AFC West: Blaine Gabbert

Justin Blackmon and Knowshon MorenoUSA TODAY SportsJustin Blackmon and the 0-5 Jaguars face Knowshon Moreno and the 5-0 Broncos.
Already, it has been the subject of the biggest point spread in decades as well as an exchange of tweets from each team's official Twitter handle that included a "stay classy Denver" missive from the Jaguars. But the league's highest-scoring team and the league's lowest-scoring team will meet Sunday when the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars get together at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

The Broncos are 5-0 and the Jaguars come in at 0-5 in Gus Bradley's first season as head coach. ESPN.com Jaguars team reporter Michael DiRocco and Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold break down this week's game.

Legwold: Michael, it's been a tough go thus far in the first season of the new regime. How have Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell handled it all? And have they grown weary of people saying they should sign Tim Tebow?

DiRocco: Bradley has been amazingly positive with the media and with the players. It's probably the best approach to take because he's got a young team and everyone knew this was going to be a rough season, anyway. It's the only way to keep the players committed to the plan he and Caldwell have in place to turn the franchise around. If he were to all of a sudden go negative, he'd risk losing the team. That doesn't mean he is not acknowledging problems and poor play, but he is trying to be upbeat in doing so. Caldwell has not been as visible, but when he spoke last week, he talked about remaining committed to the long-term rebuilding plan and not trying to find a quick fix. As for the Tebow question, it's a dead issue among Bradley and Caldwell. They're not going to sign him and they're able to ignore the Tebow fervor, which has died down a bit over the past two weeks.

In terms of the Broncos, they are averaging 46 points a game and just scored 51 in a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. They look unstoppable. But what, in your opinion, is their Achilles' heel on offense, and is there a defense out there that can exploit that?

Legwold: They lost All Pro left tackle Ryan Clady earlier this season, and his replacement, Chris Clark, had never started a game at left tackle in his career. Center Manny Ramirez never started an NFL game at the position until the regular-season opener after the Broncos moved him in as the starter in offseason workouts. Overall, the offensive line has played well so far -- Manning's been sacked just five times -- and there might be no player more adept at reading a defense's intentions in the rush and getting rid of the ball accordingly before trouble arrives than Manning. The trouble has come in the run game. The Broncos have had 53 carries this season for 2 or fewer yards because they haven't consistently won the line of scrimmage, even in mop-up situations late in games. So, for all the Broncos have done on offense this season -- and it has been remarkable -- it's still an unanswered question if they could win a slug-it-out affair on a bad-weather day or if Manning was just having a bad outing. But the other question is whether or not anybody could even get them into one of those games.

In terms of quarterback, what do you think the Jaguars' long-term plans are at the position, and if they get a top-three pick in next May's draft, would they pick one?

DiRocco: This season's top priority was finding out if Blaine Gabbert could be the player around which Caldwell and Bradley build the franchise. Instead of relying on preconceived notions, they gave him a clean slate when they arrived. So far, though, Gabbert has missed two games with a hand injury and isn't likely to play Sunday because of a hamstring strain. He hasn't been very good when he has been on the field, either: 44.8 percent completion rate, seven interceptions (three returned for TDs). By the end of the season, management will likely come to the conclusion that Gabbert isn't the answer and they'll have to draft a quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater seems to be the best quarterback available, but a lot can change between now and May. He'd be whom I would take, and the Jaguars might very well agree, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Jaguars traded down to get more picks because this team needs so much help elsewhere.

Speaking of long-term quarterback plans, what are the Broncos thinking there? Manning is approaching 40 and has the neck issue, so he's got only one or two more good seasons in him, right?

