AFC West: Darrell Stuckey

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With just under $6 million in projected salary-cap space, the San Diego Chargers are not expected to make a big splash at the start of free agency. But the Chargers could still add a few impact players at a reasonable price if the organization is patient and does its homework.

That said, we take a close look at San Diego's approach heading into free agency.

Key free agents: Chad Rinehart, Darrell Stuckey, Richard Marshall, Reggie Walker, Charlie Whitehurst.

Where they stand: San Diego already took care of the team's top offseason priority, with middle linebacker Donald Butler inked to a multiyear deal before the onset of free agency. The Chargers need help at cornerback, nose tackle, edge rusher, interior offensive line and in the return game. San Diego could look to sign a couple of their own free agents that produced in 2013, including Rinehart, Stuckey, Marshall and Walker. All four players had an impact in the team's surprising postseason run and could return at a reasonable price. The Chargers also need to find a capable backup for every-down running back Ryan Mathews, with veteran Ronnie Brown hitting the market.

What to expect: With a limited amount of cap space, expect the Chargers to be active in the secondary free-agent market, targeting veteran players with a specific skill set who can make an impact. The Chargers benefited from signing two such players to two-year deals last year in tackle King Dunlap and running back Danny Woodhead. San Diego also could look for front-line players who don't receive the type of lucrative offers they expect and want to re-enter the market after a one-year, prove-it deal.
A couple of week ago, both the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers could have been criticized for not taking Aaron Hernandez.

Both teams passed on the Florida product in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. The talented Hernandez was considered a first-or-second round talent, but he had some red flags that allowed him to fall to the 113th pick. Hernandez became a strong performer for the Patriots and a draft steal.

Of course, that perception changed Wednesday when Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder and cut by the Patriots. Let’s a take a look at the AFC West selections that were made shortly before Hernandez was taken.

Oakland: Guard Bruce Campbell, 106: He was a combine star and the late Al Davis loved combine stars. But Campbell never made many strides and he was traded from the new regime to Carolina last year for running back Mike Goodson. Goodson left through free agency this year.

Oakland: Receiver/returner Jacoby Ford, 108: Another combine star, the fastest player in the draft, Ford has been a dynamic returner and he made a lot of big plays as a receiver. But he had had trouble staying healthy the past two years.

San Diego: Safety Darrell Stuckey, 110: He has become a tremendous special teams player. Stuckey hasn’t made much of an impact at safety. He will get more of a chance to play this season.

None of these players have come close to making the impact on the field that Hernandez did in the past three seasons. And both teams went into this offseason with the need at tight end, so bypassing Hernandez looked like a mistake.

That can no longer be said.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each AFC West team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Denver Broncos: The Broncos are set in the secondary. Denver added key pieces throughout the roster as it tries to make a Super Bowl run. It signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- who joins a strong group of cornerbacks -- and former San Diego standout Quentin Jammer, who will be moved from corner to safety and play sort of a roaming role. Denver believes Champ Bailey, who turns 35 on Saturday, can still play at a high level. Helping Bailey and Rodgers-Cromartie are the underrated Chris Harris and Tony Carter. The team also has third-round pick Kayvon Webster and 2012 fourth-round pick Omar Bolden. That’s a pretty deep group. Right now, the starting safeties are Rahim Moore and Mike Adams. But in addition to Jammer, Denver has David Bruton, who was getting first-team work in the offseason, and Quinton Carter. As with the cornerbacks, this is a deep group. Overall, the entire unit gives Denver great flexibility for different packages and in case of injury.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs boast one of the best secondaries in the NFL. It starts with the cornerbacks, who form arguably the top unit in the league. The new Chiefs regime went to work in free agency, adding Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith, two of the better cornerbacks available. Combine Robinson and Smith with incumbent Brandon Flowers -- known around the scouting community as one of the NFL's better corners -- and it’s a powerful group. Expect all three to be on the field often. The Chiefs aren’t too shabby at safety, either. They have Eric Berry, one of the best in the game, who came on strong at the end of last season after missing virtually all of 2011 with a torn ACL. Kendrick Lewis is injury-prone but solid; any team where a player like Lewis is the weak link in the secondary is in pretty nice shape. The Chiefs also expect fifth-round pick Sanders Commings to play a big role, likely at safety.

