions and a half sack that were all key in the upset. The Chiefs put defensive back Maurice Leggett on the injured reserve, ending his season.

Several San Diego players missed practice Wednesday. The Chargers routinely keep players who are banged up out of early-week practices. Among the players who didn’t practice Wednesday were defensive end Luis Castillo (calf), receiver Vincent Jackson (ribs), linebacker Shawne Merriman (foot) and linebacker Shaun Phillips (ankle). Center Nick Hardwick (ankle) was limited in practice, but he may try to play Sunday. He has been out since Week 1.

Jon Runyan won’t be a Charger for long. The right tackle, who signed with San Diego on Tuesday, will retire at the end of the year to pursue a political career.

The Bills’ pursuit of former Denver coach Mike Shanahan has taken the next step.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is sixth on NFC West blogger Mike Sando's MVP watch.

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