Legwold: When he signed with the Broncos in March of 2012, Manning wanted to construct a deal the Broncos could feel good about in terms of their ability to evaluate his physical status after his first season in Denver. At the time, Manning said he didn't want his deal to prevent the team from doing other things if it didn't work out. So, the two sides had it written into his contract that Manning would take a physical exam following his first season in Denver and if his surgically-repaired neck was cleared, it would then engage the next two years of the contract -- 2013 and 2014. Both of those seasons are now guaranteed, so those three years have always been the window people have operated in when discussing his time with the Broncos. However, that was before his assault on the record book this season. He looks stronger than ever. Manning does have two additional years on the deal -- 2015 and 2016 -- but those years are not guaranteed. Manning has always said he won't be a "hang-around" guy, and when he feels he can't compete at the level he wants to -- or no longer wants to go through the arduous preparation at the pace he currently keeps -- that would influence him as well. But on the field, many in the league are saying he's playing better than ever, and he says he still enjoys the day-to-day work it takes to reach that level.

Overall this season, can you tell folks about one or two Jaguars who offer some glimmers of hope for the future and who are performing well amid the team's struggles?

DiRocco: Offensively, it's receivers Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts. Blackmon has played only one game (he was suspended for the first four), but his impact on the offense was immediate -- three catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter against the St. Louis Rams. He's the team's best playmaker and had a fantastic rookie season in 2012 (64 catches, 865 yards, 5 TDs). Shorts (31 catches for 411 yards this season) is in his third season and is on pace for 100 catches. There are two rookies in the secondary who will be the backbone of the defense: safeties Josh Evans (sixth round) and Johnathan Cyprien (second). Cyprien has the size/toughness/coverage mix that's needed in the defensive scheme that Bradley brought over from Seattle. Evans was forced into the starting lineup by an injury to Dwight Lowery in the third game and hasn't missed a snap since. Both are learning on the go, but it's easy to see they're talented.

Jack Del Rio is facing his former team this week. Do you sense that this game means a lot to him because of the way his tenure ended, or is this just another game for him?

Legwold: Del Rio will deflect, and has previously, most any discussion about how his time with the Jaguars ended. So, people shouldn't expect too many public fireworks from him in that regard, but, privately, I'm sure he'd like to see the Broncos dominate. His players like him and they respect him, so they will also want to give him a quality effort in this one. Especially since they just surrendered 506 passing yards and five touchdowns to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo this past Sunday. They've got an awful lot to deal with, so I'm not sure Del Rio will publicly stroll down memory lane too much, but he's in a good spot with the Broncos as far as working day to day for a playoff contender. As far as being a head coach again, he's already been linked to the USC job -- he's publicly said "there's nothing to talk about there" -- and should the Broncos finish strong and play with a little more defensive edge when both Von Miller and Champ Bailey return, he could find himself in the NFL mix as well.

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Gud Bradley, Andy ReidAP PhotoGus Bradley and Andy Reid are looking to get off to fast starts with their new teams.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Fans know a lot about their favorite teams, but they don’t have the same depth of knowledge of the 31 other teams in the NFL. That’s not going to be a problem any longer.

Each week the NFL Nation writers will team up Q&A style to help you get a handle on each team. Today, Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Jacksonville Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco help break down Sunday’s matchup.

Michael DiRocco: Is Alex Smith really an upgrade over Matt Cassel?

Adam Teicher: He had better be or the Chiefs are in some trouble. Cassel and Brady Quinn turned over the ball far too many times last season. One thing we know about Smith is that he hasn’t thrown many interceptions. He threw just 10 in his last 25 starts with the 49ers. So he’s been a quarterback who protects the ball, and if he can just do that, he’s already an upgrade over Cassel and Quinn. Another thing: Andy Reid’s West Coast offense will succeed if the quarterback completes a high percentage of throws. Smith completed 70 percent last season. If he can get close to that number this season, he’s even more of an upgrade.

Teicher: How patient will the Jaguars be with Blaine Gabbert on Sunday and this season?

DiRocco: This is a make-or-break season for Gabbert, who must prove he’s capable of being a franchise quarterback. That’s the team’s No. 1 goal for the season, so there will be a certain amount of patience. It does no good to give him a half or one game and yank him because the team will essentially be where it was heading into the season. That being said, if Gabbert really struggles during the first two months of the season, then the team will have its answer and may turn to Chad Henne or the recently signed Ricky Stanzi for the remainder of the season.

DiRocco: What’s the biggest change Andy Reid has brought to Kansas City?