Oakland Raiders: Last season, Oakland had perhaps the worst secondary situation in the NFL, especially at cornerback. That is no longer the case: The rebuilding Raiders are significantly better there in 2013. Oakland added Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter via free agency and D.J. Hayden with the No. 12 overall pick in the draft; they figure to be the Raiders' top three cornerbacks, with Hayden and Jenkins the starters. Hayden, though, must show he can stay healthy after a life-threatening heart surgery last November. He missed the past few weeks of the offseason program after undergoing a procedure to repair scar tissue in his stomach, a side effect of the heart surgery. The team expects him back for training camp in late July. Jenkins and Porter fell out of favor in recent seasons and are not upper-level cornerbacks -- but they are professionals and will help. The safeties have a chance to be strong. Tyvon Branch is a very solid player, and Oakland’s shining moment of the offseason was when it brought back Charles Woodson. Yes, he turns 37 in October, but he can still help this team. This unit may not be elite, but it will be competitive and not hamper Oakland’s defense.

San Diego Chargers: This is probably the thinnest group in the AFC West -- but it is top-heavy. Safety Eric Weddle is an elite player and a tremendous anchor for this unit. San Diego let 2012 starters Jammer and Antoine Cason walk via free agency without a fight -- but did a nice job in bringing aboard former Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, a scout favorite. Young Shareece Wright has a chance to start at the other cornerback spot. Opposite Weddle could be 2012 third-round pick Brandon Taylor, if he recovers from a torn ACL, or Darrell Stuckey. Marcus Gilchrist could also be in the mix. This unit has a chance to be competitive as the season goes on and has some interesting youth. For now, though, there are probably more questions about it than any of the division's other secondaries.
The San Diego Chargers continue to make cuts, as they have jettisoned safety Atari Bigby.

This move is not a big surprise. Bigby, who had 79 tackles last season, was not considered a top starter. The Chargers probably will be able to easily find a replacement. In-house candidates Darrell Stuckey and Brandon Taylor are possibilities. One potential replacement could be former Arizona safety Adrian Wilson, who was cut Friday. Former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt is now on San Diego’s staff.

On Thursday, San Diego cut linebacker Takeo Spikes. The Chargers also will likely cut defensive tackle Antonio Garay and left tackle Jared Gaither.

As for free agency, don’t be surprised if the team shows interest in Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers. He was in Indianapolis with new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco. The team will let starting cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer test the market.

Rolando McClain's role emerges

December, 12, 2012
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The two-week Rolando McClain saga in Oakland received some clarity Wednesday.

Oakland coach Dennis Allen told reporters McClain will be a backup at middle linebacker and will play special teams in the final three weeks of the season. That is not exactly an ideal assignment for a third-year player who was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 draft.

McClain returned to practice Wednesday after he was suspended the past two games by the Raiders for conduct detrimental to the team. During his suspension, Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie said it was possible that McClain had played his final game with Oakland.

Yet, he remains with the team. Still, since McClain has been a disappointment on the field and trouble off if it, I think the Raiders will lean heavily toward moving away from McClain after the season. Until then, he will be buried on the depth chart.

In other AFC West news:

The Chargers put safety Darrell Stuckey (hamstring) and defensive end Vaughn Martin (groin) on the injured reserve. In addition to linebacker Gary Guyton, the Chargers brought back running back Curtis Brinkley.

The NFL fined Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe for expressing support for Oakland punter Ray Guy's election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his uniform. Guy is considered the best punter in NFL history by many. He is not a semifinalist for election into the Hall of Fame this year.

Oakland safety Tyvon Branch remains out of practice with a neck injury.
A melee in Cincinnati last Sunday cost five players a grand total of $131.250.

Four Oakland Raiders and one Cincinnati Bengal were fined $26,250 for participating in a wild fight late in the Bengals’ win. Oakland's Lamarr Houston, Tommy Kelly, Desmond Bryant and Matt Shaughnessy, and Cincinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth were fined for their roles in the fight.

The fight started when Houston knocked down Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton after the whistle blew. Whitworth went after Houston, and the wild fight ensued. During the week, Withworth called several unnamed Raiders “cowards” for their role in the fight. He said it was between him and Houston.

In other AFC West news:

For Kansas City, safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder) is doubtful, Ryan Lilja (knee), Branden Albert (back) and linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) are questionable to play against Carolina. Receiver Dexter McCluster (head) is probable.

As expected, San Diego linebacker Donald Butler (groin), receiver Eddie Royal (hamstring), and safety Darrell Stuckey (hamstring) are out Sunday. Because of the injuries, linebacker Jonas Mouton and safety Brandon Taylor are expected to make their NFL debuts Sunday against Cincinnati. Also, linebacker Jarret Johnson (back) is questionable.

For Oakland, running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson have high ankle sprains that kept them out of the past three games and are questionable to play Sunday against Cleveland. They will be game-time decisions. Meanwhile, No. 3 quarterback Terrelle Pryor is expected to be active, and he might play some Sunday. It will be interesting to see what kind of packages are prepared for Pryor.

