AFC West: Gary Kubiak

Peyton Manning and Johnathan JosephUSA Today Sports, Icon SMIComing off an unexpected loss, will Peyton Manning's Broncos overlook Johnathan Joseph's Texans?

Quarterbacks tend to pull for each other. They know what it's like to shoulder so much of a team's fate, they understand the pressure better than outsiders could.

"I do think it’s a unique fraternity," Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said. "Matt’s an excellent quarterback. I think he’ll be fine."

This weekend Manning and his Broncos will visit the Houston Texans for a rematch of a game played last year under very different circumstances.

Fittingly, after a season of quarterback turmoil, the Texans are returning to the man they started with at the position. Because of an injury to Case Keenum, Matt Schaub will start Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The last time Schaub started, he entered the game to boos so hearty that the Texans had to go to a silent count on some of their plays.

On the opposite sideline will be one of the best to ever play the position. Manning has played against the Texans 19 times and lost only three times. ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss.

Ganguli: Manning is very familiar with the Texans. Has his (soon-to-be) record-setting season been as impressive to watch up close as the stats suggest?

Legwold: No question the numbers have been staggering, even by Manning’s standards. But the intersection of Manning as a 37-year-old quarterback who was willing to sort of remake himself with a team ready to offer him the place to do that has lifted his play even more. The Broncos have constructed a playbook that is a mix of what they had on hand and what Manning has always done. They've added a warp-speed no-huddle portion and given him targets all over the formation, and Manning has played with the discipline of a veteran quarterback who understands what needs to be done. His coaches have said he forced just one pass in the team’s first eight games and his accuracy has been elite for much of the season. He isn't a power thrower now, and a windy day in the postseason could derail some of what the Broncos like to do, but he is an accomplished pitcher who knows his opponents and can hit all the spots.

Gary Kubiak is still well-liked around the Broncos’ complex, with many people who worked with him still in the building. What has been the reaction of players to his dismissal?

Ganguli: Kubiak was well-liked in the Texans' building, too, especially with, but not limited to, the players. After his dismissal, you heard a lot about how well he treated people, regardless of their role on the team. He’s always been known as a players’ coach, and that’s part of what has made Houston an attractive destination for free agents. Several players exchanged text messages with him after it happened. Some took public responsibility for it. They didn't like seeing him lose his job, but the firing wasn't a tremendous surprise given how the season had gone. The players’ reaction to Kubiak's health scare after suffering a "mini-stroke" on Nov. 3 said a lot about what he meant to them.

You covered another head coach's health scare this season. How did the Broncos weather John Fox’s absence?

Legwold: There have been seasons over the past decade or so when neither the locker room nor the coaching staff would have been as equipped as this year's group was to deal with something like Fox’s four-week absence following open-heart surgery. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio stepped in as interim coach, and players often spoke of his composure and leadership during that time. Manning, Wesley Woodyard, Champ Bailey and others helped keep everyone in the locker room pointed in the right direction, while Adam Gase and rest of the offensive staff kept things humming on that side of the ball. The team went 3-1 in that stretch, with two wins over Kansas City and one against San Diego. The loss was an overtime defeat at New England, when the Broncos let a 24-point halftime lead get away. Through it all, the Broncos showed themselves to be a stable organization, able to overcome the most serious of issues.

An awful lot of folks believed when the season began that the Texans would be in the hunt for the Super Bowl title. What are some of the major issues that have prevented that from happening?

Ganguli: How much time do you have? It starts with the quarterback. The Texans don’t have the luxury the Broncos have of one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Their situation at the position has been tenuous all season. Schaub’s costly turnovers early on put the Texans in a precarious position. He didn't play as poorly as some indicate until Week 5 against San Francisco. He just looked uncomfortable and out of sorts from start to finish, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six on the first pass of the game. Schaub’s foot and ankle injuries the following week opened the door for Kubiak to make a switch to Keenum, who spent last season on the Texans’ practice squad. Keenum did well before opponents deciphered him, and since then he has struggled. I’m not ready to say he’ll never be a passable quarterback in the NFL, but his play over the past eight games has been a big factor in the losses. To be clear, quarterback is not the only factor in the Texans’ 12-game losing streak, but it’s been a big one. Further, the handling of the quarterback situation played a part in Kubiak’s firing. He benched Keenum for Schaub against Oakland and Jacksonville. That kind of uncertainty didn’t help matters.

That’s one question I get asked a lot. Another is this: Who will the Texans’ next head coach be? I covered Del Rio for his final season and a half as the Jaguars' coach. From what you've seen in Denver, do you think he gets another shot at being a head coach?