Teicher: It’s a change brought by Reid and John Dorsey, the new general manager. Everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction. The Chiefs went through plenty of infighting the past few years and it was dragging them down. People often had their own agendas or felt they had to align themselves with one person or another. Dorsey and Reid swept that out the door. Winning looks to be the only goal and it certainly appears everybody is on board with that. Of course, it’s easy for a new administration to have everybody on board when it’s undefeated. So it’s an issue to keep an eye on once the Chiefs start losing some games.

Teicher: What are the biggest changes Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell have brought to the Jags?

DiRocco: On the field, it’s on defense, where Bradley is implementing a more aggressive attitude and trying to rebuild the secondary with bigger, more physical cornerbacks -- essentially what he did in Seattle. Off the field, Bradley and Caldwell have changed the culture in the locker room. There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm around the franchise even though everyone knows that the talent level needs a significant upgrade and the team likely isn’t going to reach .500. It was a much-needed boost, because the atmosphere around the team the past few seasons under Jack Del Rio and Mike Mularkey had become somewhat stale.

DiRocco: Some NFL experts have pegged the Chiefs as a playoff team just one season after finishing 2-14. What are a few things that have to happen for that to become a reality?

Teicher: They have many good players, but from the GM to the coach to the coordinators to the offensive and defensive system to the quarterback to 29 other players who didn’t play for the Chiefs last season, there’s a lot new here. How quickly Reid and his staff can pull everything together will be a key. The Chiefs have a favorable schedule the first half of the season and they need to take advantage because it gets more difficult after that. On the field, the Chiefs have to fix a turnover differential that was minus-24 last season. Their defense and special teams have to do a better job of providing better field position for the offense. This offense won’t make a lot of big plays, and if it has to go 80 yards on every possession, it will be a struggle.

Teicher: What are realistic expectations for the Jags this season in terms of number of wins?

DiRocco: I kind of let that slip in my earlier answer, but a six-win season would be the best-case scenario for the Jaguars. Four or five victories seems more likely, though, especially considering the team has back-to-back road games on the West Coast, plays San Francisco in London, and has to play at Denver, Indianapolis and Houston.

Moving on: Oakland Raiders

October, 22, 2012
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Here are some areas the Oakland Raiders need to focus on after a 26-23 overtime win over visiting Jacksonville on Sunday:

Recap: The Raiders came back from a 20-6 deficit in the second half to win in overtime. They didn’t play one of their better games against a one-win team that was playing without running back Maurice Jones-Drew and quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Still, Oakland hung in there and finished the win.

Biggest area to fix: Overall sloppiness. The Raiders just weren’t sharp for most of the game, especially on offense. It is still a work in progress. But at least the Raiders know they can successfully work through the kinks.

Biggest area to build on: Finishing. Winning is everything and winning a game like this is impressive. It will give Oakland confidence moving forward. Last week the Raiders were much more impressive in a loss at Atlanta. But it doesn’t matter. Wins are what counts, not style points.

What to watch for: The Raiders are looking for their second straight win Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium when they face the 1-5 Chiefs.

Raiders win without their best

October, 21, 2012
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Don’t get the Oakland Raiders wrong.

They are thrilled to get their first win since Week 3 and they are tickled to be 2-4 and a game out of first place in the AFC West. However, Oakland knows it needs to improve if it is going to make any noise this season.

The Raiders were sloppy at times and they fell behind Jacksonville 20-6 in the second half. The Jaguars were playing without quarterback Blaine Gabbert and running back Maurice Jones-Drew for much of the game. Gabbert’s backup, Chad Henne, was awful.

Still, the Raiders needed overtime to beat the Jaguars, 26-23.

When asked if he was pleased with the way his team played. Oakland coach Dennis Allen said, “absolutely not.”

Oakland was much better in a 23-20 loss at Atlanta last week.

“It’s funny, we played well last week and lost,” Oakland defensive back Michael Huff said. “This week, we didn’t play so well and we won.”

Several other Oakland players echoed that sentiment.

Still, a win is a win and Oakland shouldn’t feel bad about it. With Kansas City and Tampa Bay looming, the Raiders have a legitimate chance to be 4-4 at the halfway mark.