If the Raiders, 3-8, keeping losing and Pryor looks good in a limited role, I could see him get a chance for more playing time later in the season.

For Denver, defensive end Robert Ayers is questionable to play against Tampa Bay. He has missed all week because he has been with his family after the death of his father.

AFC West blackouts looming

November, 29, 2012
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Oakland’s home game against Cleveland on Sunday will be blacked out on local television. It stops a 13-game streak in which games were shown on local television. The Chargers’ home game against Cincinnati on Sunday is also blacked out. It’s the Chargers’ second straight blackout.

In other AFC West news:

In San Diego, linebacker Donald Butler (groin), safety Darrell Stuckey (hamstring) and receiver Eddie Royal (hamstring) did not practice for the second straight day Thursday, and the team is preparing to play against Cincinnati on Sunday without them. Linebacker Jarret Johnson (back) and punter Mike Scifres (ankle) were limited Thursday. However, safety Eric Weddle (concussion), guard Tyronne Green (hamstring) linebacker Antwan Barnes (hamstring) and linebacker Larry English (calf) all practiced fully Thursday after they were all limited Wednesday. Barring setbacks, they should be able to play Sunday.

Kansas City safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder) did not practice for the second straight day. Receiver Dexter McCluster (head) was not limited in pactice Thursday after not practicing Wednesday.

Denver defensive end Robert Ayers missed his second straight day of practice. He is away from the team because of the death of his father.
Vincent Brown reportedly is running well, but will he be able to play for the San Diego Chargers this season?

Brown
UT-San Diego reports that the second-year receiver, who suffered a broken ankle in the preseason, is nearly at full speed. The team had hoped Brown would be back near mid-season, but his recovery has taken longer.

There are only five games left in the season. Still, San Diego coach Norv Turner told the paper this: "We're getting to the point where -- what's the upside if he's able to come back ... We're a ways away from that decision."

If the Brown can get on the field for the final few games, it will help this offense. Brown, a third-round pick in 2011, came on strong at the end of last season and was great in training camp. Brown has chance to be one of the Chargers’ best offensive weapons when he returns.

Meanwhile, linebacker Donald Butler (groin), receiver Eddie Royal (hamstring) and safety Darrel Stuckey (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday. Safety Eric Weddle (concussion) and guard Tyronne Green (hamstring) were among the San Diego players who were limited.

All-AFC West midseason team

November, 7, 2012
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NFC Midseason Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

We present our 2012 AFC West midseason team.

A few notes before we get to the list.

I used a 3-4 defense because half of the division (Kansas City and San Diego) uses it as a base defense and I thought the linebackers were stronger in the first half so I wanted to recognize four of them. This list features the best players at the position, so I used two left tackles instead of forcing a right tackle, two tailbacks instead of a fullback, etc.

The list features 10 Broncos, eight Chargers, five Raiders and three Chiefs. Coincidentally, that is the order of the division standings halfway through the season.

Let’s point out some picks of note. Some may be surprised to see Denver defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson on the list. If you talked to NFL scouts, you wouldn’t be. He’s been strong.

I really like this group of linebackers. I wanted to find a place for the Chiefs’ Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson, but I felt like I needed to get San Diego’s Donald Butler, Oakland's Philip Wheeler and Denver’s Wesley Woodyard on the list. Again, this was a very tough position to choose from.

I could have gone in several directions at receiver. Many receivers in the division are having terrific seasons. Can’t go wrong with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, though.

Mike Scifres over Shane Lechler? Yes, Lechler is an all-time great, but Scifres is having a better season.

This isn’t a great year for returners in the division. I was going to go with San Diego’s Richard Goodman, but he is out for the season. Holliday returned a touchdown for a score in Week 9, so he’s your winner despite playing just three games with Denver.

On to the list. I’m sure you’ll have a lot to say in the comments section below.

The patient San Diego Chargers stunned the NFL Thursday with their under-the-radar signing of former NFL defensive player of the year Bob Sanders.

Is this an indication that the usually free-agent weary Chargers will go on a spending spree in an attempt to springboard back into the playoffs? The Chargers missed the postseason for the first time in five years last season.

Not so fast, says the man behind the Chargers’ plans. I caught up with San Diego general manager A.J. Smith on Friday. He said the team’s free-agency game plan will not change.

“We’re players in free agency, we just don’t always explore the big-money players and I don’t expect that to change,” Smith said. “We’re not totally against it. There always can be a signed player that we will spend big bucks on. We’re not against not. But that’s a unique situation. Usually, we wait and see what is out here and we are particular. That’s not going to change.”

