AFC West: Bobby Turner

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Mike Shanahan brings his Washington Redskins offense to Denver Sunday, the folks in the seats at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will certainly see a little of the league's new-age style with Robert Griffin III at quarterback.

But many will see what they’ve seen so many times before, with so many 100-yard games from so many backs, a pile of dominating wins and Mile High salutes. They will see a late-round draft pick -- Alfred Morris, Redskins’ sixth-rounder in 2012 -- working behind an offensive line with five players drilled to move as one, to fire out, all in one direction, to sweep defenders away like a windshield wiper.

They will see, once again, Mike Shanahan’s zone run game. And in an increasingly pass-happy world, Shanahan still believes there is a place for a run game.

[+] EnlargeAlfred Morris
Win McNamee/Getty ImagesIt should surprise no one the Redskins have had success with late-round pick Alfred Morris.
“No. 1, you need great players,’’ Shanahan said. “You’ve got to have everybody that buys in … you’ve got to have some very unselfish wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, quarterbacks.’’

And how the Broncos, who have faced just one team that has run it more than they passed it this season, handle that will have a lot to do with how Sunday goes. They do have some inside information, however, on Shanahan's staples.

Alex Gibbs, who carries the title of Broncos offensive consultant, was a long-time Shanahan assistant in Denver, including the two Super Bowl wins during Shanahan’s tenure. Also, the quarterback behind center for those teams -- John Elway -- runs the Broncos’ football operations, so when the Redskins move from the read-option to the traditional zone run game, the Broncos will know what’s coming.

But knowing what’s coming and stopping it has always been the riddle of Shanahan’s run game. Gibbs, Shanahan and Redskins running backs coach Bobby Turner have been at the heart of it all since Shanahan was hired by Pat Bowlen in Denver in 1995.

And Turner has certainly been the under-the-radar guy of the triumvirate. The late Mike Heimerdinger, also a long-time Broncos assistant and Shanahan’s former college roommate at Eastern Illinois, routinely joked before every draft “if Bobby likes a running back then I like him a lot, too.’’

They never felt the need to like that running back in the first round. Since the start of the 1995 season the Broncos have had 18 different running backs rush for at least 100 yards in a game, 14 of those backs played for Shanahan in Denver. And none of the 14 who played for Shanahan was a first-round pick. The closest were Clinton Portis, who was a second-round selection in the 2002 draft, and Tatum Bell, a second-rounder in 2004.

But Terrell Davis was a sixth-round pick (’95), Mike Anderson was a sixth-round pick (’00), Olandis Gary was a fourth-round pick (’99), Quentin Griffin was a fourth-round pick (’03), Peyton Hillis was a seventh-round pick (’08) while both Mike Bell and Selvin Young were signed as undrafted rookies in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Toss in Reuben Droughns, who was signed as a fullback after he had been released by the Lions, and it should shock that the Redskins took Morris on the draft’s third day and he went on to roll up 1,613 rushing yards last season.

“You know what you’re getting there,’’ Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has said. “It’s all discipline, one-cut running backs who don’t waste steps and they’re coaching it the same way and finding the right guys. That's hard to stop when everybody sticks to what they're supposed to do. We know what it looks like -- we used to see it every day.’’

Morris is another classic find. He showed up to the Senior Bowl in January of 2012, where the Redskins staff was coaching, as a late addition. He was almost sent home because the Washington coaches had wanted a fullback, not another running back, but Morris volunteered on the spot to play fullback. He did not get a carry in the game, but Shanahan said the coaches had seen enough to keep his name handy on the draft weekend.

Morris is currently ninth in the NFL in rushing with 472 yards, but he leads the league’s running backs at 5.2 yards per carry. Washington also figures to be the sternest test of the season for the Broncos' base defense after the Colts rode a far more balanced attack than most opponents have offered to a 39-33 win this past Sunday night.