Here are some other thoughts from the game:
  • Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer was under constant pressure, but he stood strong in the pocket and took it. He’s a tough guy and he hung tough.
  • Oakland running back Darren McFadden had his moments, but still has yet to breakout. He had 53 yards on 19 carries.
  • Impressive game by Oakland defensive linemen Lamarr Houston, Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. They came alive Sunday when it mattered. I also liked what I saw from linebackers Philip Wheeler and Miles Burris. Nice players.
  • The Raiders went for the win and an NFL record when Sebastian Janikowski tried a 64-yarder at the end of regulation. It was very short.
  • The Raiders aren’t perfect, but the Jaguars are awful. Their stupid penalties and poor coaching decisions gave the game away.
  • Rookie wide receiver Rod Streater has been pretty quiet in the regular season, but he made a huge catch in the fourth quarter. He will be a good one.
  • Oakland needs to reinforce discipline. It had nine penalties Sunday and has been called on 21 in the past two games after playing very clean in the first quarter of the season.

OAKLAND -- A look at an ugly one in overtime:

What it means: The Raiders came back from a 14-point deficit to win in overtime to improve to 2-4. This game wasn’t pretty and the Raiders had their problems, but they came back and beat Jacksonville. Credit to Oakland for not folding when it was down by two touchdowns. The Raiders trail first-place Denver and San Diego, both 3-3, by one game in the division and they play two struggling teams, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, in the next two weeks. Maybe this win will spark Oakland.

Jaguars short-handed: The Raiders were quite fortunate. Jacksonville played without quarterback Blaine Gabbert and running back Maurice Jones-Drew for much of the game. Jacksonville could muster very little offense in the second half. Gabbert’s replacement, Chad Henne, was, in a word, awful.

Questionable coaching: Both Oakland coach Dennis Allen and Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey made several questionable calls. Allen burned his timeouts early in the second half. Mularkey went for it on fourth down late in the second quarter when he should have punted; Oakland turned it into three points. Also, with less than seven minutes to go in the game, Mularkey called three straight passing plays even though Henne was struggling mightily. All three passes were incomplete. He needs to burns the clock by running. The Jaguars made several crucial penalties in the fourth quarter. Mularkey inexplicably called timeout in the final seconds when the Raiders were trying to run out the clock and go to overtime.

What’s next: Oakland goes to Kansas City next Sunday to face the 1-5 Chiefs.

Short-handed Jags spanking Raiders

October, 21, 2012
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OAKLAND -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are without their best player and their quarterback -- and they are thumping the Oakland Raiders.

The Jaguars are beating Oakland 17-3 with less than six minutes to go in the second quarter. They are playing without running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) and quarterback Gabbert (shoulder). Both players were hurt Sunday and they are both questionable to return.

Chad Henne has replaced Gabbert.

The Jaguars have capitalized on two Oakland turnovers in its own territory. Jacksonville just recovered an onsides kick after a 50-yard field goal and have possesion.
As the Denver Broncos continues to wait for Peyton Manning to decide if he will sign with the team, they may have seen the door close on a potential trade partner for Tim Tebow.

The Jacksonville Jaguars signed former Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne to back up 2010 No. 10 overall pick Blaine Gabbert. Tebow is from Jacksonville and the team’s new owner, Shahid Khan, has said he would have drafted Tebow in 2010 had he owned the team.

The Jaguars may not have any room for Tebow now. It would be surprise if there was much interest in him on the trade market elsewhere around the league. If Manning does sign, Tebow may have to be kept to season behind Manning.

In other AFC West news:

Oakland linebacker Kamerion Wimbley has yet to hear from the Raiders. More than $17 million in salary and bonuses will kick in by the weekend if the Raiders don’t cut or restructure the deal. Odds are Wimbley will be cut, because there has been no communication. Wimbley is open to doing a new deal, but is not taking a pay cut.

Maybe the Raiders are resigned to keeping the strong pass-rusher, since they won’t get better by cutting him. Again, the odds are Wimbley will be cut, but Oakland’s silence makes one wonder what its plans are.

