AFC West: Arizona Cardinals

Chargers bounce back well

August, 25, 2013
Random thoughts on the San Diego Chargers’ 24-7 win at Arizona on Saturday night:
  • The Chargers bounced back and played a strong game in the most important one of the preseason. San Diego was sloppy last week in Chicago. But Mike McCoy’s team showed nice improvement at Arizona.
  • Quarterback Philip Rivers’ numbers were not great. He was 10-of-18 passing for 71 yards and he was intercepted once. But the Chargers moved the ball well under Rivers’ guidance.
  • Running back Ryan Mathews continued his strong preseason as he had 57 yards on 14 carries. Mathews did fumble (the Chargers ended up scoring on the play) once. He needs to fix that part of his game.
  • San Diego’s offensive line appeared to be much improved from the Chicago game. Arizona had just one sack. That is a positive development. Rivers needs protection.
  • San Diego was strong defensively. Defensive end Dwight Freeney was very active. At 33, he has shown this preseason that he still has something left in the tank.
  • After being awful on special teams in the first two preseason games, San Diego was better Saturday. They blocked a punt and a field goal.
  • Second-year tight end Ladarius Green had a 57-yard catch. He continued to show he may be ready to be a contributor this season.
  • Second-year safety Brandon Taylor had five tackles and looked good. It was his first action since tearing his ACL late last season. The team has high hopes for him.
Three keys for the San Diego Chargers in their preseason game at Arizona on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 10 p.m. ET:

Clean up the slop: After looking pretty good in the preseason opener, San Diego was very sloppy at Chicago. They made countless mistakes on offense and looked far from being ready. With the starters playing much of the game, the Chargers must clean up their act.

Offensive line: One of the biggest issues for the slop was terrible offensive line play, especially in pass protection. Philip Rivers needs some time.

Special teams: San Diego’s special teams was putrid at Chicago. It was awful in every phase. This unit needs to get its act together.
The San Diego Chargers' signing of Richard Marshall on Friday was a move that smart teams make.

Sure, the Chargers have bigger needs at other positions, including receiver and offensive line. But this is an overall thin roster and they need help at cornerback, as well. When a solid player becomes available, he should be pursued. Kudos to new general manager Tom Telesco to secure Marshall, who was cut earlier this week by Miami.

He signed a one-year deal. Terms were not immediately available, but I am sure they are not detrimental to the team.

Marshall is not a defense-changing player, but he will help. Marshall, 28, could end up starting opposite free-agent pickup Derek Cox. Shareece Wright is slated to start, but he doesn’t have the experience Marshall, who is known for being a strong leader, has. At the least, Marshall should be the nickel cornerback. This addition lengthens the Chargers’ talent and depth at the position.

Marshall’s signing in San Diego is fairly natural. He played for San Diego head coach Mike McCoy and secondary coach Ron Milus in Carolina and San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona.
The first pick will be the last to sign in the AFC West.

The Denver Broncos announced they signed first-round pick, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams. He missed Thursday morning’s first practice, but he will be able to catch up quickly. Williams, the No. 28 overall pick in the draft, is expected to be an instant contributor for Denver.

With Williams secured, the lone remaining unsigned pick in the division is Kansas City offensive tackle Eric Fisher. He was the No. 1 pick in the draft. It is no surprise he is not signed.

However, there have been reports that finalizing the deal will not be difficult, and it should be done soon. The Chiefs’ rookies started practice Tuesday, but the first full-squad workout is Friday.

In other AFC West news:

San Diego linebacker Jonas Mouton was taken off the field at Thursday’s first practice with an injury. There is no immediate word on his status. Mouton is fighting for a roster spot,

Denver executive John Elway expressed his thoughts on the recent spate of trouble key members of the organization have gotten into. The team will stay in-house when it deals with the suspensions of front-office executives Matt Russell and Tom Heckert.

Pass-rusher John Abraham signed with Arizona. He has long been linked to Denver and Oakland, but nothing materialized.
While Oakland has expressed interested in free-agent offensive lineman Travelle Wharton, he is not going to visit at this point.

