AFC West: Indianapolis Colts

Live blog: Colts at Chiefs

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
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Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Indianapolis Colts' visit to the Kansas City Chiefs. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
 

Double Coverage: Colts at Chiefs

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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Hilton/CharlesGetty ImagesT.Y. Hilton, left, and Jamaal Charles will be called on to provide offensive punch on Sunday.
Two playoff-bound teams meet at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Indianapolis Colts.

The 9-5 Colts have clinched the AFC South but are eyeing improved playoff seeding. The 11-3 Chiefs are tied for first place in the AFC West with the Denver Broncos but have secured at least a wild-card playoff berth. If the season ended today, the Chiefs and Colts would meet in a first-round playoff game in Indianapolis.

ESPN.com Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Colts reporter Mike Wells discuss the game:

Teicher: Colts QB Andrew Luck appears to be having a better season than last year. How has he progressed? In what specific ways is he a better player than he was as a rookie?

Wells: The biggest difference with Luck this year is that he has improved his accuracy. That may be hard to believe since the Colts have been without future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne for the past seven games. Luck's completion percentage has suffered some since Wayne went down on Oct. 20 because you never know which receiver is going to step up on a game-to-game basis. But ask anybody in the organization and they'll gladly take Luck's 58.7 percent completion percentage over the 54.1 percent he completed as a rookie. He's also making smarter decisions with the ball. He's more willing to take a sack rather than force a throw downfield. That's why he's thrown only nine interceptions compared to 18 as a rookie.

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles had a game for the ages Sunday with five touchdowns. Everybody is talking about Broncos QB Peyton Manning as the front-runner for MVP, but do you think Charles deserves serious consideration?

Teicher: I do, but I think I’m in the minority. Unlike Manning, Charles has very little offensive help. Quarterback Alex Smith is having a nice season, but otherwise a huge share of Kansas City’s production is coming from Charles. He leads the league in touchdowns and is the one offensive player who has produced on any kind of consistent basis for an 11-3 team. I can’t imagine where the Chiefs would be without him, but I’m certain they wouldn’t be headed for the postseason. If Charles doesn’t win the MVP award, it won’t diminish his accomplishments, at least not in my mind.

The Chiefs allow a lot of big pass plays. With Wayne out, who are the big-play receivers -- or do the Colts have one besides T.Y. Hilton?

Wells: Take a quarter out of your pocket and toss it in the air. That’s the point it’s reached when talking about the Colts’ receivers. It looked like Hilton was going to be Luck’s big-play receiver when he had games of 121 and 130 yards immediately after Wayne went down. But then teams found a way to neutralize his speed by providing help over top. The Colts are doing things by committee at receiver these days. I expect offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to repeat what he did in the first half against Houston on Sunday. The Colts will probably put Luck in the shotgun with some empty-backfield sets and let him spread the ball around to his receivers and tight ends. You may even see running back Trent Richardson line up on the outside some. It’s a whatever-it-takes approach in Indianapolis these days.

The Chiefs are averaging 44 points a game in their last four games. Is it because they actually have a good offense or is it because of the teams they’ve played?

Teicher: It’s probably some of both. The Chiefs have three touchdowns on defense/special teams over the last two weeks, and against the Raiders a flood of turnovers repeatedly gave the Chiefs favorable field position for some short scoring drives. But it’s also wrong to deny the progress they’ve made offensively. It starts with the line, which has improved tremendously since early in the season. Smith is playing much better, as well. He’s completing a higher percentage of his passes and is doing a better job getting the ball downfield. The Chiefs weren’t scoring like this earlier in the season against some horrible defensive teams. They scored 17 points on offense in an October win over Oakland and 49 on offense against the Raiders last week.

The Colts have clinched the AFC South but can still improve their playoff seeding. Will they go all-out to win this game, or might they back off a little and rest some key players?

Wells: The Colts aren’t a good enough team to be able to take things lightly and then all of a sudden flip a switch once the playoffs start. They’ve got too many issues that need to get fixed before the playoffs. They’re still trying to establish a consistent running game and produce steady play at receiver, as I alluded to earlier, and the defense has a tendency to give up big plays, as does Kansas City’s defense. The Colts' goal is to have some momentum heading into the playoffs. Besides, they’ve also got their sights on trying to move up from the No. 4 seed. They need to win their final two games against the Chiefs and Jacksonville, and get some help from Baltimore in its last two games against New England and Cincinnati.

There’s a chance the Colts and Chiefs could meet in the first weekend of the playoffs in Indianapolis. Do you think Chiefs coach Andy Reid will hold back some things because of that?

