AFC West: Jim Leonhard

AFC West links: Raiders sign CB Jenkins

April, 9, 2013
Oakland Raiders

The Raiders signed veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins, GM Reggie McKenzie announced Tuesday. Jenkins, 28, played for Dallas his first five seasons. He is expected to compete for a starting spot. Earlier this offseason, the Raiders signed veteran cornerback Tracy Porter as a prospective starter.

A 5-foot-10, 197-pound veteran out of South Florida, Jenkins has played in 71 games with 48 starts. His career totals include eight interceptions, 43 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one interception return for a touchdown since entering the NFL as Dallas’ first-round selection (25th overall) in 2008.

Denver Broncos

Former Broncos safety Jim Leonhard has signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints, writes Mike Klis of the Denver Post.

Lance Ball, who has been part of the Broncos’ running back rotation the past three seasons, signed his $1.323 million tender as a restricted free agent. The salary doesn’t become guaranteed unless Ball makes the team’s season-opening roster.

Andrew Mason, an independent analyst for the team's website, takes a look at the wide receivers that might interest the Broncos in the upcoming draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs will focus on forcing turnovers under new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, writes Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star.

As part of a draft spotlight series, Reid Ferrin of the team's website profiles Alabama running back Eddie Lacy.

San Diego Chargers

Veteran right tackle Eric Winston, 29, said he had a salary discussion with the Chargers last month, but "things kind of fell through." He hasn’t found a taker since the Chiefs released him March 6, writes Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Winston was to make $4.9 million in base salary before the Chiefs released him. He said he’s seeking $3 million to $4 million this season and isn’t asking for a long-term deal.

Wide receiver Deon Butler and cornerback Cornelius Brown signed one-year contracts, and receiver Dan DePalma signed a two-year deal, writes Michael Gehlken of the Union-Tribune.

Ricky Henne of the team's website profiles UCLA pass-rusher Datone Jones.
Peyton Manning Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning fell to 9-11 in playoff games with Saturday's defeat against Baltimore.
DENVER -- Before Jacoby Jones even crossed into the end zone to tie this classic game, Jim Leonhard knelt over on the field in utter disbelief and helplessness.

Was this magical season really going to go down like this? It couldn’t. Not with Peyton Manning on the Denver sideline. He’d make it better. He’d have overtime to counter a miraculous Joe Flacco bomb to Jones with 31 seconds to go in regulation Saturday at Sports Authority Field.

Right? He’d have to. Right? He’s Peyton Manning. In one season, he turned the Denver Broncos into perhaps the best team in football. He’d get it done.

Yet what the Flacco-Jones connection did was give Manning another opportunity to add to his playoff misery.

And he did.

This 38-35 Baltimore victory -- sealed 1 minute, 42 seconds into the second overtime -- will always be remembered not only for the Baltimore Bomb (really, can you count five better playoff plays?) but also as another postseason hit on Manning’s legacy.

With Denver trying to drive for a game-winning score late in the first overtime, Manning made a poor decision and was intercepted by Baltimore cornerback Corey Graham at the Denver 45. Baltimore won on a 47-yard field goal six plays later.

The interception was Manning’s third turnover of the game. The turnovers resulted in 17 points for Baltimore, including an interception return for a score by Graham in the first quarter on a deflected pass.

The loss is another chapter in the one flaw in Manning’s career -- he has not always been clutch in the postseason. Manning is 9-11 in the playoffs and tied for the most playoff losses by a quarterback. Manning also fell to 0-4 in playoff games when the temperature was below 40 degrees; it was in the single digits at the end of the game.

Is it fair to pin this loss on Manning and his lack of playoff success?

“He was trying to make a play,” Denver coach John Fox said of Manning’s last interception. “There were a lot of different plays in that game that were costly. That was one of many.”

Fox is correct. This loss was not all on Manning, not by a long shot. He had moments where he shined, but the stable of Denver goats in this game is crowded.