Legwold: I spoke with executives from around the league in recent weeks, and it seems Del Rio helped his cause with the way he conducted himself and led the Broncos during Fox’s absence. If the Broncos can snap out of their current defensive funk and go deep in the playoffs, it would help his cause even more. (He interviewed with USC during the bye week, the day before Fox suffered the dizziness and light-headedness on a golf course that led to his open-heart surgery.) Del Rio would need an owner/team president to look past the offense-first mentality everyone seems to be looking for these days, and he would have to present a clear, concise picture of what he would do on offense. But if the Broncos make the Super Bowl, or even win it, and the defense makes some plays along the way, Del Rio should be on some short lists.

How has Wade Phillips handled the interim job? He’s seen Manning plenty over the years, how do you think he’ll have the Texans go at the Broncos’ offense?

Ganguli: It wasn't a particularly good situation to come into, as tends to happen with interim jobs. The results have been similar to Kubiak's tenure, though Phillips has been more proactive in trying to curb the Texans' penalties. He's had Big 12 officials at practice several times, and puts players in timeouts if they commit a penalty. Not a lot has changed for the better, and the injury situation has gotten worse. The Texans now have their first- and second-string running backs on injured reserve, as well as their starting tight end, starting middle linebacker and starting strong safety. Phillips' defenses have always been very aggressive -- they blitz a lot. The play calling is being done by defensive-backs coach Vance Joseph now, but that doesn't change a lot. Manning's statistics against the Texans are better against a four-man rush than against blitzes.

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Denver Broncos coach John Fox, 58, fell ill on a North Carolina golf course Saturday and Monday underwent heart surgery to replace an aortic valve.

Allen
Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, 52, collapsed on the Reliant Stadium grass coming off the field at halftime Sunday night and was diagnosed as having suffered a mini-stroke.

Have these episodes served as a wake-up call, of sorts, for the NFL coaching fraternity? Should it?

“Yeah, I think you always have to understand that us as coaches, we take a lot of pride in our work,” said Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who worked under Fox as his defensive coordinator in 2011. Allen was also a freshman and sophomore defensive back at Texas A&M when Kubiak was the Aggies’ running backs coach in 1992 and 1993 at College Station.

“We spend a lot of time in the meeting rooms, in the office grinding the tape, a lot of time away from our families. And I think that when you look at this, it does kind of bring things into perspective.”

Allen, at 41, is the youngest head coach in the NFL, five months and 21 days younger than San Diego’s Mike McCoy and six months and seven days younger than Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.

That brings no guarantees, though.

“You’ve got to make sure you take care of yourself, but I think that’s just naturally what we as coaches do,” Allen added. “I don’t know that that’s really going to change a whole lot.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the span of 36 hours a head coach John Elway had hired and a head coach who was a former teammate were taken to hospitals with health concerns.

Denver coach John Fox was recovering in a Charlotte, N.C., area hospital Monday afternoon following surgery to replace the aortic valve in his heart. Fox, who had hoped to have the procedure following the season, had experienced dizziness and light-headedness during a round of golf Saturday. After tests the surgery was scheduled for Monday morning.

Elway

When you look at the pressure in this game there is a lot of pressure on head coaches. So, I think, especially with the size of this game and growth of this game, the expectation levels have continued to grow. So thats a tough, tough spot.

-- John Elway, on NFL coaches dealing with stress


Texans coach Gary Kubiak, a long-time friend and teammate of Elway’s, collapsed Sunday night as he walked to the locker room at halftime of the Houston Texans’ game against the Indianapolis Colts. Kubiak was taken by ambulance from the stadium to a Houston hospital where he remained Monday. Doctors were running tests to see if Kubiak had a stroke.

“There’s always a concern,’’ Elway said. “When you look at the pressure in this game there is a lot of pressure on head coaches. So, I think, especially with the size of this game and growth of this game, the expectation levels have continued to grow. So that’s a tough, tough spot.’’

While Fox and Kubiak share the same profession, it isn't clear how much stress in their respective workplaces actually played in their particular issues. But from Elway's perspective, he said he looks at it all through the prism of his father's work life. Elway’s father Jack, a long-time college assistant and head coach as well as an NFL personnel evaluator, died of a heart attack in 2001, at age 69.

And Elway said Monday while he recognizes the stresses involved in the profession, he believes a coach’s overall health starts with the coach himself.

“I’m going to speak for my dad, they don’t take very good care of themselves,’’ Elway said. “And so the idea is to keep getting them to take care of themselves. I think, not that any of the John or Gary situations resembles my dad, but I was always on my dad. I'm talking just for my dad … the last person on the totem pole they take care of is themselves. So hopefully they will take better care of themselves, a lot of them do, I know that.’’

