AFC West: Herm Edwards

The Denver Broncos watch the recoveries of all of their surgically-repaired players with great interest, but the recovery timetable of one of those players will have the most significant impact on the kind of defense the Broncos will play in the 2014 season.

Is it Von Miller? Well, the Broncos certainly want their Pro Bowl linebacker back to his 2012 production level-self when he returns from ACL surgery because an elite edge rusher is a foundation player in roster building. But, no, it's not him.

Is it Derek Wolfe? The Broncos would like Wolfe, who did not play after suffering seizure-like symptoms in late November, to return to their defensive line rotation and be the impactful player up front they believed he could be when they took him in the second round of the 2012 draft. But, no, it's not him.

It's cornerback Chris Harris Jr. By all accounts Harris Jr. is progressing well from his ACL surgery. Harris signed his one-year tender offer this week. The one-year deal, now guaranteed since Harris Jr. has signed it, is worth $2.187 million in the coming season.

The Broncos had placed a second-round pick on Harris Jr. as compensation had he signed an offer sheet from another team. But the Broncos had the right to match any offer Harris Jr. would have received from another team and would have quickly done so had anybody else tried to sign him.

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
John Leyba/Getty ImagesChris Harris Jr.'s ability to play both outside at cornerback and inside in the slot against any receiver makes him a rare player in the league.
But in a pass-happy league, Harris Jr.'s ability to play both outside at cornerback and inside in the slot against any receiver makes him a rare player in the league.

In fact there are some in the league who believe, after a franchise quarterback, the cornerback who can play effectively down inside at the nickel spot may be the most difficult to find. Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway says there is only a short list to work from when you look at draft prospects each year.

“And that's where it's really getting difficult, and maybe the most valuable guy right now is the guy who can come down and play in the slot,'' said ESPN's Herm Edwards, a former NFL defensive back who has also coached the secondary and called plays on defense in the league. “When you get that guy he can play a long time. He's got to do everything, a unique, valuable guy, who can cover, blitz, tackle and play outside and inside and do all of that while being technically sound.''

It is how Harris Jr. has gone from inexplicably going undrafted as a rookie in 2012 to such a key role in the Broncos' defense. He's ultra competitive, quick, rebounds from the few mistakes he does make quickly and can cover bigger receivers outside as well as the smaller, fast-twitch quick players on the inside.

Former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection, said the nickel corner has one of the toughest jobs because things happen quickly in the middle of the field and there is no benefit of a sideline “where you can force a guy to cut him off from the ball. Inside you're always in the open and if you make a mistake the quarterback can pounce fast.''

“When you play outside the boundary is your friend, you're always playing to a boundary,'' Edwards said. “It's there to help you. When you play the nickel you're in the middle of the field, and there's always a void in the defense between the numbers, between the hashes, there's always an empty spot. If a guy beats you there, you're done on defense the guy catches it and now he's running ... And it all happens fast in there.''

It's why Harris Jr. was easily the Broncos' most important restricted free agent and also may have been their most important player from their own roster who was poised for some kind of free agency. Replacing Harris would have likely, in the opinion of many personnel executives around the league, been more difficult for the Broncos than replacing Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno, Zane Beadles or Shaun Phillips -- all players who signed elsewhere.

Harris Jr. is still on track to return to full speed from ACL surgery -- an injury he suffered in the divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers this past January -- and projects as a starter at corner alongside Aqib Talib. And while Talib has played inside at times in his career, Harris Jr. still projects to move into the slot when the Broncos go to the nickel and if they haven't matched Talib on a receiver who has moved into the slot to try and escape him.

Elway said last week at the NFL meetings that the timeframe for Harris Jr. to get back to full speed was not the same as other players who have had ACL surgery because Harris Jr. did not damage any other ligaments or cartilage and the ACL was not completely torn.

“But when you have that guy -- and I've coached guys who it took a year and half to even get comfortable in the nickel role -- and you can rely on that guy to move wherever you need him to, you have to keep him,'' Edwards said. “Because if you don't you're going to have to spend a lot of time trying to get yourself another one.''