Second-year safety Rahim Moore might never be forgiven in Denver for allowing Jones to get behind him on the desperation touchdown pass. All Moore had to do was play normal defense, and he blew it. Future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey gave up two touchdown passes to Torrey Smith. Late in the second quarter, Fox called for a long field goal attempt by Matt Prater, which failed and set up a Baltimore touchdown just before the half. Late in the game, Fox got conservative. The vaunted Denver pass rush was nonexistent for much of a game that saw the NFL's No. 2 defense savaged. It also wasn’t a great day for the officials, who made several questionable calls.

In all, it was the perfect formula to suddenly end the season of the NFL’s hottest team and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Denver rode an 11-game winning streak into the game. Talk of the Super Bowl was legitimate.

But it all ended in a flurry of crazy occurrences. And Manning -- who had beaten the Ravens nine consecutive times, including last month in Baltimore -- wasn’t there to save his team.

It should have never gotten to the point of Manning needing to rescue the Broncos, though. According to ESPN Stats & Information’s win-probability model, Denver had a 97.2 percent chance of capturing the game before the Jones touchdown.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Jones, Rahim Moore
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsLetting Baltimore's Jacoby Jones get behind him was an unfathomable error for Denver's Rahim Moore.
Manning did enough in regulation to help his team win, despite the first two turnovers. But he also was not perfect. He wasn’t at his best, whether it was due to the weather or the pressure of leading his new franchise to a playoff win.

“I probably wasn’t quite as good as I wanted to be,” Manning said, “and it probably cost us a couple scoring opportunities.”

A master of the short pass, Manning had his first pick on a throw outside the pocket this season on his fatal interception, an example of his struggles throwing short Saturday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manning completed 74 percent of his passes for 10 yards or fewer this season; Saturday he completed 65 percent.

He didn’t get much help, though. Manning was under constant duress in the second half. He dropped back 24 times and was pressured 10 times, according to ESPN Stats & Information, after not being pressured at all in 22 drop-backs in the first half. Manning couldn't single-handedly make up for the sudden lack of protection.

For the past three months, everything went right for Manning and the Broncos. On Saturday, it all crumbled.

This goes down as a miserable end to a wonderful first season in Denver for Manning. When the shock wears off, Denver will be proud of its campaign. The Broncos weren't expected to be in this game. Manning wasn’t expected to play at an MVP level, and Denver wasn’t expected to be a Super Bowl contender.

The future is still bright for Denver as it licks the wounds from its most hurtful playoff loss since 1996, when Jacksonville stunned the top-seeded Broncos in Denver. The Broncos responded by winning the next two Super Bowls in John Elway’s final two seasons at the ages of 37 and 38.

Manning will turn 37 in March, right about the time the Broncos, whose staff will now coach in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, will be planning to wipe off the stink of the defeat and try again.

Next season there will be bigger expectations and constant questions about whether the Broncos can rebound from this horrible day. Until then, we’ll all talk about another disappointing playoff outing for one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Denver announces Holliday claim

October, 11, 2012
To spark some life into a porous punt return game, Denver has announced it has claimed diminutive returner Trindon Holliday. He was cut by Houston on Wednesday.

He replaces Jim Leonhard as the returner. Denver cut safety Duke Ihenacho to make room for Holliday.

Holliday, 5-foot-6, 169 pounds, is a speedster who has the ability to make things happen on special teams.

Meanwhile, Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas (hip) and left tackle Ryan Clady (hamstring) were limited in practice Thursday in preparation for Monday’s game at San Diego.

In other AFC West news:

San Diego left tackle Jared Gaither (groin) is getting rested Thursdays. The team is hopeful he can play Monday.

Oakland defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (foot) and tight end Richard Gordon (hamstring) did not practice.

Manning can make history Sunday

September, 5, 2012
As if there isn’t enough to attract interest in Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos debut Sunday night, he can set a major NFL record in the game against Pittsburgh.