Elway said like the Broncos’ players, the coaches and scouting staff are also given “extensive’’ physicals each year and the meals the coaches are served at the team’s facility are planned by the same team nutritionist who monitors what is served to the players. Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, a long-time friend of Fox’s and now the team’s interim head coach in Fox’s absence, said coaches are much like many in the workforce all over the country. That eating right, getting enough exercise are not simply rules to live by for those in the football world.

“I think you do the best you can to make sure you’re working out and eating properly, all of the things all of us need to be doing out there,’’ Del Rio said. “ … It’s life, we’re coaches, but we’re human beings, things happen in life. You try to do the best you can to take care of yourself and the situation the best you can. I think the fact both happened in the same weekend will draw a lot of attention to it, I’m sure. But we’re people, coaches are people, just like everyone, it’s a slice of life.’’

Asked Monday if he believed the stresses that come with coaching in the NFL are “unavoidable,’’ Elway said: “No, because I think there are coaches that do take care of themselves. I’m speaking for my dad in that I wish he would have taken better care of himself … they have tunnel vision and the only thing they think about is the guys on that football team.’’

Elway said Fox’s return date has not been set and it’s still unclear when Fox will be allowed to have contact with the Broncos about any sort of football matters in the weeks and months ahead. Elway added Fox’s long-term health was the top priority in any plan for Fox’s return to his duties.

“Again, it goes back to the same thing when the doctors tell us exactly what it would be and when it was going to be,’’ Elway said. “I would just tell you this is a serious thing for John and it was a serious procedure.’’
I know there is a lot of buzz because the Denver Broncos reportedly had pre-draft visits with quarterbacks Zac Dysert (Miami-Ohio) and Matt Scott (Arizona).

Both players are considered mid-round prospects. I wouldn’t read too much into it as far as how these visits affect Brock Osweiler's future. The Broncos love Osweiler, who they drafted in the second round last April, and view him as an effective starter when Peyton Manning, 37, leaves the game in two or three seasons.

John Elway loves quarterbacks. This is his third year as at the helm and he has looked closely at quarterbacks every year. I expect him to continue to check out play-callers he may draft.

Remember, Elway had Gary Kubiak as his backup for the majority of his career as a starting quarterback. Kubiak was considered as one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league. So, he knows the importance of being stacked at the position.

Denver has other draft needs, but if the timing is right, I could see a quarterback being drafted at some point.

Meanwhile, Caleb Hanie is reportedly signing with the Ravens. He was the No. 3 quarterback in Denver (he was signed to be the backup). Denver had no intentions of bringing him back and his signing elsewhere has no impact on the team's draft plans.
The 23rd member of the Denver Broncos' Ring of Fame is one of the most renowned hard workers in team history.

Rod Smith went from an undrafted free agent to a two-time Super Bowl winner and leader of the franchise in Denver. It's no surprise Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and the selection committee have given Smith the team’s greatest honor by inducting him into the Broncos’ Ring of Fame. He is the first person to be inducted in three years.

Smith’s induction ceremony will be Sept. 23 at halftime of the Broncos’ home game against the Houston Texans. It’s probably not a coincidence Smith will be inducted against the Texans. Houston coach Gary Kubiak was Smith’s longtime offensive coordinator in Denver.

[+] EnlargeRod Smith
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiRod Smith finished his stellar career with 849 receptions for 11,389 receiving yards and 68 receiving TDs.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection set franchise records in receptions (849), receiving yards (11,389) and receiving touchdowns (68). He also owns the club’s career postseason receiving marks with 49 receptions for 860 yards and six touchdowns in 13 playoff games (12 starts), including the Broncos' back-to-back Super Bowl championships following the 1997 and ’98 seasons.

The Division II Missouri Southern University product spent his rookie season on the practice squad in 1995. He impressed then-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan in 1995 and Smith quickly became a major part of the offense. He remained a critical part of the team until he retired in 2008.

I covered Smith for a few years and I’ll always remember him for being a team player and being completely committed to his team. He was all business. Being a Bronco meant the world to him. He was a favorite of team employees on the football and non-football sides alike.

Smith’s first NFL quarterback, John Elway, had this to say about Smith’s election to the Ring of Fame:

“You couldn’t ask for a better teammate than Rod Smith. His work ethic, the way he competed and the positive influence he had on others were all qualities that made him one of the best. What a great Bronco who is so deserving of being honored as a member of the Ring of Fame.

“Although he had plenty of catches and touchdowns in his career, the only things that mattered to Rod were winning and competing for Super Bowls. That’s what was most important to him, and it showed in everything he did. Whether it was in the passing game or running game, you always knew Rod would give 100 percent on every play and do whatever it took to help his team win.