With the Broncos having sported big leads early in most games, opposing offenses have collectively ditched the run. The Ravens threw the ball 41 more times than they ran it, the Giants 30 more times, Jacksonville 15 more times and Dallas 22 more times without a rushing attempt in the fourth quarter. In the Broncos’ only loss, the Colts had seven more passes than runs.

The Eagles, who rushed for 166 yards in a Week 4 loss to the Broncos, ran it four more times than they threw it in the game.

The Broncos expect the Redskins, who threw it 70.9 percent of the time in their 0-3 start, to operate more as they have over the past two weeks -- Washington is 2-1 in those games. Over their past three games the Redskins have run the ball on 52 percent of their offensive snaps.

“Their last couple of weeks -- well over 400 yards of total offense, over 200 yards rushing -- 45 points last week in the win, they’re obviously better,’’ Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "It looks like [Griffin] is getting healthier as the year goes on.''

“If you can run the football and the defense has to respect it, I think it gives you a big advantage once you get to the playoffs to have a chance to win,’’ Shanahan said. “ … The defense can usually take a way a one-dimensional team, but when you can do both, it really puts a lot of pressure on a defense.’’

Around the AFC West

January, 22, 2010
Catching up on some news and notes in the division:


The Broncos have added to their coaching staff.

My take: The names Josh McDaniels has added to his staff don’t stack up to the men they are replacing -- longtime Denver assistants Rick Dennison and Bobby Turner -- however, the most important thing here is McDaniels is continuing to build his own program. While Dennison and Turner have skins on the wall, they were part of Mike Shanahan’s staff. It’s time for McDaniels to have his own influence on his staff. This is a good development in Denver.


The Oakland Tribune has an update on the Tom Cable situation.

My take: The Hue Jackson talks are interesting. I would not be surprised at all if Jackson -- who is known for helping young quarterbacks -- is hired as offensive coordinator and he ends up calling the plays on a staff led by Cable. A Cable-Jackson combination could be a good solution in Oakland. Cable would be kept, which would help continuity, and Jackson would give quarterback JaMarcus Russell a chance to improve.

San Diego

The San Diego Union Tribune pokes holes into the rampant talk that the Chargers lost to the Jets because too many players were partying Friday night.

My take: I agree with this column. The Chargers lost because of mistakes made on the field against the Jets not because a handful of players may or may not have been hanging out 36 hours prior to the game.

Evening AFC West notes

January, 20, 2010
Catching up on a few odds and ends in the AFC West on a Wednesday night:
  • The Denver Post is reporting former Buffalo running backs coach Eric Studesville has been offered the same job with the Broncos. He’d replace Bobby Turner who reunited with Mike Shanahan in Washington last week. Turner and Shanahan worked in Denver for 14 years.
  • The agent for Marc Trestman denied that his client has talked to the Raiders about their unopen job.

Late AFC West news and notes

January, 18, 2010
Wrapping up a wild day (and evening) in the AFC West:

For those San Diego fans who are looking for a consolation prize, here’s one: Chargers coach Norv Turner will guide the AFC team in the Pro Bowl.

Turner was selected as the coach because the Chargers were the highest seed in the AFC divisional playoffs to lose. The Chargers were the No. 2 seed and they lost to the Jets on Sunday. The NFC will be coached by Dallas coach Wade Phillips. The Cowboys were the No. 3 seed.

In previous years, the coach who lost in the conference title game coached in the Pro Bowl. But this year, the game is being played before the Super Bowl, so an adjustment was needed.

In other AFC West news:

  • The Chargers will draft at No. 28 in the first round.
  • The Denver Post is reporting the Broncos will interview Buffalo running backs coach Eric Studesville for the same position. The Broncos have an opening because longtime position coach Bobby Turner went to Washington to reunite with Mike Shanahan. The pair worked 14 years together in Denver.
  • San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson had some legal issues Sunday morning before the Chargers’ loss to the Jets. Turner had this to say about the situation Monday: “It wouldn’t have been good if he hadn’t played. He’s a big part of what we do. Vincent, as I understand, was pulled over. He did come to the game with Philip [Rivers]. Philip was here. At 9:30 in the morning, I was driving down Murphy Canyon Road. You know this hill, it’s easy if you’re not paying attention to go faster than you need to. There was a woman pulled over at 9:30, the radar and all that. I thought at that point, ‘That’s an interesting place to have a radar gun out on a Sunday morning at 9:30.’ Vincent was pulled over later and was at the stadium. I made a point Saturday night of telling our guys that there would be a lot of traffic and leave early. We had no problems. When I walked in the locker room after walking the field like I do, Vincent was dressed and getting ready and it was well over two hours before the game, which is normal. I didn’t find out about it until later.”
Mike Nolan is out as Denver’s defensive coordinator. Now, that is a "wow" move.

Last week’s departures of offensive line coach Rick Dennison and running backs coach Bobby Turner, who took promotions with Houston and Washington, respectively, were newsy because both men had long Denver runs. But they weren’t totally unexpected. Neither Dennison nor Turner were Josh McDaniels’ guys. They were Mike Shanahan’s guys. So, a change was natural.

[+] EnlargeMike Nolan
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuMike Nolan was behind the Broncos' switch to a 3-4 defensive alignment.
But Nolan was one of McDaniels’ first hires when he took over in Denver last year. Nolan was hired essentially the same day McDaniels. They seemed like a perfect fit. Nolan had head-coaching experience to help the 33-year-old McDaniels out, and he was an expert in the 3-4 defense, which McDaniels runs.

Nolan’s first season as McDaniels’ coordinator worked very well. Nolan took a unit that was a work in progress and made it a solid unit. Denver finished seventh in the NFL in overall defense with a below average front seven. When Denver started 6-0, the defense was tremendous. The defense had some issues and Denver nosedived, finishing with an 8-8 record. Still, it was a solid unit for much of the season.

The presence of Nolan seemed like one of McDaniels’ top building blocks heading into 2010. Then, seemingly out of the blue, came Monday’s announcement. The Broncos characterized the decision as a mutual parting.

That means that the team had some role in this. Why?

I talked to some folks in the know and they said that McDaniels and Nolan didn’t necessarily not get along. It was that the two simply decided to move apart.

Nolan will be fine. Miami is already interested in him. But what about Denver?

The Broncos have to go in a new direction. You would think McDaniels is going to stick to his NFL roots and keep the 3-4 defense. Coordinators for a 3-4 defense can be difficult to find because there are less coaches who specialize in the scheme than coaches who teach the more traditional 4-3 defense.

Former New England defensive coordinator Dean Pees could be a candidate. He and McDaniels worked together in New England. Pees recently said he will pursue other opportunities and allow his contract to expire. He knows the 3-4 and he knows McDaniels well, so this could be a seamless transition.

This news can’t be great for many Denver players. This will be the fifth defensive coordinator in five seasons. Shanahan had three different coordinators in his final three years, and McDaniels will now have two defensive coordinators in his first two seasons in Denver.

This hire has to work out. The unit needs stability.

This is also yet another move that puts pressure on McDaniels, not that he cares. If the Denver defense takes a step back in 2010 after the fast success under Nolan, McDaniels will be criticized. But like with so many decisions in his first year in Denver, McDaniels does what he feels is necessary, no matter how unexpected.

The parting of ways with Nolan is another example.

Looking ahead in the AFC West

January, 18, 2010
Now what?

The 2009 AFC West season is abruptly in the books.

We thought it would last at least a week longer. But the Chargers closed the books Sunday in a surprising 17-14 home loss to the Jets. An AFC West team hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since Oakland made it in the 2002 season. Thus, the longest division Super Bowl appearance drought in the NFL continues.

So, the offseason is upon us.

While player movement and draft talk will heat up in the coming weeks and months, there are some things to keep an eye on in the division. Here is a checklist of some of the more important things that could be on the horizon in the division:

The Cable watch: Oakland owner Al Davis still hasn’t decided whether he will keep or fire Tom Cable. A decision could come this week. Maybe.