Oakland’s interest in the veteran makes sense because the team needs more experience at guard. But I get the sense Wharton is looking for more money than the Raiders are offering. Denver also has interest in Wharton, but finances are an issue as well.
Apparently, Jaws is not a big believer in the Raiders’ decision to trade for Matt Flynn. ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski has Flynn ranked No. 32 of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

Flynn was slightly more highly regarded a year ago. Last June, Jaworski ranked Flynn No. 27.

He went from Green Bay to Seattle to be a starter. But he lost the job to rookie Russell Wilson in the preseason.

This spring, Oakland traded for Flynn after Carson Palmer balked at a pay cut. Palmer was traded to Arizona after the Raiders picked up Flynn.

Flynn is 28 and he has started just two NFL games. His arm strength has been questioned. I don’t expect Flynn to light the NFL on fire. I do think the Raiders can get by with him for the short term and since he wasn’t overly expensive, it’s not a terribly risky venture.

If Jaworski is right and Flynn plays like the No. 32 starting quarterback in the NFL, then we may soon see rookie Tyler Wilson or Terrelle Pryor get a chance to breathe life into Oakland’s offense.

In other AFC West notes:

San Diego linebacker Manti Te’o talked about what he is learning at the NFL Rookie Symposium in this video.

The Raiders waived linebacker Mario Kurn. He was on injured reserve all of last year.
The glove talk in the AFC West is clearly not complete.

Late last season, it was all about Peyton Manning wearing a glove in the Denver cold. Now, the attention is turning to San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers wore a glove on his throwing hand late last season and he experienced success and he stopped turning the ball over. Now, Rivers says he may wear a glove early in the season.

It is it significant?

Well, it all comes down to whether Rivers is comfortable with it. If his 2012 results are any indication, it appears the glove is a good fit for Rivers, who has committed too many turnovers the past two years. His Chargers are 3-0 in games Rivers wore the glove. He threw seven touchdowns and was not intercepted. In the 13 glove-less games? The Chargers were 4-9, Rivers threw 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

So it’s no surprise Rivers is considering using the glove regardless of weather. CBS Sports points out Rivers’ new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt saw Kurt Warner bounce back from turnover troubles by wearing a glove in Arizona.

The glove love in the AFC West may just be starting.

In other AFC West notes:

Denver running back Willis McGahee, who is still recovering from a knee injury, is continuing to stay away from volunteer OTAs. He is expected back next week for the team’s mandatory minicamp. Because of his advance age and his health, there is no guarantee McGahee will be part of the mix in Denver this year. The team is expected to lean heavily on second-round pick Montee Ball in the ground game.

Former San Diego returner/receiver Micheal Spurlock signed with Detroit.

Condolences go out to the family of the great Deacon Jones, who died Monday night. Remembered as a Ram, the great sack master played for the Chargers in 1972-73.
Earlier Tuesday, we examined whether Charles Woodson would fit in the AFC West. We might be talking about the subject more.

ESPN’s Josina Anderson is reporting that the Denver Broncos will visit with the safety this week.

The interest makes sense. The Broncos could use help at safety, and Woodson would provide strong leadership. The future hall of famer is 36. Denver coach John Fox has long valued veterans. I wouldn’t be shocked if an accord is reached between Denver and Woodson.

Meanwhile, a Denver source said the Broncos are not interested in former Chicago middle linebacker Brian Urlacher at this time. There was a report out of Chicago on Tuesday that said the Broncos were talking to Urlacher.

In other AFC West notes:

The Cardinals are visiting with left tackle Max Starks. He visited with the Chargers last week and is considered the best left tackle on the market. The Chargers badly need a left tackle.

The Chiefs are visiting with defensive lineman Ryan McBean. He is a rotational player.

As expected, left tackle Branden Albert is working with the Chiefs for the first time this offseason. Th sides are trying to get a long-term deal done.

The Eagles will honor former quarterback Donovan McNabb on Sept. 19 when they host the Chiefs and former Eagles’ coach Andy Reid. Reid drafted McNabb in his first year in Philadelphia.
The Oakland Raiders are kicking the tires on a now-healthy Josh Cribbs, according to several reports.