Manning is tied with Dan Marino with 63 300-yard passing games, which is the most in NFL history. His next 300-yard game will put him alone atop the NFL record books. I don’t think Denver is necessarily looking for Manning to toss for an enormous amount of yards against Pittsburgh. A win and a 240-yard outing would suffice.

The Broncos’ brass just wants to see continued improvement from the preseason in which Manning was efficient and was in a good rhythm for the most part after he sat out the 2011 season with a neck injury.

Still, a solid preseason will not compare to what Manning will face Sunday against Pittsburgh. The Steelers rushed five or more defenders at the fifth highest rate in the NFL in 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information. So, Manning will have the shake the regular season rust right away. Here is an ESPN video exploring whether Manning is ready for the season.

Former opponent and new Denver safety Jim Leonhard told reporters in Denver on Wednesday he has no doubts Manning will ready to go Sunday.

“He looks absolutely fine to me,” Leonhard said. “He’s a guy who never just used his arm strength all the time anyway. He’s a true vet. He knows when he has to put some zip on it and when he kind of throws a guy open and puts it into a spot. There’s nothing to me that indicates that he’s having any issues with his arm.”

But will his renewed health result in an NFL record in his first game as a Bronco.

Denver Broncos cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
Click here for the complete list of Denver Broncos' roster moves.

Most significant move: The Broncos kept newly signed veterans, linebacker Keith Brooking and safety Jim Leonhard. They have both been dealing with injuries. Both should fill rotational roles as well as offer leadership. It is a bit surprising Denver cut veteran cornerback Drayton Florence. The Broncos beat several teams to sign Florence this year. In the end, the Broncos liked their young cornerbacks such as Chris Harris, Tony Carter and rookie Omar Bolden. Watch for San Diego to make a full-court press to sign Florence. The team tried to sign the former Charger before Denver signed him and it needs a cornerback.

Onward and upward: Two interesting players who were kept in Denver were running back Knowshon Moreno and tight end Julius Thomas. Moreno, a first-round pick in 2009, had a decent preseason after coming back from an ACL. There was speculation he could be traded. But Moreno will be given a chance to help Denver off the bench. Thomas, a fourth-round pick last year, was considered on the bubble. But the former college basketball player turned NFL player will get more time to develop. The Broncos will likely try to sign Ben Garland to the practice squad. The defensive tackle from Air Force has a lot of promise and the team loves his spirit. I could potentially see quarterback Adam Weber being put on the practice squad again. Denver likes him. He is not going to leapfrog backup Caleb Hanie or No. 3 quarterback, second-round pick Brock Osweiler, but Denver may want him to stick around.

What’s next: The Broncos will likely look for linebackers. They are young and thin there, especially on the outside with D.J. Williams facing, at least, a six-game NFL suspension. Denver will likely look for experienced veterans, who could, at least, log some situational time on defense. Denver did keep undrafted rookie Steven Johnson. He was a preseason star and he should help on special teams, so the need for more linebacker help is still necessary. I could see Denver being interested in defensive players regardless of the position if they are the right fit and I think it can look for help on the offensive line as well. Expect Denver to make, at least, a couple of moves in the next couple of days.

A look at the Broncos’ 16-13 victory Thursday night at Arizona:

It was a night for the backups for the Broncos in a game that Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to tie with a short, final-minute field goal instead of going for it and ending the misery of a fourth preseason game. Really, coach?

However, Denver kicker Matt Prater saved the world from preseason overtime by hitting a 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation to give the Broncos the win.

Nice night for rookie cornerback Omar Bolden. He took a kick return 103 yards for a touchdown in the town where he had to sit out last season at Arizona State due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Bolden looks like a keeper.

Quarterback Brock Osweiler, Denver's second-round pick and also a Sun Devils product, was 3-of-6 passing for 36 yards, tossing an interception as he returned to Phoenix. Expect Osweiler to be the No. 3 quarterback this season. He is very much a developmental player.