Teicher: The Chiefs will be all-in this week and they should be. They’re tied with the Broncos for first place in their division, and while Denver has the tiebreaker, the Chiefs have too much to gain by winning the division to back off now. If the Chiefs win both of their remaining games and Denver loses one of its two, the Chiefs would be the top seed in the AFC playoffs, get a first-round bye, and then play any of their playoff games at Arrowhead. Their fate if they are a wild card is no first-round bye and the playoffs on the road. The choice seems simple to me.

 

Double Coverage: Broncos at Colts

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
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There will always be games when a player returns, with his new team and wearing a new set of NFL colors, to the city where he once worked. Happens all the time.

And then there is this week. When the former face of a franchise, a future Hall of Famer, returns, not as a legend in the final days of his career, but as a 37-year-old vying for the league's MVP award, having the season of his life with a Super Bowl hopeful. Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis as the 6-0 Denver Broncos will meet the 4-2 Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium. ESPN.com Broncos team reporter Jeff Legwold and Colts team reporter Mike Wells break down this week's game.

Legwold: Mike, let's get right to it. Manning. Colts. Indianapolis. There isn't much precedent in the league's history for a player of Manning's stature returning, playing as well as ever, to meet his former team. How has it played there? And just how many of the current Colts were even teammates with Manning?

Wells: As much as I hate to admit it, safety Antoine Bethea, a former Manning teammate, said it best inside the locker room in San Diego on Monday, “We see players come and go all the time,” and that the media will make a big deal about it. Bethea was the first Colt not named Jim Irsay to talk about Manning's return. Coach Chuck Pagano didn't even want to talk about it on Tuesday. There are only 11 players still on the roster from when Manning played here. The Colts respect Manning, but they also want to prove they've moved on and they can win without him.

You've been around Manning for more than a season now. Do you get a sense that he'll be more pumped than what he is every weekend?

Legwold: Manning has already been on the media merry-go-round earlier this season when he faced his brother Eli for the third and likely final time in his career. He didn't like it that much and said as much. I think he certainly will want to show, at least in some way, he appreciated his time with the Colts and that he enjoyed the successes there. In the end he will try to play it straight through the week. That said, when Manning arrived in Denver, those close to him said he was initially surprised the Colts actually released him, even though it made sense financially and for the overall direction of the franchise due to the uncertainty surrounding how he would recover from his neck surgeries. As one of the most competitive people in a league full of competitive people, there is likely a part of him that wants to show what he has left for a team that considers itself to be a Super Bowl contender.

To that end, Andrew Luck has consistently seemed comfortable in his role as the team's leader in the post-Manning era, how do you think he will handle all of this? And will he have some added adrenaline?

Wells: Luck hasn't given any indication that he'll prepare for or approach the game any different. It obviously wasn't the same magnitude as what Sunday will be, but the second-year quarterback was put under the spotlight earlier this season when he returned to the Bay Area, where he starred at Stanford, to take on his college coach, Jim Harbaugh, and the San Francisco 49ers. Luck played within himself -– 17-of-26 for 159 yards --and I expect him to do the same thing this weekend. Don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton tries to get Luck going early in front of the sold-out Lucas Oil Stadium crowd. But don't expect to see Luck throwing the ball 45 times unless the Colts dig themselves into a big hole.

I was little surprised Broncos coach John Fox took exception to Colts owner Jim Irsay's comments to USA Today. Is that normal for Fox to respond the way he did?

Legwold: From the Broncos' perspective, some in the organization see it as Irsay gladly reaping the benefits of the Colts' success with Manning at quarterback, including a new stadium that allowed the city to host a Super Bowl, and now acting as if one Super Bowl win in Manning's tenure sticks in his craw. Fox simply came to the defense of his player, something he does when he sees it as necessary and something that only strengthens his standing in the Broncos' locker room. Manning almost always takes the high road publicly in such things, as he did this week, but there isn't much question he has one of the game's longest memories when it comes to what's been written or said.

Much of what is, or isn't said, this week won't matter much once the ball is snapped, but on the field what do you think the Colts' defensive plan will be against the Broncos' offense?

Wells: Don't expect the Colts to sit back in a Cover 2 the way Jacksonville did. That's not defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's style. The cornerbacks will press up on the receivers and they'll continue to gamble to try to make a play. That may not be the right approach to take because as you know, Manning makes teams pay for their mistakes. It'll be interesting to see if Robert Mathis, another one of Manning's former teammates, is able to get off the edge and get to Manning. Mathis is tied for the league lead in sacks with 9.5. The area of concern for the Colts is at linebacker. Linebacker Jerrell Freeman, the team's leading tackler, had to sit out the second half of last week's game at San Diego with a concussion.