There appears to be some clarity in the timeline of Jared Veldheer's recovery from a partially torn triceps’ injury.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Oakland Raiders' talented left tackle has opted to undergo surgery. Schefter reports the recovery time is three months. The Raiders are expected to put Veldheer on the injury reserve with the option of bringing him back.

If all goes well, Veldheer could return for the final seven games of the season. Regardless of the timing of his return, Oakland will be without one of their best players for a significant portion of the season.

The best option for Veldheer is to have the surgery, which will help him completely heal. Plus, having a left tackle try to play through such an injury could be problematic. For now, journeyman Alex Barron will replace Veldheer.

In the video above, ESPN analyst Herm Edwards looks at Oakland’s options, including acquiring a left tackle through a trade. I think that option may be a long shot since Veldheer should return at some point this season, and the team needs to keep all of its resources moving forward.

Evening AFC West notes

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After visiting the Kansas City camp, ESPN’s John Clayton thinks the Chiefs are primed for a major turnaround. I look forward to my journey to St. Joseph, Mo., next week to see Andy Reid’s revamped crew.

This ESPN.com Insider piece looks Insider at how Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles should be a strong fantasy play this season.

ESPN The Magazine looks at the emotional Philip Rivers. Meanwhile, things are speeding up for the Chargers’ quarterback.

ESPN analysts Merril Hoge and Herm Edwards preview the AFC West in this video.

A quick turnaround in KC?

January, 8, 2013
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In an Insider piece, Pro Football Focus thinks the Insider 2013 Kansas City Chiefs could mirror the 2012 Indianapolis Colts as a team that went from having the No. 1 pick in the draft to having big success.

I think the Chiefs can get better quickly but there is one type of player the 2012 Colts had that the Chiefs do not yet have – Andrew Luck. The Chiefs must find a quarterback before making any big 2013 plans.

In other AFC West news:

ESPN’s Ed Werder is reporting Dallas could pursue former San Diego coach Norv Turner to run their offense. Turner had immense success as Dallas’ offensive coordinator in the early 1990s.

In an Insider piece, Mel Kiper thinks a couple of Denver rookies are poised to have big seasons in 2013. Insider

In an Insider piece, Herm Edwards thinks the Chargers will be among a group of teams to bounce back in 2013. Insider I maintain that the key is getting an influx of talent on offense for San Diego. The Chargers just aren’t currently good enough on offense.

Denver cornerback Champ Bailey and left tackle Ryan Clady both made USA Football’s All-Fundamentals team.

The Raiders named defensive back Michael Huff their recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

Will Chiefs go after a big fish?

December, 31, 2012
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Monday’s events make the Kansas City Chiefs' head-coaching job one of the most intriguing openings in the NFL.

It makes me wonder if Kansas City owner Clark Hunt is priming to go after a big-name coach.

There are clearly some indications that that could be the case. Hunt fired coach Romeo Crennel but said this about general manager Scott Pioli in a statement announcing Crennel’s dismissal: “The entire football operation will remain under review, and there may be additional changes to come. No final determination has been made at this point on the future of general manager Scott Pioli."

[+] EnlargeRomeo Crennel, Clark Hunt
Zumapress/Icon SMIClark Hunt now shifts his focus to finding a new coach to replace Romeo Crennel.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Hunt will lead the coaching search and then he and the new coach will discuss Pioli’s future.

That means the team will not be hiring another high-powered general manager. It seems like the coach will have more power than Pioli. I think that means Pioli will likely go. Remember, four years ago, Hunt kept coach Herm Edwards on board until he hired Pioli. The reverse may be in play here.

I just don’t see it working between Pioli and a new coach unless the choice is someone like Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz or former New England assistant and current Penn State coach Bill O’Brien.

But it seems like the focus is more on the future, instead of making it work with Pioli.

So, perhaps Hunt will go for a big fish such as Oregon coach Chip Kelly. There has been some speculation Hunt could be interested in former Eagles coach Andy Reid.