“Rod brought his lunch pail to work each day, took nothing for granted and made himself into an elite player. He’s a true pro. In addition to being one of the greatest undrafted players of all time, he’s one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the position.

“I’m thrilled Rod has been elected to the Denver Broncos Ring of Fame, and I look forward to celebrating his induction this season.”
Gary Kubiak has backed up and coached John Elway. He has been a long-time competitor of Peyton Manning.

Kubiak is worried about Elway and Manning combining forces in Denver, where the veteran quarterback signed last week. Here is what Kubiak, head coach of the Houston Texans, thinks of the pairing:

"That's a hell of a combination there,” Kubiak said the NFL owners meetings. “That's powerful. It's great for their organization. It's a big move by John and the organization on this guy, probably the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. He seems healthy, ready to go, so it's a big move by them. They've got a good football team already. They're sitting in the playoffs last year. Their defense played well over the course of the season.

“I think everybody had better worry about it. It's a very powerful combination."

Other AFC West news:

ESPN’s John Clayton reports that the Chargers are continuing to talk to their free-agent defensive tackle Antonio Garay.

Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel told the Kansas City Star that his team has no glaring holes and will wait until after the draft to see where it stands at nose tackle.

San Diego coach Norv Turner likes being under the radar in the AFC West chase.

Unless there is a dramatic change, it appears Cincinnati defensive end/linebacker Manny Lawson will not be signing with the Raiders. Oakland is looking for a starting strongside linebacker, and may wait for the draft to get one. Another player in whom Oakland has reportedly shown interest, Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson, reportedly will visit the Packers.

Adam Caplan reports that Cincinnati backup linebacker and special-teams player Dan Skuta visited the Chiefs. He is a restricted free agent, but Kansas City would not owe the Bengals any compensation if the Chiefs signed him to one because he was an undrafted free agent.

The Raiders will reportedly have a pre-draft visit with Alabama defensive tackle Josh Chapman, a good run-stuffer from a great defense. All teams typically conduct several pre-draft meetings, so a visit with a college player might not necessarily mean much.

Evening AFC West notes

April, 26, 2011
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In a chat, Houston Chronicle's John McClain wrote that the Texans would like to move up to No. 2 in a trade with Denver and take Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. The Broncos would listen to offers. McClain wrote that the Texans could offer their 1, 3, 4 pick and Amobi Okoye.

The Texans’ top pick is No. 11. I don’t think that package is enough and the NFL draft pick value chart backs that thought up. New Denver football leader John Elway and Houston coach Gary Kubiak are former teammates and are close friends. The Denver Post believes the fact that the lockout was lifted by a Minnesota court may have diminished Denver’s chances of a trading the No. 2 pick, which hasn’t been traded in 11 years, anyway.

If Carolina does trade receiver Steve Smith, Denver could be a legitimate target. New Denver coach John Fox came from Carolina and he and Smith had a good relationship. He’d probably reunite to get the veteran receiver. Meanwhile Fox, who clearly knows their needs, thinks the Panthers could take a quarterback at No. 1. Still, he's not sure they will. He’d be happy with that. It would give Denver its choice of any defensive player on its board.

On the first day of lockout limbo, several key Chargers showed up to chat, but not work out. The Oakland Tribune didn’t see any Raiders’ players report to the team’s facility Tuesday morning for what it’s worth. Same goes in Kansas City.
Norv Turner/Todd Haley/Hue JacksonKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireNorv Turner, left, Todd Haley, middle, and Hue Jackson are all expected to be in the play-calling mix.
New Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson realizes the most challenging aspect of his role as a first-time head coach at any level is finding the time to do everything it takes to run a team.

“It’s amazing. You just don’t have any time,” said Jackson, who joked at the NFL combine last month that the biggest sacrifice since becoming a head coach is his physical fitness. “You look up, and you want to go work out and you don’t have the time to do it.”

Jackson is not doing his schedule any favors. In addition to all of the usual roles taken on by head coaches, Jackson will join the alternative ranks of head coaches who call their own offensive plays.

Although it's not a large movement around the NFL, it has become a major trend in the AFC West. Jackson, San Diego’s Norv Turner and Kansas City’s Todd Haley are all expected to call their own plays. Turner has long performed the duty. Haley called the plays in his first season in Kansas City in 2009 before relinquishing the job to Charlie Weis in 2010. With Weis now at the University of Florida, Haley promoted offensive line coach Bill Muir to offensive coordinator.