Rivera is free: If the Buffalo Bills -- or perhaps Oakland -- want to talk to San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera about a head-coaching job, he is available. Rivera reportedly turned down chances to interview in Buffalo and in Seattle when the Chargers were still playing.

Turner extension: The Chargers are expected to finalize a contract with Turner soon. He has one year remaining on his contract. The Chargers’ loss Sunday should not affect the team’s plan.

New coaches in Denver: The Broncos have to replace longtime offensive coaching staples Rick Dennison and Bobby Turner. Dennison and Turner left for promotions in Houston and in Washington, respectively.
This is the end of an era in Denver.

As expected, longtime Denver running backs coach Bobby Turner has decided to leave the team. He will join former Denver head coach Mike Shanahan in Washington. Turner will be the associate head coach in Washington. Last week, Denver denied Turner the chance to interview with Shanahan because a promotion wasn’t involved. When Shanahan sweetened the pot to reunite with Turner -- the two spent 14 seasons together in Denver -- the Broncos relented.

This is a big loss. Turner is known for being one of the best position coaches in the NFL. Under Shanahan’s and Turner’s guidance, Denver had, by far, the best run game program in the NFL. Year after year, Denver produced 1,000-yard runners.

Turner’s departure from Denver comes a day after longtime Shanahan offensive line coach Rick Dennison departed to Houston to become the offensive coordinator. Turner and Dennison were a big part of the team’s zone-blocking schemes.

With Turner and Dennison leaving, the Shanahan influence has essentially evaporated in Josh McDaniels’ program. McDaniels kept the two assistants last year to keep some continuity.

Now, McDaniels’ offense will be all his. That’s not a bad thing. He will be completely comfortable in his own program, He will likely get bigger offensive lineman and second-year running back Knowshon Moreno will be tutored the way McDaniels and his new running backs coach want him to be.

The Shanahan era is over in Denver.
With Denver offensive line coach Rick Dennison headed to Houston as offensive coordinator, there will be a major change in Denver.

Expect the Broncos to begin to fully move away from the zone-blocking scheme the franchise made famous. Denver head coach Josh McDaniels kept the basis of the system in 2008, his first season with the Broncos.

The Broncos used the scheme, featuring smaller, athletic linemen, in the 14-year tenure of Mike Shanahan. McDaniels kept Dennison, who perfected Shanahan’s schemes last season. Thus, he kept the blocking philosophy. McDaniels also mixed in some of the more traditional power blocking schemes that McDaniels was operating under in New England.

With Dennison gone, watch for McDaniels to fully adopt the power-blocking mode.

This is probably best for McDaniels. It was one of the few Shanahan influences he used. It was clear he wasn’t always comfortable with it. Before Denver’s final game, McDaniels was critical of the offensive line.

Dennison is a fine coach, but now McDaniels can do what he is most comfortable with. That may mean some change in personnel. Denver loves tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris. Right guard Chris Kuper is also big enough to make the transition.

But Denver could try to make changes at left guard and center where Ben Hamilton and Casey Wiegmann started, respectively. The team could bring back Russ Hochstein, who replaced Hamilton toward the end of the season. But Hochstein suffered a major knee injury, so an upgrade may be necessary.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Denver looks at offensive linemen early in the draft and in free agency as it moves away from the zone-blocking scheme.

Denver could also be in the midst of another big coaching change. Running backs coach Bobby Turner -- widely considered one of the best position coaches in the NFL -- is talking to Shanahan about becoming his associate head coach in Washington. Turner’s running schemes were a staple of the zone-blocking scheme.

Evening AFC West news and notes

January, 11, 2010
The Denver Broncos could be on the verge of losing two longtime offensive assistants.

The Denver Post is reporting running backs coach Bobby Turner has been offered the associate head coach job in Washington. It would reunite Turner with former Denver head coach Mike Shanahan, who became the head coach in Washington last week. Turner was with Shanahan during his entire 14-year tenure in Denver.