However, a wrinkle in that, though, is the report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that the Chiefs will interview Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter this week. Koetter is not an experienced NFL coach and he is not considered a big-ticket candidate. I’d have a hard time thinking Koetter is prepared to give any input on the future of the general manager.

But it’s early in the process. There is a lot to play out. But Monday’s steps show that Hunt is going about his search in a way that was unexpected. Hunt has a reputation for being immensely private, and he doesn’t show his cards much. The word is even his closest confidantes are in the dark.

Hunt apologized to the fans in his statement Monday, and he used strong words like “embarrassed.” He knows Kansas City fans are fed up. He saw the empty seats in beautiful Arrowhead Stadium. He knows dramatic changes are needed.

So, this might be the time for a big splash. If Bill Cowher ever would want to get back in the NFL, maybe it could be for the team for which he was the defensive coordinator from 1989 to 1991.

I think anything is on the table, and I think coaches will listen to Hunt.

Of course, the biggest ding on this team is the lack of a quarterback. That is a huge problem and the Chiefs will have to figure something out, perhaps bringing in a bridge veteran opposed to staking its future to a risky rookie from a weak quarterback class. But there are a lot of things to like about this team.

It is a talented roster with a lot of salary-cap room. After all, the Chiefs had five Pro Bowl players despite going 2-14. They also have the No. 1 pick in the draft. The fan base is good and the team’s facilities are top-notch.

This is an attractive situation.

For those who think Hunt will not shell out financially for a big-name coach, remember that Pioli was the general manager prize four years ago and Hunt got him. Hunt may think it is time to go for it again, this time with a high-profile coach.

Chiefs' problems extend beyond Crennel

December, 31, 2012
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The fact Romeo Crennel is out in Kansas City and Scott Pioli is still employed may imply that the Chiefs are pinning their problems on the coach.

That is the wrong tack to take.

It wasn’t all Crennel’s fault. Yes, his team was terrible. The Chiefs finished 2-14, which is tied for the worst record in team history. Interestingly, Herm Edwards went 2-14 in 2008. That prompted the team’s hiring of Pioli four years ago.

Fans and league observers alike applauded the hiring. Now, after two coaches, Pioli’s team is 2-14.

The Chiefs didn’t look at many other coaches last January when Crennel was promoted from interim coach to the permanent spot. The primary reason was because Crennel was so well-liked and respected by the players. The Chiefs went 2-1 under Crennel to end the 2011 season. They stunned then-13-0 Green Bay in Crennel’s first game as the replacement for Todd Haley and Crennel was essentially considered the future coach from that day on.

This was a team that was widely expected to contend for a playoff spot. However, Crennel and his staff did not do a good job this season. There was little fight in this team. They were blown out routinely. Their 13.4-point differential was last in the NFL. The Chiefs averaged 13.2 points this season, which was last in the league.

The Chiefs -- a talented team that netted five Pro Bowl players despite earning the No. 1 overall draft pick -- were tied for the NFL high with 37 turnovers.

Crennel ends his Kansas City career with a 4-15 record. He is 65 and there is a lot of talk the highly decorated defensive coach may retire. It's been a great career for Crennel, who won five Super Bowl rings with the Giants and Patriots. It was just a bad ending. But not all of the Chiefs’ issues are solely on him, even though he stands as the fall guy at this moment.

Jets switch gears for Chargers

December, 18, 2012
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It will not be the Turnover Bowl.

It will not be return of Tebow Time in the AFC West.

It will just be the 5-9 San Diego Chargers against Greg McElroy and the similarly-playoff eliminated New York Jets on Sunday.

That’s no fun.

After a disastrous performance by Mark Sanchez on Monday night, the Jets have announced McElroy, the No. 3 quarterback, will start against the Chargers on Sunday. We were hoping for sexier storylines.

Had Sanchez kept his job, it would be a battle of the two players who have committed the most turnovers in the NFL since the start of last season. Sanchez has 50 turnovers since then and San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has 47.