Speaking of linebackers, the Broncos will have Von Miller for the first time this season this weekend. Do you expect him to be rusty after being suspended for the first six games?

Legwold: On the field that may be the biggest question of the week. Miller, under a provision added to the league's collective bargaining agreement in 2006, could attend team meetings during his suspension and work out at the team's strength and conditioning center. He could not practice or attend games. So, all of the on-field work he has done with the strength coaches has been a solo affair. The question will be if he stayed up to speed in the team's defensive playbook – he says he has. He is an impact rusher, a "game-wrecker" as Pagano likes to say (Pagano is a Boulder, Colo., native). Miller's adrenaline will be off the charts, especially early in the game. It wouldn't be a shock for the Colts to test him with a little misdirection early to see if he's up to the challenge. But Miller should have an impact in the pass rush, especially if his conditioning is as good as he says it is.

A lot of folks here are interested to know how Pagano has done healthwise this season following last year's cancer treatments. How important is he to the team's success?

Wells: The fact that Pagano was able to overcome cancer to be back on the sideline coaching at the end of last season is a remarkable story in itself. The players like how he motivates them and is constantly positive. I don't think there are many head coaches in the NFL who would think about heading over to Lowe's (he ended up having somebody else go for him) to purchase mousetraps as a reminder for his team not to overlook winless Jacksonville after beating San Francisco the week before.

So much is said about Denver's passing game, but what about its rushing game? Can it be effective the same way San Diego was last week?

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesVon Miller will make his season debut against Andrew Luck and the Colts.
Legwold: Much of the Chargers' offense comes from first-year head coach Mike McCoy -- the Broncos' offensive coordinator last season. Denver certainly noted the success the Chargers had running at the heart of the Colts' defense, especially with a zone run scheme. For all of the talk about how much the Broncos throw the ball, and they throw it with purpose in any down-and-distance situation, they are still fifth in the league in carries with 180, or 30 per game. With Manning at quarterback, with this coaching staff, they will always be pass-first, but offensive coordinator Adam Gase's mentor in the league was Mike Martz. And Martz's high-flying offenses always had a major run-game component.

With the Colts' run game, and with Luck 20th among the league's starters in pass attempts, is there an element of having a system in place that doesn't require Luck to have to do everything for the team to win?

Wells: Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who held that same role at Stanford with Luck, is big into being a run-first team. The Colts have stuck to that mindset through the first six games. But it'll be interesting if Hamilton loosens things on the offense this season after the Colts ran for a season-low 74 yards last week at San Diego. Luck gives the Colts the best chance to win. They'll need Luck's arm to beat the Broncos because Manning & Co. are going to put points -- a lot of them -- on the board this week. It's hard to imagine the Colts will be able to run the ball well enough to keep Manning on the sidelines looking antsy to get back on the field.

Passing the ball is probably a good idea since the Broncos are last in the league in defending the pass (338 yards a game). Why have the Broncos defended the pass so poorly?

Legwold: Some of it, especially over the first four games of the season, was a good bit of stat padding late in blowouts by opposing offenses. But there is an element that is a personnel issue as well. Elvis Dumervil left in free agency after the fax fiasco in the offseason, Miller was suspended and Champ Bailey missed five games after injuring his left foot in the preseason. That's 17 Pro Bowl appearances from guys who were in the lineup last season when the Broncos tied for the league lead in sacks. And they have had some sacks -- 17 thus far -- but those plays have often been clustered near the end of games with the Broncos having built 20-point leads. They haven't consistently pressured opposing passers this season and as a result some of those quarterbacks are finding some openings against a steady diet of man coverage in the Broncos' secondary. They know they have to get to Luck this weekend or he will pick away at them.

That should do it, enjoy the game.

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The Denver Broncos are considering reuniting Peyton Manning and offensive lineman Ryan Lilja.

Lilja
Fox Sports reported Tuesday night that the Broncos are talking to Lilja, 31, about ending his retirement. Lilja, who has seen time at guard and center, played with the Chiefs from 2010-12 after his stint with Manning in Indianapolis from 2004-09.

Denver is looking for help at center now that Dan Koppen out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Starter J.D. Walton is out until at least November with an ankle injury. Right now, the starting center would be Manny Ramirez.