Denver originally denied Turner permission to interview with Washington. But now that he has a promotion available, Turner looks like he could be on his way to Washington.
  • Denver offensive line coach Rick Dennison has an offer to join Houston as offensive coordinator. Dennison is considering the offer. I hear it will be an upset if Dennison turns it down.
  • There is a report that former Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel is close to becoming the defensive coordinator in Kansas City. The Chiefs have not fired current defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
  • The San Diego Union Tribune is reporting that Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera turned down offers to interview for head-coaching jobs in Buffalo and Seattle. Rivera did the same thing last year when the Chargers were in the playoff hunt. With a lack of current opening in the NFL. Rivera may not be in the mix for head jobs if the Chargers take a long playoff ride. You have to admire his focus on his current job. So many assistants have their own future at the top of their priority list. Rivera’s priority is clearly his team’s playoff run.

AFC West coaching update

January, 10, 2010
It appears, unlike running backs coach Bobby Turner, the Denver Broncos are going to allow offensive line coach Rick Dennison to walk away from the franchise.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Dennison is close to becoming Houston’s offensive coordinator. Dennison and Texans coach Gary Kubiak were longtime assistants together on Mike Shanahan’s staff in Denver.

The Washington Post reported that Denver denied the Redskins -- Shanahan became their coach last week -- permission to talk to Turner, Denver’s longtime running backs coach. The difference between Denver allowing Houston to talk to Dennison and not allowing Washington to talk to Turner likely came down to titles. Dennison would be getting a promotion in Houston and Turner likely would be making a lateral move. Teams don’t have to allow coaches to leave for lateral moves.

It’s no surprise Dennison is probably moving on. Denver coach Josh McDaniels criticized Dennison’s unit before the team’s final game. Dennison is a believer in Shanahan’s zone-blocking schemes. Watch for Denver to continue to go away from that scheme if Dennison does leave.

Meanwhile, it looks like San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera will not be talking to any teams about openings until after San Diego’s playoff run -- if at all. Buffalo and Seattle had interest in Rivera, but there have been no reported interviews with either team. Rivera had a window to interview for a head-coaching job during the Chargers’ bye week. Starting Monday, though, Rivera can’t interview until San Diego’s season is over.

AFC West coaching news and notes

January, 9, 2010
The Washington Post reports that the Broncos have denied the Redskins permission to talk to running back coach Bobby Turner. It is no surprise new Washington coach Mike Shanahan pursued Turner.

Turner was with Shanahan during his entire 14-season run in Denver. Turner is considered one of the best position coaches in the league. He was one of a handful of coaches new Denver coach Josh McDaniels kept when he was hired last year.

The fact that Denver denied Washington permission to talk to Turner means McDaniels values Turner as much as Shanahan did.

There is a report that Seattle wants to interview San Diego defensive coordinator of the head–coaching job. However, with it appearing that USC coach Pete Carroll is close to becoming the Seattle coach, it may be a moot point. Buffalo was also reported to have interest in Rivera.
Now that the long-awaited hiring of Mike Shanahan in Washington has been completed, expect our nation’s capital to become Denver D.C. Shanahan, who coached the Broncos from 1995-2008, probably will bring a strong Denver flavor with him to the NFC East.

Coaches are usually comfortable with people they have worked with in the past.

As Shanahan builds his staff in the next few weeks and his roster in the next several months, look for him to reunite with some former coaches and players.

Coaches on the Broncos' staff who could join Shanahan -- if they are interested and if Denver allows them to leave -- include offensive line coach Rick Dennison and running backs coach Bobby Turner, both former longtime Shanahan assistants.

Jim and Jeff Goodman, the father-son personnel team fired in Denver shortly after Shanahan, also could resurface in Washington.

Any Denver free agents from the Shanahan era will be candidates to join their former coach as well. Little-utilized tight end Tony Scheffler and running back Peyton Hillis could leave if Denver is open to letting them go. Scheffler probably is going to be a restricted free agent.

Of course, the free-spending Redskins also have to be considered a possible landing spot for disgruntled receiver Brandon Marshall.