This is Tebow’s only game against an AFC West opponent in his first season since being traded from Denver. Watching Tebow scurrying around the field against the Chargers would have brought back memories for everybody.

But instead, we get McElroy. Yep, this game has gotten even more meaningless.

In other AFC West news:

In an Insider piece, former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards writes how to stop a Peyton Manning-led offense.

More disturbing details have emerged from the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide case in Kansas City.

In another sad story, ESPN.com looks at the death of former Denver receiver Kenny McKinley. He killed himself two years ago while on the injured reserve.
The AFC West is a central figure in this week’s ESPN.com Hot Read by Greg Garber.

Garber talked to several people connected to the NFL to come up with the six toughest NFL venues to visit for opposing teams.

Denver came in at No. 5 and Kansas City came in at No. 6. On the flip side, Oakland was on the list of the easiest places to play because of a poor home winning percentage.

Denver made the list for its high-altitude toughness. Historically, the Broncos have been one of the NFL’s toughest places to play, but for the past half of the last decade, Denver lost its home mojo. It seems to be clicking again now with Peyton Manning at the helm. Denver is 2-1 at home.

Kansas City made the list because of the atmosphere and the passion of the fans. That is nice reassurance for the fans in the Heartland. It’s been a rough week after Chiefs’ right tackle Eric Winston berated some fans for cheering when Matt Cassel was hurt at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. It put these great fans in a negative light just because a faction of fans reacted poorly.

Wednesday, Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel tipped his cap to Kansas City fans.

“As far as the reaction with the fans, historically, the Chiefs fans are some of the best fans in the NFL,” Crennel said. “You can go back and you can look at that, and you know that that’s the case. I’ve played here, I’ve come into here and I’ve played here on an opposing team, and I can verify that they are supportive of the team, they want the team to win, and they try to help the team win.”

Garber’s reporting confirms that there are many in the NFL who feel the same way. So does ESPN analyst and former Kansas City coach Herm Edwards, who thinks Kansas City and Denver are both among the toughest places to play in the NFL.

What are your thoughts on these rankings? Are they fair? Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.

Could Carter be answer in Oakland?

September, 18, 2012
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The Oakland Raiders have a lot of needs after starting 0-2 for the first time in five years.

One of the issues is a lack of a pass rush. Oakland, which has two sacks in two games, is considering addressing the problem with a second workout for Andre Carter.

The pass-rusher visited the Raiders during the preseason, but he reportedly wasn’t recovered from an injury that ended his season in New England last year. CBS Sports is reporting that Carter is working out for the Raiders on Tuesday and New England is also closely monitoring him.

There have been several reports that Carter would like to return to the Patriots. However, he resides in the Bay Area. If the Raiders do sign Carter, he’d probably be a rotational pass-rusher.

Predictably, the Raiders are looking at cornerbacks as well. They have been decimated by injuries and an overall lack of depth at the position.

In other AFC West news:

In an Insider piece, former Kansas City coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards looks at the problems that have caused the Chiefs to start the season 0-2.

Despite the slow start, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli told the Kansas City Star he thinks the team can pull out of its funk.

The Chargers have re-signed offensive lineman Reggie Wells. The team cut cornerback Greg Gatson. Wells was cut to make room for Gatson on Saturday because the Chargers needed help at cornerback against Tennessee.
Whether it was covering him when he was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs or talking to him and watching him as an analyst on ESPN, what I’ve always appreciated about Herm Edwards is he says what he feels.

He may raise an eyebrow or two with his opinions, but they are his opinions and he means what he says. I’m sure Edwards is raising many a brow Tuesday with his NFL head-coach rankings in an Insider piece on ESPN.com Insider.

The center of his rankings is right here in the AFC West. Edwards calls San Diego coach Norv Turner an elite coach. It shocked the league that Turner was kept in San Diego after last season, a second straight playoff-less year in San Diego.