Haley –- who calls play calling “an art” -- has said multiple times since promoting Muir that he has not decided whether he will call the plays. However, he has also said he is not opposed to doing it. Under Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, Muir ran the offensive meetings and Gruden called the plays on game day.

Assuming Haley will be, at least, very involved in the play calling, the AFC West will be the epicenter of coaches who call plays. Ironically, had Denver not fired Josh McDaniels, the AFC West would have been a full house of head coaches who call their own plays. In a poll of my ESPN.com blog network colleagues, a total of 10 head coaches are expected to call their own plays.

In addition to Jackson, Turner and Haley, Buffalo’s Chan Gailey, New Orleans' Sean Payton, San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh, Houston’s Gary Kubiak, Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, Cleveland’s Pat Shurmur and Dallas’ Jason Garrett are all expected to call their own offensive shots. Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt may be actively involved as well.

Payton and McCarthy have won the past two Super Bowls using this approach. It’s a proven winning formula.

Still, there are two schools of thought: Some people don’t like to see a head coach call his own plays because he may have too much on his plate. Others like it because it keeps the head coach in control of his team.

The general managers of two of the teams that employ the system both say the bottom line is whether it is effective.

“Experience is what matters, no matter who calls the plays,” San Diego general manager A.J. Smith said. “In our particular case, Norv has been calling plays for a long time and it runs very smooth and very well for us.”

Added Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli: “I've been a part of it where coaches have been playcallers on offense or defense. What matters is whether you get it right.”

While Jackson knows his challenge, Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. thinks Jackson is starting his head-coaching career the right way. In fact, Horton would be bothered if Jackson, who was Oakland’s offensive coordinator last season, wasn’t calling his own plays.

“I’d hate to see a guy like Hue not call plays as a head coach,” said Horton, who is a former longtime NFL scout. "That’s why he was hired. He was hired because he has terrific play-calling skills. I want him calling the plays. I’d hate for him to say, ‘Well, I have other things to worry about.’ Play to your strengths. If you were a great playcaller as an offensive coordinator, I want to see you do it as a head coach. If I’m an owner, I’m going to demand it. 'This is why I’m hiring you. Go call the plays.’”

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. agrees that if a head coach thinks he's the best playcaller on the staff, he should assume the role as a head coach. However, Williamson said he has seen coaches who call the plays lose touch with the rest of the game.

“It can be too much if you’re not careful,” said Williamson, another former NFL scout. “I think it is similar to coaches who are also general managers. I think it can be a failing combination. You see these guys have their back turned to the field sometime when the defense is on the field because they are talking with the quarterback. There is so much to worry about during a game. There’s clock management, knowing when to call a timeout. It’s a lot to juggle.”

The key is delegation. Coaches who call their own plays must trust their assistants, particularly their defensive coordinators.

"You have to have a strong guy over on the other side,” Horton said. “You look at a guy like Todd Haley. He’s in good shape because he has Romeo Crennel. Romeo will take care of the defense and allow Todd to run his offense.”

If he does call the plays, expect Haley to be more prepared than he was when he called the plays in 2009. Haley suddenly took over the duties in the preseason when he fired Gailey.

“In Year 1, you're comparing apples to oranges to where we are now as a team and as a staff,” Haley said. “We've had two years full years to lay our foundation [and] the system now is in place. ... Play calling is an art. It's instinctual. There are guys that are good at it and guys that aren't so good at it.”

In 2011, success in the AFC West may depend on head coaches dealing with the challenge of calling plays.

Final Word: AFC West

December, 24, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 16:

No 2008 AFC West repeat: Heading into Week 15, many fans wondered if the Kansas City Chiefs would duplicate the Denver Broncos' disaster of 2008. Who could forget that Denver went from 8-5 to 8-8 and fell out of the playoffs -- ending the 14-year Mike Shanahan era? All the Broncos had to do was win one game. The Chiefs entered the week 8-5 and although Kansas City could not clinch the division in Week 15, many AFC West fans saw similarities. The Chiefs showed they were not going to collapse as they won in St. Louis by 14 points. Kansas City can now take the division with home wins against the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders -- among other scenarios. While they can still lose the division title, the Chiefs pull a 2008 Broncos with three straight losses to end the season.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego defense
Robert Benson/US PresswireSan Diego sacked Alex Smith six times and limited San Francisco to only 192 yards of total offense.
San Diego Chargers’ defense is on a roll: San Diego’s defense is heading into Sunday’s game at Cincinnati playing well. San Diego has allowed just seven points in the past two games, against Kansas City and San Francisco. The Chargers nearly pulled off two straight shutouts, but the 49ers scored a touchdown late in the game in Week 15. San Diego has allowed a total of 259 yards in the past two games. The Chargers also lead the NFL in total defense, allowing an average of just 259.8 yards per game. Another big defensive performance could be on the horizon as they face the Bengals and their 21st-ranked offense in the NFL.