Ronnie Hillman had a nice night with 68 yards on 14 carries. He will play a lot when it counts.

Tight end Virgil Green had two catches for 45 yards. He now faces a four-game NFL suspension for using a banned substance.

Tight end Julius Thomas, a fourth-round pick in 2011, didn’t have a catch. I wonder if he makes the 53-man roster Friday.

Even though it was a backup show, Denver’s run defense was much improved in this game.

Defensive tackle Ben Garland had a sack. It will be interesting to see if Garland, a team favorite, makes the final roster. He’s probably headed to the practice squad.

Former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno completed a strong preseason with 49 yards on seven carries. There has been talk that he could be cut or traded, but if the Denver brass thinks Moreno can help this team, it will likely keep him.

Linebacker Danny Trevathan, a sixth-round pick, had seven tackles in the first half. I could see him making a serious playing-time push soon at a position the Broncos are looking for a spark.

Veteran safety Jim Leonhard started. He has been injured, so the Broncos wanted to get a good look at him.

Undrafted rookie linebacker Steven Johnson had another solid game. He is on the bubble, but I have a feeling the Broncos might be tempted to keep a promising player at a need position.

Denver intelligence report

August, 30, 2012
We received our NFL team-by-team preview pages for every NFL team Thursday.

In the next hour, I will post our AFC West intelligence in alphabetical order, starting new with Denver. Here is Denver’s team page:

Five things you need to know about the Broncos:

1. All-in on Manning: To a person in this organization, everyone is on board with the Peyton Manning Experience. The confidence in Denver is sky-high. The Broncos went through a difficult time toward the end of the Mike Shanahan era and during the disastrous 23-month Josh McDaniels era. But with the combination of respected second-year coach John Fox and Manning, there is an air of professionalism and expectation in Denver that has been unmatched for years.

2. The Broncos feel focused on defense: The Broncos made defensive progress last year in Fox's first season as coach and in Dennis Allen's first season as a defensive coordinator. Denver went from No. 32 in the NFL in defense in 2010-11 to No. 20 last season. Some would think the loss of Allen to Oakland as head coach would be a negative for the Broncos, especially because the Broncos are now on their seventh defensive coordinator in seven years. However, that is not the case because Fox brought in former Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio to replace Allen. Del Rio was Fox's defensive coordinator in Carolina 10 years ago. The Broncos respect and like Allen. He did a good job in Denver. But the Broncos are very comfortable with the Fox-Del Rio defensive leadership. They don't feel like they took a step backward.

3. Great locker room: The Broncos saw one of the great leaders in NFL history retire when safety Brian Dawkins hung 'em up in the offseason. However, the Broncos actually will have more leadership this season. Of course, Manning brings a priceless amount of leadership to the offense. There's not a better offensive leader in the game. On defense, Denver signed linebacker Keith Brooking and safety Jim Leonhard. Both are role players, but both have strong leadership capabilities. The defense was already in good shape with cornerback Champ Bailey leading the group. But Brooking and Leonhard give Denver an abundance of leadership -- and you can never have enough.

4. Hillman a key: The Broncos expect rookie running back Ronnie Hillman to be a big part of the offense. The third-round pick is explosive and can help in the running and receiving games. Fox has compared Hillman to a Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles-type player. He should be a good complement to the more rugged Willis McGahee. Expect Manning to try to utilize Hillman often out of the backfield.

5. Middle of defense is vital: The Broncos are strong on the edges of the defense. But they must show they are improved in the middle -- at defensive tackle, middle linebacker and safety. Denver is confident it has improved in those areas. It better have, because that's where stopping the run starts. The Broncos will be fine in pass coverage, but the defense will wear down if the run defense isn't solidified.

Evening injury updates

August, 22, 2012
CSN California reports Oakland center Stefen Wisniewski will likely miss another preseason game with a calf injury. This is an issue because Wisniewski is moving from guard to center. He needs game repetitions.