Still, Edwards points to Turner’s lengthy experience as an NFL head man, his win totals and his reputation as a brilliant offensive mind for his status as an elite coach. I’m sure Edwards will have many people questioning this call. But ask folks around the NFL about the great offensive minds and Turner is usually at the top of the list.

Edwards also puts Denver coach John Fox in the elite status. I agree. Fox is an underrated coach, who is air-tight in his preparation, loved by his players and in the upper-echelon of defensive thinkers in the league. He has quickly changed the culture in Denver.

Edwards put Kansas City first-year coach Romeo Crenel in the “jury is still out” category. That’s fair. Crennel is beginning his second head-coaching stint after a mostly disappointing time in Cleveland, but the early returns on Crennel in Kansas City have been promising.

Edwards really didn’t rank first-year Oakland coach Dennis Allen, instead putting him in with the other first-year coaches.

OK, I’m stepping out of the way now. I’m sure you all have plenty to type. Commence the chaos.

Are the San Diego Chargers ready to end their two-year playoff drought?

In an ESPN series, “5 In, 5 Out,” our experts think the Chargers are a strong candidate to roar back into the playoffs. In this video, Mark Schlereth and Herm Edward break down the Chargers’ chances.

I think San Diego is a real candidate to get back into the playoffs.

I think the keys are improved ball security by quarterback Philip Rivers (he finished the 2011 season strong in that area), improved offensive line play, improved pass rush, and better third-down defense. San Diego’s defense was last in the NFL on third down last year.

This is still a talented roster and I think eyeing this team as a potential playoff team is the right call.
Tim TebowJustin Edmonds/Getty ImagesThe Denver Broncos are 7-1 this season with Tim Tebow as their starting quarterback.

Just how long can this Denver Broncos circus act last?

It is officially time to wonder what kind of damage the Broncos could administer if they actually get into the playoffs -- and how they match up against the best teams in the AFC.

After going 7-1 with Tim Tebow as the quarterback and riding a six-game winning streak (including the past four games in which they trailed in the fourth quarter, only the second time in history that has happened), the Broncos are on pace to win the AFC West and be the No. 4 seed. Denver -- which has a 78.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN.com's Insider Insider Playoff Predictor -- leads Oakland by one game in the AFC West. If Denver beats Kansas City at home in Week 17, the Raiders will have to finish with a better record than the Broncos to win the division because of tiebreakers.

The Broncos will face their greatest challenge of the Tebow run Sunday, when they host 10-3 New England. In the most anticipated game of Week 15, we stand to find out a lot about the Broncos, who are winning with a wicked combination of Tebow’s late brilliance, the league’s best running attack, timely, stiff defense and clutch special teams play, all guided by first-year coach John Fox and his staff in one of the best coaching runs in the NFL this season.

Denver doesn’t necessarily have to win this game to win the division, but if the Broncos can stick with the Patriots, it could send quite a message about their readiness for January football. Because Denver is winning with complete football, it is taking on the look of a team no one wants to see on the same side of the playoff bracket.

“My head says it will end this week, but my heart says they have a real shot,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “I think it’s going to end every week, and then it just goes on. I talk to a lot of smart football people every day and no one has any answers for it. But we’re buying in. I think this game against New England should be the end, but I can also see Denver pulling it off.”

Part of the phenomenon that has been the Broncos' season is the evolution of expectations for them. After a 45-10 drubbing by Detroit on Oct. 30 in Tebow’s second start, the Broncos were 2-5 and had the look of a team that would be picking in the top five and looking for a new quarterback in the offseason. Analysts gave the Broncos no chance. And they weren’t alone: I remember talking to several people in the Broncos’ organization that day, players included, and despair hovered over the team.

Since that day, however, the Broncos have mesmerized the league and caused several analysts to change their tune. ESPN analysts and previous Denver skeptics such as Merril Hoge, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer all said on the air this week that they are buying into what Tebow and his teammates are doing. When asked on ESPN this week if he could see Denver ending up in the Super Bowl in less than two months, analyst and former NFL head coach Herm Edwards responded this way: “I can’t say no."