Smith believes in building through the draft and the Chargers are in good shape this season. The Chargers have five picks in the first three rounds. They have extra picks in the second and third rounds. Smith said he has not decided whether to move up, trade down or stand pat in the first round at No. 18.

“We can do anything, we haven’t decided yet,” Smith said. “But it’s nice to have the five early picks.”

The Chargers have franchised receiver Vincent Jackson and have signed Sanders. It’s a good start to an offseason that is stalled by the extended collective bargaining agreement talks.

Smith is very excited about Sanders and has been a fan since Sanders played at Iowa. The Chargers weren’t mentioned as suitors for Sanders. Buffalo, Jacksonville and the Jets were all in on Sanders before he suddenly signed with the Chargers.

Sanders has played in only nine regular-season games in the past three years. He tore a bicep in Week 1 in 2010. Smith said he is aware that there are no guarantees of Sanders’ health, still the team believes he can be a major addition.

“I’ve always highly regarded him,” Smith said of Sanders said. “I admire his physical play, his intensity, his character, his leadership. There is a package there.”

The Chargers plan to play Sanders at strong safety and have second-year player Darrell Stuckey be his backup. The team wants to re-sign free safety Eric Weddle and have Steve Gregory back him up.

2010 AFC West draft rewind

February, 18, 2011
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This is the final in a three-part series of an examination of the past three draft classes of each AFC West team leading up to the NFL scouting combine at the end of the month:

Denver

First pick: No. 22, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas

Total picks: Nine

Stars: After one season, offensive linemen J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles have been the team’s best draft performers. They were both starters. Neither player was great, but they deserve credit for starting in the NFL as youngsters. Beadles, a guard who was a second-round pick and Walton, a center who was a third-round pick, may have decent futures. Quarterback Tim Tebow, the No. 25 overall pick whom Denver traded three picks to move up and take, started the final three games of the season. He might be the starter in 2011.

Duds: It’s too early to call Thomas a dud, but the Broncos have to be worried about his career issues. Thomas suffered an Achilles tendon injury last week and the team expects him to miss 6 to 8 months. Thomas, who was drafted with a foot fracture, ended the season with an ankle injury. He is very talented, but he has been unable to stay healthy. Denver bypassed Dez Bryant to take Thomas.

McDaniels’ parting gift: Josh McDaniels drafted Tebow because he thought he could make the former Florida star an NFL star. But McDaniels was fired before Tebow ever got an NFL start. Now, the John Elway-John Fox regime will decide what to do with Tebow.

What’s the future of this class? It could end up being very good or very bad. It all depends on Tebow. If he develops into a standout quarterback, it will be a great draft. If Tebow fails and Thomas never develops, it would be looked as a terrible draft. The Broncos could have a gem in receiver Eric Decker. A fine possession receiver, Decker could get a chance to play a lot in 2011. He has strong potential.

Kansas City

First pick: No. 5, safety Eric Berry

Total picks: Seven

Star: It has to be Berry. There was a lot of talk that the Chiefs would be reluctant to take a safety so high; usually safeties aren’t top-five choices. I’m sure the Chiefs are not regretting the decision to take Berry. He was an impact player as a rookie. He is a playmaker who is a tremendous anchor to this improving defense. Expect the hard-working, humble Berry to get better. The Chiefs have a star on their hands. I would not be shocked by the time every 2010 AFC West draft pick retires, the first pick of the Chiefs will be considered the best player of the pool.

Duds: There don’t appear to be any yet. Five of the seven picks contributed as rookies. Third-round pick guard Jon Asamoah appears to have a nice future. Fifth-round pick linebacker Cameron Sheffield seemed promising before he was injured in the preseason.

The next Tony Gonzalez? Third-round pick Tony Moeaki seems like a keeper. He had an instant connection with Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel. He brought excitement back to the tight end position in Kansas City for the first time since the 2009 trade of Gonzalez. One of the greatest players in team history, Gonzalez was traded to Atlanta in 2009 for a 2010 second-round pick, which turned out to be cornerback Javier Arenas. Moeaki had 47 catches for 556 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. Those numbers were much better than Gonzalez’ numbers as a rookie. This is not suggest Moeaki will be a better player than the great Gonzalez, but it’s clear tight end is again a position of strength in Kansas City.

What’s the future of this class? It is very bright. Along with Oakland's, this has a chance to be one of the best overall classes in the NFL. The class, which also includes promising receiver/returner Dexter McCluster, is very deep. The rookies helped the Chiefs win their first division title in seven years and I expect this class will assist in winning many more games.