The agent for former Oakland guard Robert Gallery said the Seahawks will cut him. San Diego could be a possible destination if the Chargers want a veteran left guard and he conceivably could go back to Oakland if the Raiders want to move Stefen Wisniewski to center. Both teams could do a lot worse.

Mailbag: Tim Tebow to Jaguars?

March, 11, 2012
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Weekend mail call:

James from Colorado wants to know what quarterbacks could replace Tim Tebow as the Broncos’ starting quarterback without fan scrutiny.

Bill Williamson: Of the quarterback available this year, I think it is small group. I think there’s Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III and that’s it. Luck and Griffin are out of the picture. Yet, the Broncos are trying aggressively to make Manning Tebow's successor. I think would be accepted, even by Tebow’s most ardent supporters. They would have to understand. Any other of the available quarterbacks would likely invoke some sort of backlash.

James from Azusa, Calif., wants to know if the Raiders could sign a backup quarterback.

BW: Kyle Boller was connected to former coach Hue Jackson. I think the Raiders will look to move on. There is a chance Terrelle Pryor could become the No. 2 quarterback. Still, I would expect a veteran to come in to produce competition for Pryor. There are several backups available. If new Oakland coach Dennis Allen liked what he saw of Brady Quinn in practice when both were in Denver last year, the Raiders could be interested.

Tyler from Denver wants to know if there is any way Jacksonville would trade the No. 7 pick to the Broncos for Tebow.

BW: New Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan has said he would have drafted Tebow, who is from Jacksonville. Tebow would surely sell tickets and he would be a shot in the arm for the struggling franchise. But the Jaguars just drafted Blaine Gabbert with the No. 10 pick last season. If would be very surprising to see the Jaguars give up the No. 7 pick for Tebow. If they were interested, I’m sure it is something the Broncos would be willing to do, especially if they land Manning.

New Jags owner is a Tebow fan

February, 2, 2012
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New Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan caused a stir when he said he would have drafted Tim Tebow in 2010.

Khan later clarified that he wouldn’t have taken Tebow -- who is from Jacksonville -- with the No. 10 spot, but in a trade down. Denver took Tebow with the No. 25 pick.

Khan said it would have been a natural fit for Tebow to play in his hometown. One has to wonder if he will ever try to bring Tebow to Jacksonville. It is now in his power.

The Broncos said Tebow is their starter going into training camp. But if Khan really wanted Tebow, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Broncos were willing to listen. It would be difficult for the Jaguars to make any deal for a quarterback now since they took Blaine Gabbert in the first round last year. Gabbert was not good as a rookie, but the Jaguars have a lot tied into him.

Still, because of Khan’s words, we all know how much he’d like to see Tebow in a Jaguars’ uniform.

If you want a QB, take him now

April, 29, 2011
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If the Oakland Raiders or Denver Broncos want one of the top-rated quarterbacks, they may want to move quickly.

Auburn’s Cam Newton (No. 1, Carolina), Washington’s Jake Locker (No. 8, Tennessee), Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert (No. 10, Jacksonville) and Florida State’s Christian Ponder (No. 12, Minnesota) all went in the first round.

Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, TCU’s Andy Dalton and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick should all go in the second round. The Raiders and Broncos (although I don’t expect it), could take one of these players. The Broncos have visited with all three. Denver has the No. 36 and No. 46 picks in the second round. Oakland has the No. 48 pick.

Buffalo (No. 34), Cincinnati (No. 35), Arizona (No. 38), Washington (No. 41) and San Francisco (No. 45) could all take a quarterback.

Here’s a name to consider in the third-through-fifth rounds: Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi. Denver and Kansas City are among the teams that like him.

AFC West mailbag

April, 23, 2011
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Weekend mail call:

Daniel from Bremerton, Wash., wants to know if the Chargers draft a pass-rushing linebacker, does that mean they are giving up on 2009 No. 1 pick Larry English?