I can see why Denver is interested in Lilja. He is a veteran with experience at center -- and he has a rapport with Manning. In an emergency situation, Denver could do worse than Lilja.

In other AFC West notes:

The Chargers signed rookie safety Tony Burnett out of USC. They also cut rookie quarterback Mike Hermann and gave rookie cornerback Kenny Okoro the waived-injured designation, meaning that the team could keep him, on the reserve-injured list, if he clears waivers.

The Chiefs cut defensive back Buddy Jackson.
You can cross Jeff Saturday off a list of possible Denver Broncos center candidates.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that QB Peyton Manning’s longtime battery mate has no plans of ending his retirement. Saturday, who retired after last season, is down to close to 230 pounds. Manning and Saturday played together from 1999-2011 in Indianapolis.

Manning and the Broncos have a hole at center. Dan Koppen suffered a torn ACL Sunday in practice and is out for the year. Regular starter J.D. Walton suffered an ankle injury last September, and he is out until at least midseason. Right now, guard Manny Ramirez is Denver’s starting center.

In other AFC West notes:

The San Diego Chargers are a future “Hard Knocks” candidate.
Wednesday was a day in the AFC West for longtime standouts to reunite with familiar numbers.

One went smoothly. The other, not so much.

Woodson
Earlier Wednesday, the San Diego Chargers announced new pass-rusher Dwight Freeney will wear No. 93. He wore that number in Indianapolis. Later Wednesday, new Oakland cornerback Tracy Porter tweeted this: “Well you Raiders fans…your guy has 24. It was TAKEN from me and given to him. #congrats …..too funny how this biz works.

Porter then tweeted this shortly later: Not mad at all...it's just the principle and the way it was handled.....said my piece, now back to football.

This all means Charles Woodson is getting No. 24 back. He wore it in Oakland from 1998-2005. He came back to the Raiders this spring after spending the past seven years in Green Bay. Porter signed earlier in the spring and took No. 24. Porter was vague with reporters after Woodson signed about whether he’d give up the number.

From what I gather, Porter reported to camp Wednesday and was told the number was given to Woodson. For now, Porter is going to be No. 31. At last check, the changes were not made on the Raiders’ roster page on their website.

Do I think this will create problems? No. Porter will get over it and everyone will move on. But for today, at least, there is some sizzle there. In retrospect, Porter probably should have sold the number to Woodson months ago. At least he would have gotten more than a surprise out of losing the digits.

In other AFC West notes:

In addition to placing pass-rusher Melvin Ingram on the physically unable to perform list, the Chargers placed safety Brandon Taylor on it. He tore his ACL late last season.

Tennessee signed former San Diego running back Jackie Battle. He had 311 yards on 95 carries last season. The new San Diego regime was not interested in bringing him back.
Give the San Diego Chargers credit. They were forced into a bad situation, and they answered it by securing arguably the best player remaining on the free-agent market.

Pushed into a corner, rookie San Diego general manager Tom Telesco responded with his highest-profile acquisition of the offseason by signing pass-rusher Dwight Freeney on Saturday. Freeney agreed to a two-year contract, according to ESPN’s Ed Werder. Telesco was in Indianapolis' front office when Freeney played for the Colts from 2002 to 2012.

Their reunion had little chance of occurring until 2012 San Diego first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram tore his ACL in noncontact OTAs on Tuesday. It was a crushing blow. Not only did the Chargers think Ingram was ready to dominate but he was their top pass-rushing option after the free-agent departures of Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes.

[+] EnlargeDwight Freeney
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports At 33 years old, can Dwight Freeney give San Diego's pass rush steady production?
San Diego has a young, exciting defense, but the Ingram injury left a glaring hole. No NFL defense can truly succeed without a legitimate pass rush. There were no better pass-rushing options available than Freeney.

Yes, he is aging at 33 and he has just 13 of his 107.5 career sacks in the past two years. There is no doubt that Freeney, who is known for having one of the best spin moves in the history of the game, is near the end. But this pairing makes sense simply out of desperation. The Chargers weren’t going to find a better replacement for Ingram than Freeney, and Freeney was not going to get a better situation than San Diego. There were few places Freeney would have had a bigger role.

There are questions of whether Freeney is an ideal fit for the Chargers’ 3-4 defense. He played in it last season in Indianapolis and wasn’t as strong of a fit as he was in the 4-3.