Raiders have to snap streak: If Oakland wants to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture, the Raiders have to show they are capable of beating a playoff-caliber team. They get their chance when Indianapolis visits Sunday. They could even be knocked out of playoff contention by the time they kick off, if the Chiefs beat the Titans at home. The Raiders are 5-0 against AFC West competition, but 0-5 against the rest of the AFC. The closest Oakland has come in any of those games has been two seven-point losses. A win over the Colts would give Oakland much-needed confidence if it advances to the playoffs.

Homecoming rehearsal for Kubiak? There has been speculation that Texans coach Gary Kubiak could be a candidate for the Denver head-coaching job if Houston fires him. If the Broncos really want Kubiak, they should beat the visiting Texans on Sunday. A loss to the Broncos could be the nail in the coffin for Kubiak. In five seasons in Houston, Kubiak has not led the Texans to the playoffs. Still, there’s reason why Denver could be interested in its former backup quarterback and offensive coordinator. He knows how to be successful in Denver and may have the support of his former teammate, John Elway, who is expected to join the front office. I wouldn’t say Kubiak is a front-runner in Denver, but if he becomes available, I could see the Broncos being interested.

Sharing the load in San Diego: Chargers running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are splitting carries even closer these days. In Week 14 against Kansas City, Mathews and Tolbert each had 16 carries. In Week 15 against San Francisco, both players had 17 carries. Mathews has a total of 121 yards while Tolbert has a total of 112 yards in the two games. The rookie Mathews, has been hampered by several injuries, is averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 120 attempts this season. Tolbert is averaging 4.1 yards on 178 carries this season. Because both players have been effective and both players give the offense a different dimension, I’d expect the even split to continue for the rest of the season.

Denver candidates, AFC West style

December, 17, 2010
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Romeo CrennelAP Photo/Ed ZurgaDenver could take a long look at Kansas City coordinator Romeo Crennel for its next coach.

While the other three teams in the AFC West have kept their playoff hopes alive going into Week 15, the Denver Broncos are focused on finding a new coach after the season in light of their firing of coach Josh McDaniels earlier this month.

There will be several names that get connected to the Denver job in the next few weeks and the Broncos probably will interview several candidates. It won’t be a shock if their search includes an assistant from each of the three other teams in the division. Because of success in certain areas, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego all have staff members who could draw interest from elsewhere.

Here is a look at a potential candidate for the Denver job from each staff in the division:

Kansas City

Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator:

Why he could fit in Denver: Crennel has NFL head-coaching experience. He coached the Cleveland Browns from 2005-08 and in those four seasons his record was 24-40. His record isn't great, but Crennel has a strong history as an NFL assistant and the Broncos may think he could do better in his second turn as a head coach. Plus, he wouldn’t be overly expensive, which is an important element for Denver owner Pat Bowlen, who has to pay Mike Shanahan, McDaniels and a new coach in 2011. The combination of Crennel’s head-coaching experience and his affordability will make Crennel attractive, along with the likes of Mike Nolan or Gary Kubiak (if he’s fired in Houston). Crennel has done a fine job in his first season as the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator. The young Chiefs’ defense is playing aggressive, smart football and is a reason why Kansas City leads the division. Crennel’s influence in Kansas City has to be noticed in Denver.

Why he may not fit in Denver: Crennel is 63. That is rather old for an NFL head coach these days. I’m not sure Denver is looking for another 32-year-old like McDaniels was when Denver hired him in January, 2009, but I bet it is looking for a younger coach than Crennel. Plus, Crennel is part of the Bill Belichick New England coaching tree. Denver might think twice before picking a coach off that tree again so soon after the McDaniels debacle. (Prior to being hired in Denver, McDaniels was New England’s offensive coordinator.) Plus, like Kansas City offensive coordinator and fellow former New England assistant Charlie Weis, Crennel may ultimately be looked at as a great coordinator, but a not-so-good head coach.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Hue Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREOakland offensive coordinator Hue Jackson may have the offensive approach the Broncos are seeking.
Oakland

Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator

Why he could fit in Denver: Jackson is an offense-minded coach. That has long been the direction of the team. Jackson coaches the zone-blocking running scheme that Denver ran from 1995 until this season. Much of Denver’s offensive personnel is suited for that scheme. Jackson is a young coach who is well liked by his players and he is very energetic. Hiring a players' coach could be the direction the Broncos want to go in after McDaniels’ tenure, when there was a clear separation between the staff and the roster. In Jackson’s first year in Oakland, the Raiders have gone from No. 31 to No. 9 in the league in scoring. Jackson, who has no NFL head-coaching experience, wouldn’t break the bank, which would fit Denver’s criteria. Plus, hiring the offensive coordinator of the team that hung 59 points on you could sell in Denver.