Bill Williamson: It wouldn’t be a complete signal that the team is giving up on English. But it would certainly put English on notice. English has been hampered by injuries and has done little in two NFL seasons. Had English (the No. 16 overall pick in 2009) been productive in his first two NFL seasons, the Chargers likely would look elsewhere in the first round. English’s early inability to make an impact has forced the Chargers to look for more pass-rush help. If he doesn’t develop quickly, English could be on the outside looking in in San Diego.

Brian Piazzi from Chicago wants to know what the odds are of Arizona moving up from No. 5 to No. 2 to take a quarterback.

BW: Denver would love to move down to the No. 5-8 range and take a defensive player and pick up other premium picks. The only way this happens is if the Panthers take a quarterback at No. 1 and the Cardinals think they must move get past Buffalo at No. 3 to ensure they get someone like Blaine Gabbert. It’s feasible, but the only question will Arizona be willing to give Denver a huge package to move up three spots?

Robbie from Santa Barbara wants to know if I think 2010 Oakland fourth-round pick Bruce Campbell will live up to his potential.

BW: I think the guard will get the opportunity to prove himself this year. Oakland will have at least one opening at guard; the athletic Campbell will get a chance. He is still a project, but the team is excited about his long-term chances.
In a conference call with Denver Broncos' season-ticket holders, team executive John Elway was asked which quarterback prospect in the upcoming draft reminds him most of himself.

Good question, season-ticket holder.

The legendary quarterback’s answer? Washington quarterback Jake Locker.

“Jake Locker, if you talk about height, weight and speed, he’s probably the closest to me,” Elway said. “We’re the same height, he’s faster, probably, and heavier than I was, but when you think about play style, Jake Locker is probably the closest even though [Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick] are all very mobile themselves, too.”

Elway and the Broncos have looked at all of the top quarterback prospects. There is a school of thought Denver could draft a quarterback in the second round. Locker will likely be taken late in the first round or early in the second.

While Elway gave Locker a huge compliment, Denver coach John Fox compared LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson to a Hall of Famer he coached: Rod Woodson, who is now an assistant in Oakland.

"I'll be honest with you, I had Rod Woodson, Gil Byrd, I've had some pretty good guys. I've never seen anything like [Peterson], with that size, that speed,” Fox told the Denver Post. “I don't think there's been a 219-pound guy run a 4.3. He's a special talent. That's the way the game (has) changed, he's about the same height as Rod, but 219 pounds and ran 4.3.”

Peterson could be a top-five pick; Denver could take him, especially if the team slides down a few spots from No. 2.

In other AFC West-related nuggets on Friday afternoon:

The San Diego Union-Tribune looks at the defensive ends the Chargers could consider with the No. 18 pick.

A Bay Area columnist thinks new Oakland coach Hue Jackson is consumed by kissing up to Oakland owner Al Davis. Tom Cable publicly did the same thing. It didn’t work for him. My advice to Jackson: Just Win, Baby.

The Kansas City Star looks at the Chiefs’ need for a No. 2 receiver.

Jon Gruden breaks down draft

April, 19, 2011
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ESPN analyst Jon Gruden conducted a lively conference call with media members Tuesday to address the upcoming draft.

Several of the topics Gruden broached involve the AFC West and this draft. Among the topics he addressed were the quarterbacks in the draft (each team in the division could take a quarterback), the top pass-rushers available and the defensive tackles Denver may choose from at No. 2.

Let’s take a look:

Was there one guy you sat down going into the QB camp that you came away really impressed by or you may not have thought as much of until you sat down with him and broke down the film with him?

GRUDEN: You know these five guys that we had in, three of them are juniors: (Cam) Newton, (Blaine) Gabbert and (Ryan) Mallett. They're all underclassmen. Cam Newton with 14 career starts, the thing that impressed me, not only his physical attributes and his size, but his charisma. I think his eagerness to learn and prove that he can adapt to a pro style on offense. He showed very good retention to me in the meetings and the material that we covered. I just like the look in his eyes, the eagerness and feeling that he has a lot to prove to everybody including himself. I think Newton impressed me the most in that regard.

When you look at Andy Dalton, you see him evolving into what long term? Is he best for a West Coast offense, or could you see him becoming a starter in any style of offense?