In short, if Shanahan worked with someone in Denver and they are available, there could be an upcoming reunion in

Posted by's Bill Williamson

A source close to the situation confirmed Ohio State star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells will visit both the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers prior to the April 25-26 draft. Wells is considered a sure first-round pick.

San Diego is clearly going to consider running backs. The Chargers are planning a private meeting with Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno, the other top running back prospect. The interest in Wells and Moreno comes despite the fact that the Chargers are tying up nearly $13 million in salary this year to running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Plus, San Diego has pressing defensive needs.

Broncos running backs coach Bobby Turner held a private workout with Wells a couple of weeks ago so the team is clearly interested in him. Wells would be entering a crowded backfield if drafted by Denver.

Denver signed three veteran running backs this offseason. Correll Buckhalter, J.J. Arrington and LaMont Jordan were all brought in. The Broncos also have youngsters Ryan Torain and Peyton Hillis.

Sometimes teams use pre-draft visits as decoys. Teams will visit with players from positions they have no intentions of drafting in the early rounds in an attempt to fool other teams. Former Denver coach Mike Shanahan routinely did that. Perhaps this is what new Denver coach Josh McDaniels is doing with Wells.

AFC West mailbag

March, 15, 2009

Posted by's Bill Williamson

Parker from Boulder: Bill, why all the hate on Mario Henderson? I have read your stuff on the Raider's needs over the past few weeks and you seems to think that a new LT is a must, in your latest grading piece you said upgrades at both tackle positions should be a priority. You do realize the kid, going into his third year, and would therefore be expected to naturally improve with another year under his belt? Also how much more can be asked of him than his 0-sack performance against some very good DEs in the last few games of the season (Also note that Russell only went down 5 times in the last 6 games so our line may not be as bad as people think). Yes, Mario was getting some help and he isn't a pancake blocker in the run game but the idea that he MUST be replaced is overboard IMO. Didn't Cable come out and praise him a few weeks back when he was appointed HC. I do agree that RT is a need, and I think that's what Barnes was going to be until he realized it doesn't pay as well as LT, and yes Henderson may not be a Pro-Bowler any time soon, but with the need for WR, C and RT on offense isn't LT a secondary concern unless a serious steal is out there for the taking? Or if Henderson is replaced how can you claim that RT is a need with him capable of moving over there? Either way I think Henderson deserves some more consideration and a claim that BOTH tackles are a need is incorrect with Henderson, the addition of Pears, and Green, McQ and Marten hanging around. BTW - Thanks for the coverage on my Raiders. I don't always agree with you but either way I eat it up.

BW: Good stuff, Parker. Nothing against Henderson, but from what I hear Oakland is trying to get two tackles. That's the plan. Let's see if it happens. If not, I could see Henderson getting a chance. You are right. He did play decently at the end of the season.

Alex from Anaheim:If both Crabtree and Maclin are still there for the 7th pick in the draft, who do you think the Raiders will pick? Kiper and McShay think it will be Maclin, even though Crabtree is the best receiver in the draft.

BW: I'm not a draft guru but if I'm picking, I'm taking Crabtree. He is just the goods. He looks earmarked for NFL greatness. He's a can't-miss prospect as far as I'm concerned.

Jesus from Fresno CA : Hey Bill love the page first of all. If the Broncos decide to trade Cutler do you think they might go after Jeff Garcia? Garcia still has some in the Tank. I know that most likely they won't trade him but how crazy would it be if they did!

BW: Thanks. If the Cutler situation deteriorates enough and there is not a suitable plan, Garcia could be a good stop-gap plan. But he is no Cutler and the Broncos need to make sure they figure this issue out and keep the 25-year-old Pro Bowler.

Sean from Denver: Bill, I was wondering, coming from New England, did McDaniels destroy last years tapes? I would love for him to watch the film on Hillis. He is a determined winner that carried the team on his back. It's a no-brainer that he should be the starter. Why the heck was all this money wasted on RBs and not spent wisely on the D???