Why he may not fit in Denver: The Broncos may want someone with more NFL credentials and his lack of head-coaching experience could get in the way. Plus, getting Jackson out of Oakland and into Denver could be difficult. It’s hard to imagine Raiders owner Al Davis letting Jackson -- whom Davis greatly admires -- go to his arch rival. The only way Davis could prevent the move probably would be to promote Jackson to head coach, but Tom Cable has done a good job this season. In the end, there may be a lot of obstacles to the Jackson-Broncos pairing, but I’m sure Denver will at least consider interviewing Jackson.

San Diego

Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator

Why he could fit in Denver: It would get Rivera out of San Diego, and that wouldn’t hurt the Broncos. Rivera’s defense in San Diego has been ranked No.1 throughout the season. Even though the history in Denver has been to hire an offense-first coach, the defensive side of the ball has been lacking. The Broncos may look seriously at defensive coaches. The Broncos are on their fifth defensive coordinator in five seasons and they need stability. Denver has allowed more points than any team in the league this season. Rivera is a smart, high-character coach. Plus, he has a history of strong results as the defensive coordinator in Chicago and San Diego. Rivera has interviewed for several NFL jobs. This might be the year he finally gets his chance to run a team. Rivera could be attractive to the Broncos’ fan base because there is a large Hispanic population in Denver. The hiring of Rivera would create excitement in the community.

Why he may not fit in Denver: If the Broncos insist on staying on the offensive side of the ball, Rivera won’t get a look. If Denver is looking for a high-profile candidate, Rivera wouldn’t fit, either. Rivera is an understated guy who will never be the face-of-the-organization type. The former Bears linebacker is a hard-working, detailed-oriented coach who believes in keeping his head down. If the Broncos are looking for a rah-rah type to restore excitement in Denver, Rivera might not be the right guy.

Evening AFC West notes

December, 10, 2010
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While the Kansas City Chiefs will likely be without Matt Cassel in the Sunday’s pivotal game in San Diego, there is a chance the Chargers will have the services of top receiving options Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson.

Both Pro Bowl players are questionable to play against the Chiefs. Gates did not practice all week because of a nagging injury, but the team is hopeful he can play. Jackson practiced fully. He is listed as questionable with a calf injury. He missed last week’s game against Oakland and he was hurt on the second play against the Colts, which was his first game of the season after a long holdout.

Receiver Legedu Naanee is doubtful with a nagging hamstring injury. San Diego running back Darren Sproles is questionable after being limited all week with a concussion. It wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t play.
  • Like in Denver, Houston is preparing for a potential John Elway-Gary Kubiak reunion with the Broncos. Lots would have to happen, folks, but this could potentially be feasible. Elway and the Broncos have been talking about him joining the franchise. These talks have been ongoing. I have chimed on this possibility often. I think it is a matter of time before Elway joins the front office. But as long as Elway, who does not have NFL experience in the area, doesn’t make the final personnel decisions, I think it would be a good move. Elway has value, but it should be as the primary decision maker. That’s just not his area of expertise.

Where will Tomlinson end up?

February, 22, 2010
2/22/10
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LaDainian Tomlinson recently said he believes he can still be an effective running back. Expect the 30-year-old Tomlinson, who was released by San Diego on Monday, to continue his career.

LaDainian Tomlinson
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaLaDainian Tomlinson isn't ready to hang up his cleats yet.
Some league observers believe Tomlinson may have to wait a while to garner interest. Here is a list of potential suitors.

Baltimore

Why: Tomlinson said after he was kept by San Diego in 2009 that he thought Baltimore could have been a potential landing spot.

Denver

Why: Tomlinson is still effective at the goal line. Denver struggled in short yardage last season.

Green Bay

Why: The Packers could use a veteran presence in the backfield.

Houston

Why: Texans coach Gary Kubiak has long been a fan of Tomlinson’s.

Kansas City

Why: The Chiefs could use a veteran mentor for young star Jamaal Charles.

New Orleans

Why: Tomlinson and Drew Brees, the king of New Orleans, would love to reunite.

Washington

Why: Mike Shanahan loves veterans and he was a huge admirer of Tomlinson’s while he was in Denver.

AFC West coaching update

January, 10, 2010
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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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

DANA POINT, Calif. -- As I walked into the conference room Tuesday morning for the annual AFC coaches' session at the NFL owners' meeting, there was no doubt where I needed to go to chase the next step in the Jay Cutler-Denver Broncos saga.