I’m a believer in Wisniewski. He is smart and tough. He will make it back to the field and be productive. But he is missing valuable time.
  • U-T San Diego reports receiver Eddie Royal is back to practicing after missing extensive time with a hamstring injury. Royal will be part of the team’s rotation in the regular season. Also, the paper reports center Nick Hardwick will not travel to Minnesota for the third preseason game because of a concussion. With left tackle Jared Gaither out, the Chargers will be without two starters as they try to protect Philip Rivers.
  • Meanwhile, the Denver Post reports newly signed defensive players, Jim Leonhard and Keith Brooking, are not locks to make the Broncos’ roster because of injuries.
The Oakland Raiders have started late-summer window shopping we all expected them to do. CSN Bay Area reports the Raiders worked out pass-rusher Andre Carter on Tuesday.

Carter, who went to nearby Cal and who resides in the Bay Area, would provide solid pass-rushing depth to a unit that needs edge rushers after Kamerion Wimbley was cut. Carter has 76 career sacks since coming into the league in 2001. He had 10 sacks for New England last season before a quadriceps injury ended his season.

Carter, 33, would help Oakland on passing downs. He has experience as a 3-4 pass-rusher and he can fit in when the Raiders use some of those schemes. Teams have not been beating down Carter’s door, so I’d think if the Raiders like what they saw in his workout, they’d be able to cement a deal.

In other AFC West notes:

Safety Jim Leonhard practiced for Denver for the first time since signing with the Broncos earlier this month.

In an Insider piece, Mel Kiper thinks there are some AFC West rookies Insider that could make become top 200 players next year.

Backup quarterback Matt Leinart and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey returned to practice for the Raiders on Tuesday. Both players were shook up in Friday’s preseason game at Arizona.
As expected, replacing running back Ryan Mathews while he heals from a broken clavicle will be a group effort.

According to U-T San Diego, the Chargers will use Ronnie Brown, Le'Ron McClain and Curtis Brinkley while Mathews is out. I think this trio can get the job done on a temporary basis. I’m actually a big fan of Brinkley -- every time I’ve seen him, he makes plays. A couple of weeks ago, the consensus at Chargers camp was that Brinkley could be a victim of a numbers crunch, but now he is in the mix.

Meanwhile, Mathews is hopeful to return for the season opener Sept. 10 at Oakland on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” He was injured Thursday against Green Bay. Even though his recovery timetable could keep him out until Week 3, Mathews is confident the Chargers will not need to rely on the above-mentioned trio during the regular season to carry the load. Still, it is a smart move by San Diego to have a contingency plan.

In other AFC West news:

In a radio interview, Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour said he believes the team will be better against the run.

Former Raiders head coach and current ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden talks about going back to the Black Hole for his first game as an announcer. Gruden will call tonight’s ESPN broadcast of the preseason game between the Raiders and the Cowboys. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. Gruden was wildly popular as Oakland's head coach from 1998-2001.

Denver coach John Fox said newly signed safety Jim Leonhard is “probably somewhere between week-to-week and day-to-day.”

Check out this fascinating look at Kansas City running back Peyton Hillis on
The Denver Broncos made a low-risk, high-reward signing in the form of safety Jim Leonhard on Saturday. The team didn’t announce terms, but has been reported that it is a one-year deal.

Leonhard is a tough, smart player who has been on some good defenses with the Jets and the Ravens. He adds depth to a position where second-year player Quinton Carter will miss the first two preseason games after having minor knee surgery. Right now, Denver’s starting safeties are Mike Adams and Rahim Moore. In addition to playing a big role on defense, Leonhard could also be in the mix to be Denver’s punt returner.

Leonhard has had trouble staying healthy. He has suffered season-ending injuries the past two years with the Jets.