BW: I'm with you, Sean. Hillis is a gamer and he is also versatile. He can help this offense. I expect McDaniels to be pleasantly surprised during training camp.

Aaron from Syracuse: In response to "If Curry is off the board"... How do you think Branden Albert will react to being moved to right tackle for Eugene Monroe?

BW: I think he'd be fine with it if that was the case. He can play both positions, and remember he'd be playing with his former college buddy so I'm sure he'd be good with it.

Miguelio from Phoenix: Can you give me a rating of the Denver Broncos new coaching staff. Looks on paper like a pretty good but how well do these guys teach?

BW: I think McDaniels knows offense very well and I think new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is a very good teacher. I love the fact that Denver kept running game coaches Rick Dennison and Bobby Turner. Those are two good coaches who will keep some continuity.

Steven from Encinitas: Any chance the chargers look for an upgrade at right tackle during free agency, or do you see them addressing o-line depth in the draft?

BW: Kevin Shaffer is out there. He was just cut from Cleveland. Two of his former Browns coaches are in San Diego and it could be a nice fit.

Posted by's Bill Williamson

Inspired by a similar post by NFC West blogger Mike Sando, we are going to look at the 10 most important assistant coaching positions in the AFC West early in the offseason, heading into the 2009 season:

Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator, San Diego Chargers: Rivera's promotion to defensive coordinator from inside linebackers coach last season sparked the Chargers. Many players attributed Rivera's promotion, after the firing of Ted Cottrell, to the team's turnaround and playoff run. With Rivera in charge of the San Diego defense all season, the Chargers have a chance to avoid an early-season stumble that affected them the past two seasons. If San Diego's defense is in high gear all season, it will be difficult to beat in the division.

Mike Nolan, defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos: The Broncos are San Diego's closest competition at this point. But the only way Denver will challenge for the division is if its defense improves dramatically. Nolan, the former San Francisco head coach, is in charge of that task. The Broncos want to run a 3-4 defense, but they will have to find the personnel to do so. If Nolan can change this defense around, Denver has a chance.

Rick Dennison, run offense coordinator; Bobby Turner, running backs coach, Denver Broncos: Dennison and Turner are a package deal. They perfected former Denver coach Mike Shanahan's vaunted run offense. It was critical that new Denver coach Josh McDaniels keep Dennison and Turner. Now, Denver doesn't have to change its run offense and its usual success on the ground should continue.

Ted Tollner, offensive coordinator, Oakland Raiders: The longtime college and NFL veteran coach needs to establish the running game better than the Raiders did last season. The Raiders have excellent running backs. The run game has to be more of a focus under Tollner.

Unnamed, defensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs haven't announced who will be the defensive coordinator under new coach Todd Haley, but this unit needs a new direction. It has to be much more aggressive. Kansas City set a record for the fewest sacks in NFL history with 10 in 2008. If the Chiefs are going to improve, the Chiefs need a quick turnaround on defense.

Paul Hackett, quarterbacks coach, Oakland Raiders: Hackett needs to develop quarterback JaMarcus Russell. He is entering his second season a starter and has been slow to develop. Hackett is a respected quarterback coach. Russell needs to make strides now and it is up to Hackett to make it happen.

Unnamed, offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs: Haley may call the plays, but the Chiefs need a strong offensive coordinator. The Chiefs aren't bad on offense, but it needs to score a lot of points to make up for a porous defense.

Rob Chudzinski: assistant head coach/tight ends coach, San Diego Chargers: The former Cleveland offensive coordinator returns to San Diego where he will be coach Norv Turner's right-hand man. Chudzinski will be an in-game sounding board for Turner and should be very valuable.

John Marshall, defensive coordinator, Oakland Raiders: The Raiders' defense has some talent, but it also gave up a lot of points and was blown out often in 2008. Marshall, an NFL veteran, needs to bring balance and consistency to this group if Oakland is going to improve.

Unnamed, quarterbacks coach, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs will likely have a good quarterback and whoever is Haley's quarterbacks coach will have a task of bringing the youngster along quickly.