I needed to head to the table that had seven seats occupied and at least another 30 eager bodies surrounding it.

That must be Josh McDaniels' table.

The first person I ran across in the room was Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, whom I know from our two years in Denver together. Kubiak looked at me and smiled widely.

"I know where you are going," he said.

As I waded through the media crush all awaiting the arrival of the 32-year-old rookie coach, I was amused by the looks on the other AFC coaches' faces when they saw the press corps awaiting McDaniels. First-year New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh both started laughing when they entered the room and saw the Cutler-caused cluster. The other 15 tables in the room each had about three to five people awaiting coaches. McDaniels' table sold out faster than a Springsteen concert.

Later, McDaniels said new Colts coach Jim Caldwell offered to switch seats when he entered the room.

But McDaniels was a trooper.

Flanked by a Broncos spokesman, McDaniels offered a warm smile when he maneuvered through the throng and landed in the only empty chair (he coined it the "lucky seat") at the table. He knew what to expect.

Still, it was daunting. Had the Cutler fiasco not started 24 days ago, McDaniels wouldn't have been a featured attraction. Four years ago, at the NFL meetings, then-Denver coach Mike Shanahan had two or three people at his table for the majority of the hour-long session -- and he was a two-time Super Bowl winner.

This year's Super Bowl-winning coach, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin, had five people at his table to start the session -- or about 30 fewer than the kid coach who has never won an NFL game.

For the first half hour of his session, McDaniels fielded all Cutler questions. The questions eventually did switch (and McDaniels acknowledged he was happy to change the subject), but it didn't take long before they took a detour back onto the Cutler Expressway.

The best part of McDaniels' session was the atmosphere, not the contents of the interview. McDaniels offered the company line.

He said the Broncos are committed to Cutler and the team doesn't want to trade its quarterback. But he did say he will do "what's in the best interest of the team."

Asked at what point would it be in the best interest of the team to trade Cutler (who is staying away from the team's offseason workout program and has formally asked to be traded) McDaniels answered: "Never."

Then he said the opportunity to trade a player like Cutler is rare. Yet, he never ruled it out. That is one of the reasons why Cutler's camp is upset. They want to hear McDaniels say for sure he will not be traded.

McDaniels said the team wants to keep Cutler and he is the team's quarterback but "it is his job" to be open to everything.

McDaniels said he will continue to try to get in contact with Cutler in an attempt to work out the problem. He wants the situation to be resolved. Cutler has only met with the team with his agent, Bus Cook, present. McDaniels said Tuesday that because it is not a contract issue, he thinks the situation is between player and coach.

McDaniels said Cutler never asked him to be traded early in the offseason. It has been reported that Cutler did ask for a trade prior to Denver talking about acquiring Matt Cassel and trading Cutler. McDaniels maintained Denver never initiated trade talks. Cutler has said he knows for a fact that the Broncos did start talks.

McDaniels said the chance of coaching Cutler was the initial selling point of the job for him. He admitted he never imagined this situation so early in his tenure.

"But every day is not going to be roses," McDaniels said.

Indeed, Tuesday's session was a tad thorny.

Perhaps the best moment of the session was saved for last. All of the coaches from the teams that started in the American Football League showed off the jerseys that their teams will wear twice this season to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the AFL. Coaches had the jersey number of their biggest stars.

Yes, McDaniels was issued No. 6 with Cutler's name on it. Could you imagine Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy having to hold up a Brett Favre jersey last summer or Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid having to hold up a Terrell Owens jersey three years ago?

But McDaniels handled that awkward moment just as he did the entire hour -- with a smile. He was probably relieved because it marked the end of his hour-plus under the microscope.

AFC West mail call

September, 13, 2008
9/13/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Weekend mail call ... It's all Broncos and Raiders. I didn't get any Chargers or Chiefs mail in the past few days.

Oakland: Even if Walker playing this Sunday, do you think it will help Russell or in that matter the Raiders?

BW: Sure, it will matter. The Oakland offense can use all the help it can get. Walker is an experienced player. He should help JaMarcus Russell. Will it be the difference? Who knows, but the Raiders can use Javon Walker.


Victor from New York City: Hey Bill, how come Al Davis doesn't change his way of treating head coaches and operating an organization? Doesn't he look at the winning organizations like the Patriots, Colts and Steelers and want to pattern his organization like theirs because his way of doing things hasn't worked for the last 5(now 6)years. Doesn't he have advisers that tell him these things?

BW: Al Davis is 79 years old. He's done it his way his entire career and it will never change.

(Read full post)

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