Oakland

First pick: No. 8, linebacker Rolando McClain

Total picks: Nine

Stars: This class is very deep, but right now the stars appear to be fourth-round pick receiver/returner Jacoby Ford and second-round pick defensive lineman Lamarr Houston. Ford had three kickoff returns for scores in the second half of the season and developed into a thrilling receiver. He could be a starter in 2011. Houston is a tough, rugged player who could be part of this defense for the next 10 years.

Duds: There doesn’t look like there will be one. This class is solid.

Al still has it: You can poke holes in many of Oakland’s recent drafts, but this one looks special. Starting with McClain, this draft appears solid. Al Davis bragged about the class at his January news conference. He deserved to brag. After several whiffs, Davis seems to have hit a home run in 2010.

What’s the future of this class? This is the type of class -- that includes promising left tackle Jared Veldheer (third round) -- that can be a nucleus for a long playoff run. Add youngsters like guard Bruce Campbell (fourth round), linebacker Travis Goethel (sixth) and cornerback Stevie Brown (seventh) and this class is very deep.

San Diego

First pick: No. 12, running back Ryan Mathews

Total picks: Six

Star: Mathews was the only player from this class to contribute as a rookie. Mathews was good, but not great. He had durability and ball-security issues. Still, Mathews averaged 4.3 yards per carry. He helped this offense when he was on the field. While his impact wasn’t great, he clearly has good potential.

Duds: After Mathews, the Chargers' next pick wasn’t until N0. 79 when they took linebacker Donald Butler. He showed promise but was lost for the year in camp. Every other pick is a future pick.

Will Smith do it again? The Chargers traded a load of picks to move up from No. 28 to No. 12 to take Mathews. This year, the Chargers, who pick No. 18, have extra picks in the second and third rounds. The Chargers could use an impact receiver or pass rusher. If they fall in love with a pick in the top 10, I could see aggressive general manager A.J. Smith moving up again.

What’s the future of this class? If Mathews can stay healthy and be a legitimate power back, this will be a good class. It would be nice if players like Butler, safety Darrell Stuckey (fourth round) and defensive tackle Cam Thomas develop and help this class. But it was clear on draft night that this class was all about Mathews. If he fails, this will likely be the worst class in the division.

San Diego's inactives for 49ers game

December, 16, 2010
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In addition to tight end Antonio Gates and receiver Malcom Floyd, here are San Diego’s other inactive players for Thursday night’s game against San Francisco: Larry English, Patrick Crayton, Darrell Stuckey, Tyrone Carter, Louis Vasquez and Travis Johnson. English has a foot injury.

The biggest hits are the loss of Gates and Floyd, even though both have long been dealing with injuries. This is Gates’ fourth missed game in the past six games with a nagging foot injury. Randy McMichael will start for the Chargers.

The Rivers-Gates combination has resulted in 10 touchdowns and a passer rating of 143.1 this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Rivers has completed 77 percent of his passes to tight ends this season and he is averaging 11.5 yards per attempt.

Meanwhile, San Diego made some roster moves near the bottom of the roster that could affect the special teams unit, which has settled down and has played well in recent weeks.
SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers just announced their inactive players for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

Inside linebacker Stephen Cooper is out with a knee injury. He will be replaced by Brandon Siler.

Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman is active after being out three-plus weeks with an Achilles injury. However, second-year player Larry English is starting. Merriman has had limited practice time since ending his holdout in mid-August. He was injured shortly after his holdout ended.

Here are the complete inactive lists for both teams:

San Diego
Jacksonville

Evening AFC West notes

August, 16, 2010
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The trip from California to Kansas City can be a lengthy one, but let’s wrap up the day with some notes around the AFC West:
  • The Chiefs should be nice and refreshed Tuesday when I check them out. Coach Todd Haley surprised the troops by yanking them off the practice field and onto the awaiting buses Monday morning. The destination: The movies. Who said Haley isn’t the warm-and-fuzzy type?

Report: Chargers ink Stuckey

June, 25, 2010
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Darrell Stuckey is not wasting time taking advantage of his golden opportunity in San Diego.

The NFL Network is reporting the rookie has agreed to terms with the Chargers. The safety was a fourth-round pick.

Stuckey is one of the most interesting third-day picks in the entire NFL. He has a chance to start in San Diego. One of the reasons why Kevin Ellison was cut this week is because the Chargers are excited about Stuckey.

He will compete with veteran Steve Gregory for playing time. By signing early, Stuckey has ensured himself the entire training camp to prepare for his rookie season.

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