GRUDEN: I think Andy Dalton can play in any offense. I think when you become a pro quarterback and play in the National Football League, as the hash marks change, the field becomes more available. When you're on a college hash mark and you're throwing the ball to the wide side of the field, that's almost an impossible task for anyone. So I think putting the ball in the middle of the field favors Andy Dalton. I've seen him be an accurate passer down the field. I've seen him manage a high volume offense with great success at TCU. He's got four years of production. And if you look at Texas Christian football, who would have thought they'd be 13-0 and Rose Bowl champions? I really think Andy Dalton can fit any offense. But the more you put on him above the neck mentally to make decisions and play the game with his heady nature, I think the better Andy Dalton's going to be. He's an outstanding, well versed quarterback that I think will fit a lot of schemes.

Wanted your take on Colin Kaepernick of Nevada, and whether it's harder to project him because he's playing in the pistol and against WAC competition?

GRUDEN: Well, the pistol does make it tough, but you can't deny production. No one's thrown for 10,000 yards and rushed for over 4,000. I wanted to see Randall Cunningham when I picked up the film. This guy's got a fastball and he can really throw it. He's a Chicago Cub draft selection. I mean, he threw the football 60 miles an hour in Indianapolis. But the pistol offense is hard to really define what kind of pure passer he is. I watched him in the Senior Bowl, the workouts. I think he showed some improvement going underneath the center. But I do think you're getting a double threat. You're getting a guy that has a contagious, charismatic personality -- a guy that really wants to compete. You're getting an exciting prospect. Might take him some time, but you're getting a guy that can run and pass, just needs some development and needs to make the transition to the next level.

[+] EnlargeJon Gruden
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesESPN analyst and former Bucs coach Jon Gruden was impressed with Cam Newton's retention skills.
Talk a little bit about premium placed on pass-rushers and cornerbacks. Every year it seems more and more, and how does that match up with the strength of this particular draft?

GRUDEN: There is a premium on pass rush. You don't want to have to blitz five, six, seven guys to get there. You want to be able to get there with four, if you can for sure, and use seven men in coverage. Play two deep, five under, three deep, four under. Mix your coverages up. Don't telegraph to these quarterbacks what you're playing, but you have to put pressure on these quarterbacks. Defensive ends are a premium in this draft. I think this is an outstanding class of defensive end. There are some good defensive tackles. But Bowers, providing his knee is healthy, and Robert Quinn at North Carolina, Aldon Smith is special at Missouri. I think J.J. Watt is a physical guy coming off the edge, like Ryan Kerrigan at Purdue. Adrian Clayborn has some excellent tape. There are a number of good pass rushers in this draft. I think if you look at Nick Fairley, you're seeing one of the best inside pass rushers from a tackle position. So this is the strength of the draft. You throw in guys like Von Miller, who is a Derrick Thomas size speed guy coming off the corner. There are some guys that can provide pressure quickly, and I think that is the strength of this draft.

Cam Newton is visiting the Broncos today, and of course they have Tim Tebow. You had them both in your camp in the last two years. Is it true that Cam is superior with the throwing mechanics and a better athlete because he's faster, but Tebow is far better in the intangibles? That's what I'm getting as everyone talks about these guys.

GRUDEN: Well, Tebow's body of work was much more extensive than Cam's. Cam Newton has come from nowhere. I was watching film with Cam Newton. I showed Cam Newton throwing a pass for the Florida Gators against the Hawaii Rainbows two years ago. Cam Newton has exploded on to the scene out of nowhere and threw in 14 games. Whereas, Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner [as a sophomore], came back for his senior year, and part of two national championship teams. They're different guys. One's a left handed guy with different mechanics. And Newton is a work in progress in his own right. But they are similar from the standpoint that they both physically dominated college football. I think there are some interesting intangibles with Newton also. You're getting a guy that you can build a very unique offense around. I hear the elevator music. I don't know what is reality. I just got to spend a day and a half with Cam. I was impressed with him. I know people that have had him in for individual meetings. They like his retention. They like his attention to detail. There are some similarities in that they're physical status type guys. I'd like to have either one of them.