The Cleveland free agent nearly signed a deal with Arizona early in free agency. But he wasn’t fully recovered from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee.

I was told that Cribbs had a “great visit” with Oakland, and the Raiders are one of four teams interested in Cribbs. The Raiders’ interest in Cribbs is not a surprise. The Raiders looked at Domenik Hixon earlier in free agency. Like Hixon, Cribbs is a return man and a receiver. Cribbs, who will turn 30 next month, has been a dynamic return man in his career, but he is aging. His highest season reception total came in 2011 when he had 41 catches.

If he signs with Oakland, Cribbs would be insurance for receiver/returner Jacoby Ford, who has been hampered by foot injuries.

In other AFC West notes:

USA Today is reporting the Kansas City Chiefs are considering Jeff Morrow of Carolina and Marvin Allen of the Falcons for their director of college scouting opening. The new regime is adding pieces to the scouting department.

Denver free-agent receiver Matthew Willis recently worked out for New England.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Cribbs is also going to visit the New York Jets.
For those Kansas City Chiefs fans who are still looking for a reason to bang on the Scott Pioli era, here is your chance.

Javier Arenas is a former Chief.

The new Kansas City regime -- Pioli was fired after four years in January -- sent Arenas to Arizona for fullback Anthony Sherman on Wednesday. Arenas will always be remembered in Kansas City for being the compensation the Chiefs received for tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is one of the most decorated players in Kansas City history. Arenas is a player who barely made an impact in three seasons in Kansas City. Pioli traded Gonzalez to Atlanta in 2009 for a second-round pick in 2010. Pioli took Arenas, a cornerback/returner out of Alabama, with the 50th overall pick in 2010.

Arenas had his moments but never became a huge part of the plan in Kansas City. The Chiefs have continued to upgrade at spots Arenas played and there was no chance he’d make the roster this year. If so, he wouldn’t have had a huge role. The Chiefs are set at cornerback with the free-agent additions of Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith. Along with Brandon Flowers, they are considered the NFL's best trio of cornerbacks.

With Arenas now expendable, the Chiefs used him as a piece to help their offense with the Sherman addition.
Andy Reid likes using the fullback. Bruce Arians doesn’t use it.

The importance? The Kansas City Chiefs just got a potentially valuable player.

It has been widely reported that the Chiefs have acquired fullback Anthony Sherman from Arizona on Wednesday morning. The trade terms have yet to be reported and the Chiefs have not confirmed the deal.

Sherman will fit in with Reid’s version of the West Coast offense. He will use the fullback in several sets. Sherman, a fifth-round pick out of Connecticut in 2011, becomes the most accomplished fullback on Kansas City’s roster. He had 243 snaps with the Cardinals last season.

He is considered a good player. He is tough and a strong blocker. He also can help on special teams. Don’t expect Sherman to be a offensive weapon, though. He has one career carry and 13 catches. He is in Kansas City to block and to bring toughness.

This is an important addition for Reid. The fullback is a dying breed, but Reid still uses it and Sherman has a lot to offer.

UPDATE: Cornerback Javier Arenas is reportedly being sent to Arizona in Sherman trade. I will have another post upcoming.
The San Diego Chargers did not address their top need in the NFL draft, so it makes sense that they ramp up their pursuit of free agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie.

CBS Sports reports that the Chargers have a visit with McKinnie, a starter on Super Bowl champion Baltimore. He is also visiting Miami.

As of now, King Dunlap would be the Chargers' left tackle, but he is not considered a solid NFL starter. But if the Chargers don’t sign McKinnie, they may have to use Dunlap as Philip Rivers’ blindside protector.

Miami’s interest in McKinnie doesn’t only impact San Diego. If the Dolphins sign McKinnie, it would officially end any chance of Miami trading for Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert.

Update: Perhaps the Chargers will show interest in Adam Synder, who was cut by the Cardinals. Synder is a solid backup at all five positions. He played for new San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt last year.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What’s the ideal first-round scenario for each team?