I don’t think it is going to be an issue, however. San Diego coach Mike McCoy told Werder that the team would adjust to Freeney. That doesn’t mean the Chargers (whose defensive coordinator is John Pagano -- the brother of Chuck Pagano, who was Freeney’s coach in Indianapolis last year) are going to totally scrap the 3-4 for a 33-year-old player. It means that the Chargers are multiple in their pass-defense looks and that Freeney could line up often in his customary 4-3 defensive end position.

In short, the Chargers will put Freeney in his comfort level. Many think he will succeed in San Diego.

“I like it, and I do think he has something left,” ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson said. “The Chargers are not a super strict 3-4, and Freeney did show that he can still be disruptive last year. … I wouldn’t give him all the snaps, but he certainly should be useful.”

ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen this: "There's no question he can fit with that scheme. There are no strict 3-4 defenses, or not many. … You take Dwight, you get his hand on the ground and play him for 30 to 40 snaps, let him get after the quarterback."

One of the quarterbacks Freeney will be going after twice a season is close friend Peyton Manning. The two were longtime teammates with the Colts. Manning tried to recruit Freeney to Denver this offseason after Elvis Dumervil departed to Baltimore. Denver was considered the front-runner for Freeney, but the two sides couldn’t come to a financial accord. Somewhat ironically, Denver signed Phillips from San Diego instead. Had Freeney ended up in Denver, it likely would have been Phillips who would have replaced Ingram. USA Today reported that Denver had late talks with Freeney, but I suspect those were more cursory just to gauge whether it could steal him at the last moment.

In the end, I’m not sure whether the Chargers are better than they were before Ingram’s injury. They spent more money than expected, especially with a hole remaining at left tackle. The team is still talking to Max Starks, and the Chargers will get some cap relief June 1 as part of the Jared Gaither cut.

But the Ingram injury and Freeney signing are prime examples of the always-changing NFL world. The Chargers were put in an emergency situation. I don’t think they could have responded better than securing a potential Hall of Famer as a solution.
Tom Telesco is not wasting any time.

Freeney
Hours after losing key pass-rusher Melvin Ingram for the 2013 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in a non-contact drill, the San Diego Chargers general manager is bringing in Dwight Freeney in for a visit Wednesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting. Telesco was with the Colts organization when Indianapolis drafted Freeney in 2002 and the two were together there through last season.

This isn’t a meet-and-greet. The Chargers are bringing Freeney in because Telesco is ready to make a move.

Freeney would be the team’s best and likely its most-used outside edge rusher. That was going to be the role for Ingram, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2012. Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes both left in free agency.

At age 33, Freeney is best suited to be a rotational player; he wasn't at his best in the 3-4 defenses the Colts used last season. The Chargers also use a 3-4 defense. But this is a desperate time for San Diego, and Freeney hasn’t gotten a lot of interest.

I expect the two sides to work hard to get a deal done. The Chargers have to be careful not to overpay Freeney, because they also need help at offensive tackle and are talking to Winston Justice and Max Starks.
The San Diego Chargers received terrible news Tuesday in their second day of organized non-contact drills.

The team announced 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram has a torn ACL.

The Chargers were counting on Ingram to provide a strong pass rush. He had a slow start to his rookie season, but he showed promise late. The team saw veteran edge rushers Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes leave in free agency.

Ingram was expected to be the primary pass-rusher from the edge. Defensive linemen Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget provide good pass-rush burst from the line, but the Chargers need an outside presence. Former first-round pick Larry English in on the roster, but he has shown he can’t be counted on. The Chargers drafted Tourek Williams in the late rounds last month. His route to the field may be expedited with Ingram’s injuries.

I’d think the Chargers would seriously consider pursuing veteran Dwight Freeney. He was in Indianapolis with new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco. Veteran John Abraham is also out there.

With Ingram out for the year, the Chargers will have to find help somewhere.

This will be a tough setback for a young player. His career will certainly be salvageable, but it will be such a waste to lose his second NFL season in May.

In other AFC West news:
  • The Chiefs claimed offensive lineman Matt Reynolds from the Eagles and cornerback Buddy Jackson from the Giants. Reynolds was coached by new Kansas City coach Andy Reid last season.
  • The Bills claimed tight end Mickey Shuler. He was cut by the Raiders.
The San Diego Chargers’ search for offensive line help has brought them to Winston Justice.

U-T San Diego reports Justice will visit the teams Monday. The Chargers badly need a left tackle. Justice has been a right tackle.

Unless the Chargers think Justice can make the switch to the left side, he’d be a backup for first-round pick D.J. Fluker on the right side.