On D tackle, Marcell Dareus seems to be rated higher than Nick Fairley coming into this draft, and Fairley's getting this criticism on work ethic and technique. But production wise, Fairley about doubled Dareus this past year. Your thoughts on those two guys?

GRUDEN: Well, Dareus, if you watch Darius play two years ago, his film is even better than it was this year. He got hurt in the Arkansas game. That ankle lingered throughout the season. He missed the opening game because of a rules violation. But I think Dareus is a different player than Fairley. Dareus is a three position player in a 3-4 front. He can play nose, either defensive end. He is legitimate, sheer power. This is a power player. He is rare. You've seen the physical nature this guy's put together with a rare combination of explosive physical play, and a guy that's well versed under Nick Saban. Fairley is an under tackle. He's the guy that reminds me of Kevin Williams of the Minnesota Vikings. He's a one gap penetrator and a premier pass rusher in his draft, if you ask me. A lot of the sacks and hits he put on quarterback were not by accident. He, again, has one year of production, really. I think he's on the rise. I think he's getting better. I think Coach Rocker at Auburn did an excellent job with Fairley developing him.

Christian Ponder at Florida State, have you gotten to spend much time with him? Have you broken down his film? What do you think of him as a quarterback and as a person?

GRUDEN: I have not had a chance to individually work Christian Ponder out. I have had a chance to study his tape. Here's a guy that is a three-year starter. He's won 22 games at Florida State, Senior Bowl MVP. He's already graduated. There are a lot of upsides here. He's had some injuries, which are the big concern. He's a great leader. Two-time team captain of the Seminoles. Two years ago he threw for almost 70 percent. I think the injuries got to him a little bit this year. But you see a couple tremendous throws in the Florida game. One, a red zone post where you see the anticipation, the accuracy, the toughness in the pocket. There are a lot of guys I know that that like this guy because he's got the aptitude to learn. He's got the leadership traits that you want, and he's got a lot of playing experience. And Jimbo Fisher does some good things on offense. But I think he's an accurate, intermediate passer. People want to see him push the ball maybe a little more down the field. Like to see a little more arm strength. But I think those things will develop and come to Ponder when he gets healthy and continues to physically get stronger. He's a very good collegian. He's got good enough size, good enough mobility, and he's won a lot of games and shown tremendous toughness for the Seminoles.
The New York Times is reporting that the city of Oakland could save money if the lockout cancels the NFL season. This is a unique situation because of a one-sided lease the Raiders have with the city.

“Because it costs us so much to put on the games, this is not going to be much of a loss for us,” said Deena McClain, interim director of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, which owns the Raiders’ home stadium. “It’s probably a net gain.”

The Raiders reportedly pay $525,000 a year in rent, which is extremely low. The Raiders are reportedly not in charge of all stadium maintenance and game-day operating costs, either. The team has a great deal. But it does put a strain on the city, which like many California cities, is not in great financial shape.

Still, as this article points out, a lost season could help with stadium costs, but the city would lose money generated from fans who travel to the city for home games.

In other AFC West nuggets Tuesday afternoon:

The Kansas City Star rewinds the Chiefs’ 2009 draft.

Denver owner Pat Bowlen and Kansas City linebacker Mike Vrabel are attending Tuesday’s mediation session in Minnesota.

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is scheduled to visit Denver Tuesday and Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert is expected to visit Denver on Wednesday. These visits have long been planned. Still, it would be an upset if Denver uses the No. 2 pick on a quarterback.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper looks at the overrated and underrated players in the draft.
With the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders all working out quarterbacks prior to the draft, there is a strong possibility a quarterback could be drafted into the AFC West.

San Diego could also draft a quarterback at some point as insurance if No. 2 quarterback Billy Volek leaves during free agency.

Please pick a quarterback prospect that you would most like to see end up in the division. Your choices are TCU’s Andy Dalton, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, Washington’s Jake Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and Florida State’s Christian Ponder.

All of those prospects could be gone by the end of the second round. We didn’t include the two top quarterback prospects – Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert – because we don’t see an AFC West team making the commitment it would take to land either player.

Fill up the comment section below with the reason why you’re voting the way you did.

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