The Broncos are in a decent position sitting at No. 28. Yes, all of the elite players will be long gone. But the Broncos can get better at this spot. Denver doesn’t have many pressing needs, but it can surely upgrade at a few positions. Among the spots Denver could use some help at are on the defensive line, running back, cornerback and middle linebacker. This is a deep class on the defensive line and at cornerback, and the better running backs and inside linebackers may be available late in the first round. Denver would love to see these players available at No. 28: Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, Florida State pass-rushers Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant and Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden. I think, at least, one of these players will be available. Thus, Denver should get a player it covets.

Kansas City

Since the Chiefs will start the draft with the No. 1 pick, they dictate the show. But we’ve long talked about this being a bad year for the Chiefs to have the top pick. After a tremendous quarterback class last year, this year’s crop is devoid of top talent. The Chiefs could still find talent at the top of the draft, but they would prefer to trade out of the top spot to collect more picks and get out of paying the highest rookie contract. For that to happen, some team will have to come out of the woodwork. Thus far, there aren’t many indications there will be a market for the top pick. But if some team falls in love with a specific player, the Chiefs would accommodate them.


The Raiders are in a similar spot as the Chiefs -- they want to trade down. In fact, Oakland likely wants to deal the No. 3 pick more than the Chiefs want to get rid of the No. 1 pick. Oakland badly needs to stock its roster. Trading the No. 3 pick may be easier than dealing the No. 1 pick. The price will be less and teams may be intrigued by the way the first two picks fall. So, I could see Oakland getting a suitable trade offer while on the clock. Oakland would love to still get a top-15 pick to get a top defensive talent and recoup its second-round pick lost in the Carson Palmer debacle. Now, if the Raiders don’t make a trade, they will be in good shape at No. 3. The Raiders badly need defensive talent. Among the top defensive prospects are Oregon pass-rusher Dion Jordan, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. At least two of those players will be available at No. 3, so Oakland will be sitting pretty.

San Diego

This is pretty simple: The Chargers want to see Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson still on the board at No. 11. But it may be iffy. The Chargers have a lot of needs, but no need is greater than at left tackle. The Chargers do not have a blindside protector for quarterback Philip Rivers. That’s scary. But there is no sure thing San Diego will find its left tackle in the draft. Top prospects Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher will both be gone by the time the Chargers pick. Johnson has been a fast riser and there is a good chance he will be gone. Arizona at No. 7 is considered a strong landing spot for the super-athletic Johnson. The Chargers need quarterback Geno Smith to go in the top seven picks. If the Eagles take him at No. 4, it could push Fisher to No. 7 and Johnson to No. 11. If the Cardinals take Smith, Johnson could fall to the Chargers.
Let’s take a look at some possible targets of the San Diego Chargers, who have the No. 11 pick in the April 25-27 draft:


Why is he a top prospect? He is ultra-fast and a big-time playmaker. Great film and great workouts.

How would he help? He could give some much-needed life to San Diego's offense -- a nice fit for a group that needs a smallish-type receiver.

What are the risks? He is tiny at 5-foot-8, 173 pounds. Teams always worry whether little guys can make the transition to the rigorous NFL.

How he could be the choice: I think he’d be a backup plan. But Austin would fill a need, and San Diego could be tempted to add an explosive piece.


Why is he a top prospect? A player with few holes. Alabama guard Chance Warmack is one of the highest-rated guards to come into the NFL in years. Some scouts think Cooper is just as good.

How would he help? The Chargers have big needs on the offensive line. Cooper would be an instant starter.

What are the risks? Do you want to take a guard that high? Top guards are typically available later in the draft.

How he could be the choice: If the Chargers think he is better than Warmack or if Warmack is taken in the top 10, Cooper could be the pick if the left-tackle options are gone.


Why is he a top prospect? Huge target who has everything you look for in a tight end -- speed, hands and the ability to block.

How would he help? Antonio Gates is getting older and has long dealt with health issues. Eifert could help as an immediate weapon and as a long-term answer.

What are the risks? Taking a tight end at No. 11 might be a bit high.

How he could be the choice: Another backup option. Could be a target if the Chargers trade down.


Why is he a top prospect? He is a massive man at 6-4, 335 pounds. You need to buy a passport to complete the trip around him.