Perhaps the Chargers want to see Justice, 28, and former Eagles’ teammate King Dunlap, also known as a better right tackle than a left tackle, compete at left tackle. Justice started 12 games at right tackle for Indianapolis. New San Diego general manager Tom Telesco was with the Colts with Justice.

Right now, Dunlap is considered the best in-house option at left tackle and he is not considered as a strong option. The Chargers recently visited with Pittsburgh left tackle Max Starks. At this point, it is believed he is still in the mix.
TelescoBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports"Its my job to know the league," said GM Tom Telesco. "... It's my job to study rosters every day."

When Tom Telesco received an interview for the San Diego Chargers’ vacant general manager post in January, it was considered a terrific opportunity in the career of promising young front-office man.

Telesco wasn’t considered a sure bet to be hired to pump life into a stale franchise after the 10-year A.J. Smith era. But Telesco took control of his future and essentially stole the job.

It was well known that the Chargers were focused on removing Smith and head coach Norv Turner. Longtime personnel man Jimmy Raye was widely considered as a slam-dunk to be promoted. The Chargers were fine with the front office as a whole. They figured Smith’s time with the team had run its course and that the bigger issue was finding a replacement for Turner.

Then, Telesco interviewed. Everything changed. Telesco opened the Chargers’ minds. Perhaps an outside voice to lead the front office was exactly what the team needed. And in a big upset, the Chargers named the 40-year-old Indianapolis front-office man to replace Smith.

The surprise hiring was met with applause from around the league. Telesco was a career front-office man and a protégé of former Colts general manager Bill Polian. Telesco was known for a keen scouting eye and was credited with helping turn the Colts back into a playoff team by restocking the roster.

“Tom has that no-stone-unturned mindset,” said Ryan Grigson, his boss in Indianapolis last year. “Tom never stops working. That's what the Chargers are going to appreciate. If I asked Tom if this guy could play or not, an hour later I was getting a text from him or he was knocking on my door, giving me a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. Tom is a bright, bright, bright guy with a great work ethic.”

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's D.J. Fluker, Manti Te'o and Keenan Allen
AP Photo/Denis PoroyESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay praised Tom Telesco's first draft with the Chargers.
Ownership was reportedly blown away by Telesco's knowledge of the Chargers' roster during his interview. The Spanos family was stunned by his vision for the team moving forward.

I asked Telesco about that, and he brushed it off.

“It’s my job to know the league,” said Telesco, polite as always. “I have to know that stuff. It’s my job to study rosters every day.”

Polian, now an ESPN analyst, wasn’t surprised that Telesco impressed the Chargers. Telesco first joined the NFL with Carolina in 1995 when Polian ran the Panthers. He followed Polian to Indianapolis in 1998.

“Tom knows the league, he does what it takes to be good at his job,” Polian said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s level-headed. He’s a great judge of talent. … He will be great in San Diego.”

His first offseason in San Diego has been positive. He received kudos for tabbing heavily sought-after Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to coach the team. Chargers employees tout Telesco, who played receiver at noted NFL coaching and front-office factory John Carroll University in Ohio, as friendly. They say he has re-energized a building that lacked excitement at the end of the Smith era.

Most league observers believe the Chargers, who have gone three seasons without making the playoffs, had one of the best drafts in the NFL. The Chargers scored big in the first three rounds with the selections of Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker (first round), Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (second) and California receiver Keenan Allen (third). ESPN analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper both said during the draft that Telesco got three first-round picks with his first three choices. Telesco aggressively went after Te’o, who was falling, and traded up on the clock to take him.

Telesco was less aggressive in free agency. The cap-strapped Chargers were active, but they didn’t make many splashes. They did get several players who should help right away, starting with cornerback Derek Cox, guard Chad Rinehart and running back Danny Woodhead.

San Diego has not sufficiently addressed its biggest need yet: left tackle. Free-agent signing King Dunlap is currently expected to start there even though he is not considered a solid option. The team is also talking to Pittsburgh free agent Max Starks. In Telesco’s defense, the Chargers never really had a great chance of adding a top option at the position because of cap issues and because the top three draft options were gone after the first four picks of the draft.

Regardless of whether the Chargers enter Telesco’s first season a finished project, he promises to continue to approach the job his way.

“(I) come into work every day trying to find the best players we can,” Telesco said. “Part of building chemistry with the team and the team process is getting to know the coaches well, getting to know the scouts, the front office. That's all part of team building for me. It's just trying to get to know everybody really well.”
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

With the draft in the rearview mirror, what is the most pressing issue on each AFC West team’s agenda?