Beyond the comebacks, the Broncos are answering a lot of questions. Against Oakland (a 38-24 win) and Minnesota (35-32), they proved they can outscore teams. Against Chicago, Denver proved it can win when Tebow has to throw 40 times. And Denver is 5-0 on the road with Tebow as the starter. What might make Denver tough to beat in the playoffs is that it is playing at a high level in all areas, as this ESPN Stats & Information post explains.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he is not taking the Broncos lightly going into Sunday’s game.

“They’re a good football team and they’re playing great,” Belichick told reporters this week. “They’re well-coached; solid team. Defensively they do a lot of things well. They run well. They have good pass-rushers, cover well. They’ve made a lot of big plays, third-down stops, short-yardage, goal-line, red area, turnovers. They’ve made them all at the right times. They’re real good on special teams, good coverage team, good kickers and good returners. Offensively they do a good job of running the ball, getting it down the field. They have a lot of long passes. Again, they’ve made the big plays when they had to in critical situations at the end of the game, fourth quarter, overtime, third down, all those kind of things. They’re at the top of their game.”

How Denver hangs with New England should provide some gauge of its playoff hopes. But what about against other AFC big hitters -- Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston?

“It’s like the Patriots, I don’t like their chances,” Horton said. “But then again, I do like their chances because of what the Broncos have done in the past six weeks. I think Denver’s strategy in every game will be to keep it low.”

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. doesn’t think Tebow could win in the playoffs against the Ravens, Steelers or Texans.

“I can’t say I see Tebow doing well at all against any of these three defenses,” Williamson said.

Haven’t we been saying that for weeks?

“I’m dumbfounded," Horton said. “But I’m not going to underestimate Denver anymore. Maybe they won’t do anything if they get to the playoffs, but did you ever think we’d even be talking about them having a chance at the playoffs this late in the season?”

Time is running out for McFadden

December, 14, 2011
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Raiders’ rookie receiver Denarius Moore was back at practice Wednesday on a limited basis. He missed the past three games with a foot injury. If he doesn’t suffer a setback, he may be able to play Sunday against Detroit. However, running back Darren McFadden (foot), and receivers Jacoby Ford (foot) and running back Taiwan Jones (hamstring) did not practice. Yet, Ford and Jones were running on the side, so they could be on their way back soon.

McFadden has been out for seven-plus weeks with no signs of him returning. Raiders coach Hue Jackson has maintained McFadden will be back this season, but timing is running out. You have to wonder if we have seen the end of McFadden in 2011.

In other AFC West news:
  • In Denver, starting defensive backs Brian Dawkins (neck) and cornerback Andre Goodman (concussion) did not practice Wednesday. Neither player was able to finish the Chicago game. That is not a good sign considering Tom Brady and the Patriots are visiting Denver on Sunday. Also, Denver receiver Eddie Royal was limited in practice after missing the Chicago game with a concussion.
  • Here’s the reaction from Brady when told Wednesday he has a 1-5 record against Denver. It is the only team Brady has a losing record against. “1-5? Man, that’s pretty bad. Hopefully we get to 2-5 this week.”
  • Four players from the AFC West (one player from each team) were named to the 26-member USA Football All-Fundamentals Team. The four AFC West players are: Denver’s Eric Decker (catching with hands), Kansas City’s Tamba Hali (pass rush), Oakland’s Shane Lechler (punting mechanics) and San Diego’s Eric Weddle safety (footwork in coverage). Former Chiefs executive Carl Peterson and former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards are on the five-person board.
  • Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer took a dive on ESPN.com’s quarterback watch.
  • Denver linebacker Von Miller remains atop ESPN.com’s Rookie Watch.
  • Former Kansas City coach Todd Haley will join ESPN’s Audibles on Thursday night as a guest analyst at 7 p.m. ET. He was fired Monday.
  • New Kansas City starting quarterback Kyle Orton indicated he is healthy after injuring his finger two weeks ago. If he doesn’t suffer a setback, Orton will start Sunday against Green Bay.
  • Denver quarterback Tim Tebow is third behind Brady and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in the fan Pro Bowl vote. The fan voting counts for a third of the voting along with player and coach’s votes. The team will be announced Dec. 27. Meanwhile, ESPN2’s First Take -- hosted by longtime Tebow supporter Skip Bayless -- will broadcast live from Jackson’s Sports Bar in Denver from 10-12 a.m. ET Friday. The public is invited to the free event.
Former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen is still mad about his final days as a Chief.