How would he help? He projects as a right tackle in the NFL. He’d start right away.

What are the risks? The Chargers need a left tackle and a guard more than a right tackle. Fluker might be too clunky for a unit that wants to get sleeker.

How he could be the choice: If the Chargers love him more than some other linemen, he could be the selection.


Why is he a top prospect? The former quarterback is super athletic, strong and fast. A sky-is-the-limit type.

How would he help? He would step in and be the Chargers’ left tackle.

What are the risks? There is real concern the Cardinals could take him at No. 7. Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are expected to be taken among the top five picks.

How he could be the choice: If Johnson is there, he very likely will be the choice.


Why is he a top prospect? Stellar anchor to a defensive line. He is versatile and productive.

How would he help? He would be a great nose tackle on what would be a great, young front three with ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes. A potentially awesome trio.

What are the risks? There were major health concerns when tests at the NFL combine in February showed Lotulelei had heart issues. He has been cleared; still, there would be worries in the back of some teams’ minds.

How he could be the choice: If Johnson is gone, I think the Chargers would have a hard time passing on this Star if he is on the board at No. 11.


Why is he a top prospect? Fast, polished, NFL-ready cover cornerback who has succeeded at the highest level.

How would he help? Milliner could step in and start along free-agent pickup Derek Cox, giving the Chargers a nice cornerback tandem.

What are the risks? He very well could be taken in the first six picks -- perhaps as high as No. 3 to Oakland.

How he could be the choice: If he is available, I think the Chargers will think long and hard about Milliner.


Why is he a top prospect? He is a freakish athlete who makes big plays. Top middle linebacker in the draft.

How would he help? He would be an inside linebacker in the 3-4 and be yet another excellent young front-seven player in San Diego.

What are the risks? He has a recent drunken driving arrest and other off-field concerns.

How he could be the choice: A backup plan. He could be intriguing if the Chargers drop back a few spots.


Why is he a top prospect? He can hit, run and cover.

How would he help? An Eric Weddle-Vaccaro safety tandem would be strong. It would give a nice identity to San Diego’s defense.

What are the risks? The 11th pick might be too high for a safety this year, considering it is a deep class.

How he could be the choice: Again, he might be an option if the Chargers slide back a few picks.


Why is he a top prospect? A classic guard who has a chance to be dominant.

How would he help? He’d be the Chargers' best offensive lineman.

What are the risks? He might be off the board.

How he could be the choice: I think the Chargers will go into draft day envisioning Warmack as a real possibility to wear a lightning bolt on his helmet.
Midweek mail call:

Logan Starks from Lincoln, Neb., wants to know if I think Alabama running back Eddie Lacy could be Denver’s choice with the No. 28 pick.

Bill Williamson: I think Lacy could certainly be a possibility. In fact, in my last mock draft, I have him tabbed to be Denver’s choice. But with Elvis Dumervil leaving, the Broncos will also be looking at pass-rushers. Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway is known for going for the best available player. But Lacy, I believe, will be in the conversation.

Antonio Spellman from San Diego wants to know if I think the Chargers will add another running back.

BW: I think they could draft a running back in the mid-rounds. Ryan Mathews is the starter, but he has yet to prove he can stay healthy. He needs help. The team signed Danny Woodhead and he will have a role on third down and in the red zone. Ronnie Brown was brought back as a backup. The team claimed Fozzy Whittaker off waivers from Arizona. New San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt coached Whittaker and he likes him. But I can still see them adding another tailback into the mix.

Md. Ellis from Council Bluffs, Iowa, wants to know what the Raiders should expect in terms of compensatory picks in 2014.

BW: Well, Raiders fans should hope not much. That would mean that the players who left in free agency fared better than the ones brought in. The comp pick formula is based on several things, including salary, performance and honors received by outgoing free agents weighed against the performance against incoming free agents. Yes, a lot of outgoing Oakland players got paid well this offseason opposed to several players who were signed by Oakland. But the incoming free agents will play a lot. So, if the Raiders get a slew of comp picks it will mean the incoming free-agent class didn’t fare that well.