Denver Broncos: The Broncos had a good free-agency period and they had a good draft. They made a good team better. There is no doubt this team thinks it is ready to make a serious run in 2013. So now it’s time to find some chemistry. Quarterback Peyton Manning, entering his second season with the team, recently talked about the importance of getting on the same page with his receivers. Manning said it often takes four years to totally be in sync with the players on the other end of his passes. Manning not only has to continue to strengthen his connection with incumbent receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker but also with a new weapon, Wes Welker, one of the free-agent prizes in the NFL this offseason. The group worked together on its own last month and is in the midst of the Broncos’ offseason program. Manning had great success with Thomas and Decker last season, and I’m sure he will work well with Welker, too. The passing game will be the key to whether Denver can be a Super Bowl team, so building a special chemistry is the team’s most pressing issue as Denver inches toward the 2013 season.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have to get the Branden Albert situation settled. They talked to the Miami Dolphins about a deal for several weeks prior to the draft. It was never completed. Neither has closed the door on a trade, but the odds are good that Albert will stay in Kansas City -- although it's not totally out of the question that some other team gets into the picture. I think the Chiefs need to get Albert prepared to play in Kansas City. He wants a long-term deal, and if he doesn’t get one, he might pout. He has stayed away from voluntary workouts but said he will be with the team when mandatory sessions start. The team would still like to give Albert an extension after taking Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher with the No. 1 overall pick. Albert must realize that if he has a good season in Kansas City, it will increase his value in free agency next year if a long-term deal is not signed. This situation could be awkward, but both the Chiefs and Albert need each other for at least a year -- and they must all do it with a smile.

Oakland Raiders: It’s time for the Raiders to figure out their defense, where they might have as many as nine new starters -- a mind-blowing reality. It seems only defensive lineman Lamarr Houston and safety Tyvon Branch are safe. Second-year linebacker Miles Burris will have a role, but he will have to fight for a starting slot. Oakland must use upcoming organized team activities to build chemistry and explore which players are suited to which roles. Oakland could stay in a 4-3 base but also should utilize multiple looks and will likely see some 3-4 hybrid looks. Head coach Dennis Allen and his staff have to see these players on the field to figure out the right sets for the right players. Oakland is essentially starting with a blank canvas on defense -- exciting, unusual and scary all at once.

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers have a potentially strong group of young receivers. The once-weak area can become a strength not only for the immediate future, but for the long term. It’s time the Chargers figure out an attack utilizing Vincent Brown, Danario Alexander and rookie Keenan Allen, who could quickly become the centerpiece. Allen, a California product, was expected to be a top-30 pick, but a manageable knee issue dropped him all the way to the third round, where San Diego took him 76th overall. Former Indianapolis Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian said Allen could have a Reggie Wayne-like impact. Brown had a strong rookie season in 2011 and a great training camp before a broken ankle in the preseason ended his 2012 campaign. He is now completely healthy. Alexander starred after the Chargers signed him off the street during last season. These three players can be major toys for quarterback Philip Rivers. Figuring out how to get the most out of this trio must be a primary goal for new coach Mike McCoy, who proved in Carolina and Denver that he can have successful passing games.
Tom Telesco is known for his eye for talent.

The new San Diego Chargers’ general manager did not showcase that ability much during free agency as the Chargers added several low-profile players because of salary-cap concerns. The Chargers got some nice pieces, but there were not any big splashes.

San Diego splashed like the Pacific Ocean on Friday night. After the Chargers traded up to take Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o in the second round, they then drafted dynamic Cal receiver Keenan Allen in the third.

Allen was considered a major steal. He had an injury last year and a slow performance at the combine. But he was productive and most teams rated him highly.

The Chargers took Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round. After the Allen choice, ESPN analyst Todd McShay said Telesco scored three first-round talents with his first three choices.

Fellow ESPN analyst Bill Polian was Telesco’s boss in Indianapolis. He said they studied Allen closely and Polian said he and Telesco thought Allen can be a Reggie Wayne-type receiver.

Allen is a major gift to San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. The Chargers badly need skill-position weapons. The receiving crew was lacking since the 2012 departure Vincent Jackson in free agency.

Now with Allen, Vincent Brown and Danario Alexander, the Chargers have three potential standouts along with the solid Malcom Floyd.

I truly expect Allen to make an impact as a rookie. I think this pick will be remembered as the start of something nice for Telesco's tenure.
Manti T'eoMike Ehrmann/Getty Images"I like this pick 1,000 percent," new Chargers teammate Eric Weddle said of Manti Te'o.