Allen blasted Carl Peterson in a conference call with Kansas City reporters Wednesday for trading him to the Minnesota Vikings in 2008 because they did not want to give him a long-term deal. The Chiefs replaced him with Scott Pioli. Allen also took some lighter jabs at Kansas City chairman Clark Hunt, but Peterson was his main target. The Vikings visit Kansas City on Sunday.

"His name was Carl Peterson,” Allen said when he was asked to explain what he meant by earlier comments in the call about his problems in Kansas City.

“You can write that in caps. Obviously, I guess I had a problem with Clark [Hunt], too, because he chose Carl over me. When everything went down there, I didn’t appreciate being lied to. I was told I’d be getting a [contract] extension and everything and the way things played out. ... My biggest thing was, ‘Listen, I never lied to you guys. I show up and I bust my tail for you. Please don’t lie to me.’ After so many times of hearing they’re going to take care of you and they don’t and hearing the words Carl had to say about me, it’s tough to give it your all for somebody like that."

Allen said he didn’t have a problem with his coach, Herm Edwards, in Kansas City.

"Absolutely not,” Allen said. “Herm is one of my good friends to this day. Unfortunately, I think Herm got the raw end of the deal over there, too. The truth of the matter is we were an aging team. Herm drafted a bunch of guys and I feel he kind of got the shaft if you will. I loved playing for Herm and he's one of my favorite coaches."

Allen’s visit to Arrowhead Stadium will likely be more emotional for the fans than for the Chiefs. The staff and the roster have changed dramatically since he was traded. However, Allen was a favorite of the fans and I’m sure his juices will be flowing Sunday.

Allen has been terrific in Minnesota since the trade, where he's had 44.5 sacks. Only one player in the league, Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, has more with 51.5

The trade has worked out for the Chiefs as well. They added Jamaal Charles and Branden Albert with picks acquired in the deal.
Jamaal CharlesAP Photo/Ed ZurgaThe Chiefs have built a division champion featuring young, talented players like Jamaal Charles.
Brian Waters had nothing to do but ride and watch.

Nursing an injury for much of training camp, the Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl guard was relegated to jockeying an exercise bike instead of practicing with his teammates. With a perfect sideline view, Waters noticed something develop in the summer heat as he pedaled for countless hours.

The Chiefs had some extremely talented young players.

“Sitting there on the bike, our young guys really stood out to me,” Waters said this week. “I noticed the 2008 class was really developing out there, and then there was the rookie class. They were really something. The combination of those two classes really gave me hope that we might be on to something. Those two classes are a big reason why we’re where we are.”

There are several reasons why the 10-6 Chiefs – who won a total of 10 games in the previous three seasons – went from worst to first in the AFC West and will play host to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in the AFC wild-card round. The Chiefs are well coached, quarterback Matt Cassel has developed, the running game was tops in the NFL, the offensive line was strong, they didn’t make many mistakes, and the defense was aggressive and improved its pass rush. A lot of those reasons can be attributed to the development of Kansas City’s third-year players and rookie class.

“The Chiefs have some very good young players,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “I think a big reason why this team improved so much is because of those two classes. There’s a ton of guys who are giving the Chiefs big-time contributions from 2008 and 2010.”

The 2008 draft -- buoyed by the Jared Allen trade to Minnesota – was the final contribution of the 20-year Carl Peterson era in Kansas City. Many league observers thought that draft class had a chance to be special. But it looked anything but special for the first two seasons, although second-round pick Brandon Flowers (cornerback) and third-round pick Jamaal Charles (running back) showed signs of being excellent players early on.