Had the NFL draft been held the day after Manti Te'o and Notre Dame were handled in the national championship game by Alabama, the inside linebacker would have been considered a steal if he was a top-10 pick.

After all, this is a player who was considered the possible No. 1 overall pick last December -- one of the most decorated, praised players in the country during the 2012 season.

Fast-forward to the present, and the idea that Te’o lasted until the No. 38 pick is stunning. The Chargers sent the 45th and 110th choices to Arizona to move up and rock the draft with this selection.

“Great pick,” San Diego safety and leader Eric Weddle said by phone moments after the Chargers' move. “We got better. He is going to help us win games. I like this pick 1,000 percent.”

Te’o became a polarizing figure in January when the bizarre hoax involving a dead fake girlfriend became public. Te’o has said he had nothing to do with the Internet scheme, and the person behind the elaborate ploy has backed up Te’o’s claims.

Fair or not, the hoax has defined Te’o. His once-sterling character has come into question, and there is no doubt it hurt his draft status.

Of course, the title game and a slow 40-yard dash at the NFL combine didn’t help his cause. But let’s face it, if the hoax hadn't happened, Te’o would have gotten the benefit of the doubt on those issues -- particularly since he generated great tape throughout his college career, had great character and improved his speed at Notre Dame's pro day.

With Te’o, it’s all about the hoax.

That will stop, Weddle said. Indeed, Weddle brought up the issue himself.

"I could care less about that other stuff," Weddle said. “I’m sure everyone will think that way here.”

It has been said that Te’o, the butt of national jokes the past few months, will face his harshest critics in his NFL locker room. Weddle said that won’t be a problem in San Diego.

“If he wants to talk about it, we’ll listen,” Weddle said. “But it’s not going to be a problem here.”

I think Te’o is going to a perfect situation for him to achieve some normalcy. The Chargers have good leadership in Weddle, quarterback Philip Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, center Nick Hardwick and linebacker Jarret Johnson. Indeed, Te'o told San Diego reporters Friday evening, Rivers had already called to welcome him to the team. This is a strong, business-oriented locker room. Te’o will be treated well.

Also, the team’s brass knows how to deal with off-field issues. New San Diego coach Mike McCoy was at the center of Tebow-mania while with Denver. Nothing can match that. New San Diego general manager Tom Telesco was in Indianapolis last season during coach Chuck Pagano’s public fight against cancer.

Distractions will not be a problem.

I also think Te’o will find friendly confines in the city. San Diego has a thriving Polynesian community, and one of the team’s greatest players, late linebacker Junior Seau, was Polynesian. Te’o will be welcomed with open arms. San Diego is not far, in relative terms, from Te’o’s native Hawaii, so that will raise his comfort level, too.

Plus, even though it is not so far from Hollywood, San Diego is laid back, and there isn’t a huge media presence around the team.

Sure, the team and Te’o will probably have to deal with the curiosity of it all early in camp, but that will go away pretty quickly.

Plus, in my opinion, the hoax is over. What else can come of it? Whether he was involved or not, Te’o faced public humiliation, he saw his NFL stock drop and now the recovery begins. He can become a linebacker again.

Te’o is being brought to San Diego to play football, and it’s a good fit.

San Diego is building a strong, young defense, and Te’o should be a nice piece in a linebacking corps that includes Johnson, Donald Butler and 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram. Add Te’o to a strong, young line and this is an intriguing group. Yes, Te’o has limitations in coverage, but San Diego will be versatile enough to highlight him on first and second downs, and he will be able to play to his strengths.

It’s been a trying three months for Te’o, but his NFL career is starting on the right track even though it’s from a draft slot several picks lower than expected.

Road tripping, AFC West style

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
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With the NFL schedule released, it’s time to start planning our weekends in the fall. Allow me to play travel agent for a moment and propose one road trip for fans of each AFC West team in 2013:

Denver Broncos

Indianapolis Colts, Oct. 20

Why: It’s a solid city, a great stadium and seeing Peyton Manning in this setting is going to be wild.

Kansas City Chiefs

Philadelphia Eagles, Sept. 19.

Why: The Chiefs don’t play there often and seeing Andy Reid wearing red in Philadelphia will be a cool sight.

Oakland Raiders

Dallas Cowboys, Nov. 28

Why: Spending Thanksgiving in Big D is a really cool experience.

San Diego Chargers

Washington Redskins, Nov. 3

Why: The Chargers don’t often visit the nation’s capital. Soak up some history and a little Robert Griffin III.

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