The two first-round picks, defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey (No. 5 overall) and left tackle Branden Albert (No. 15), were nothing special in their first two years. However, Dorsey and Albert have both made big progress this season.

Dorsey has flourished in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense after struggling in the 3-4 under Clancy Pendergast last season. Dorsey has been the anchor of the defense, and he plays with a high motor. Many scouts thought the LSU star was the best player available in the 2008 draft, and he is now showing how good he is. Albert has melded well with the veterans on Kansas City’s line, and also has made major strides in 2010. There had been talk before the 2010 draft that the Chiefs would take Russell Okung with the No. 5 pick (who went one pick later to Seattle) and move Albert to right tackle.

The Chiefs have to be thrilled they didn’t make that move. Kansas City has its left tackle for the next several years, and it seems to have scored big with safety Eric Berry, the team’s top pick in 2010.

“Dorsey and Albert are showing why they were such high picks,” Williamson said. “Dorsey has been much better in the 3-4 than I thought he would be. He’s playing with a great purpose, and Albert is the best player on a good line.”

The showcase player of the Chiefs’ 2008 class, of course, is Charles. Kansas City drafted Charles out of Texas because of his blazing speed. The Chiefs hoped he’d be a nice change-of-pace player. In his third NFL season, Charles -- who along with Albert was a prize from the Allen trade -- has developed into the NFL’s premier game-breaker.

Charles was second in the NFL in rushing this season with 1,467 yards. His 6.38 per-carry average was the second highest single-season average behind the legendary Jim Brown, who averaged 6.4 yards a carry in 1963. If the Chiefs have a chance to beat the Ravens, it will start with Charles’ big-play threat.

The class, which also features right tackle Barry Richardson, also netted Kansas City’s two cornerbacks, who have a chance to be with the team for several years. While Flowers showed strong signs of being a good player (Williamson says he thinks Flowers can be a top-five cornerback), right cornerback Brandon Carr has come on strong this season. The fifth-round pick led the Chiefs with 19 passes defended, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

While Peterson and coach Herm Edwards’ swan song presented Kansas City with a terrific parting gift, the second draft class of the Scott Pioli-Todd Haley era has been a jackpot. Their first class was small and so far uninspiring besides kicker Ryan Succop, the final pick of the entire 2009 draft. But their second class has been one of the best rookie classes in the NFL, along with those of Oakland, New England and Tampa Bay.

In June, Haley said he didn’t think the task was too big for his draft class, and that was before he had seen the players in training camp. Through the regular season, Haley had to feel the same way. This class has been extremely productive.

It starts with Berry. While he is still learning, he has been a complete player and has the look of being a fierce player for a long time. Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. notes that Berry, who was named the NFL's defensive rookie of the month for December, is an excellent blitzer, strong in run support and continues to improve in coverage. Berry had four interceptions as a rookie. It’s noteworthy that Berry will be on the same field as the Ravens’ Ed Reed in his first postseason game. Berry has a chance to a have a Reed-like impact on the Chiefs in the coming years.

Second-round picks Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster are both fine returners. Arenas has been decent as a nickel cornerback, and McCluster, when healthy, is a downfield target.

Next to Berry, perhaps the next most productive rookie has been third-round pick Tony Moeaki. Cassel looks to have complete trust in Moeaki, a tight end who can split the field and has soft hands. How good has Moeaki been? His rookie season has been much better than former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez, the NFL record holder for all relevant tight end receiving marks.

Moeaki had 47 catches for 556 yards this season. His reception total was a team rookie record by 14 catches, and his yardage total was three yards off the team’s rookie mark. Safety Kendrick Lewis also has been a contributor this season.

“You have to give a lot of credit to the young kids,” veteran receiver Chris Chambers said. “They’ve come in here and acted like pros. They are a big reason why we’ve been so successful this season, no doubt about it.”

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