In other AFC West news:

The Kansas City Star reported that veteran Ryan Lilja practiced some at center. That a starting guard would be doing this may mean two things: The Chiefs want Lilja to be ready if first-year starting center Rodney Hudson gets hurt and that rookie Jeff Allen would likely spell Lilja at guard if he slides to center.

A record crowd of 41,304 attended the Broncos’ scrimmage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Saturday. It was the fourth different single-practice attendance record set this summer. The reason? The power of Peyton Manning.

The Denver Post reported that Broncos tight end Virgil Green had his NFL suspension reduced from four to three games.

Evening AFC West notes

August, 3, 2012
The Raiders start to put in some 3-4 looks for the defense during practice Friday. The fact that they waited until the fifth day of camp is another strong sign that this will be a 4-3 base with the occasional 3-4 setup.

The Denver Post reports that Broncos safety Quinton Carter will miss the first two preseason games because he had minor knee surgery this week. He was hurt early in camp, where he was competing with Rahim Moore for a starting job. Denver is also looking at veteran Jim Leonhard. He reportedly is going to visit Saturday.

Great quote by Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, who is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, when asked about his confidence level: “I’m out here practicing every day. I’m not scared.”

According to reports, Oakland fifth-round pick Juron Criner had a huge day Friday. He was a star during organized team activities, so it is nice for the Raiders to see him play well in a camp practice. On the flip side, starting cornerback Shawntae Spencer has been struggling.

That is not good for a team without much veteran experience at the position. Yes, second-year cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke had a terrific week, but Spencer will be needed. At this point, injured veteran Ronald Bartell and Van Dyke might be your best bets to be the starting cornerbacks in Week 1.

After receiver Plaxico Burress mentioned the Raiders as a team he would play for, Oakland coach Dennis Allen was asked if the interest was mutual. Let’s be real. Burress will play anywhere that will sign him.

Allen didn’t kill the idea, saying that everything will be considered. But this is important: He didn’t add fuel, either. My take is that Oakland will continue to try to develop its young receivers. If the need for a veteran becomes apparent later in camp, perhaps the Raiders could investigate Burress, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The Denver Broncos are reportedly going to investigate former Jets’ safety Jim Leonhard.

CBS Sports reported that Leonhard will visit the Broncos on Saturday. He completed a visit with Buffalo on Friday. The report said Leonhard is keeping his options open.

Clearly, so are the Broncos. Denver has been impressed with second-year safety Rahim Moore. He had been competing with fellow second-year player Quinton Carter, who has been injured. Mike Adams is the other starter. Leonhard has a reputation for being a tough player. He could add good veteran depth at the spot if Denver signs him.

In other AFC West news:

I’ve been asked often if I think former Carolina tackle Jeff Otah could end up in Denver with former coach John Fox. Well, if he can pass a physical, I think there could be some interest, but Otah might need some time before he is ready to sign with a team. Everybody could use a talented backup, and Fox is familiar with Otah. I think it’s a wait-and-see situation.

Oakland running back Darren McFadden, in a radio interview, discuses the changes in Oakland.

Instead of practicing with the Arizona Cardinals twice next week at the Chiefs’ camp, the Chiefs will work with Arizona just once, on Tuesday.

Oakland receiver Denarius Moore was back practicing Friday after taking Wednesday off because of a lingering hamstring issue.

Chargers struggling on offense

January, 17, 2010
SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers are playing one of their worst offensive games this season.

San Diego is being very sloppy, which is uncharacteristic of this team. The Chargers have made one dumb penalty after another, and quarterback Philip Rivers has suddenly looked shaky in the second half.

Rivers has thrown interceptions on his past two possessions. He threw a terrible pass that was picked off by safety Jim Leonhard at the Chargers 25. Leonhard brought it to the 16 and the Jets parlayed it into a 2-yard pass from Mark Sanchez to Dustin Keller for the go-ahead touchdown.

New York leads 10-7 with 13:35.

San Diego, which has the longest current win streak in the NFL at 11, now has to be in comeback mode. It certainly has the offensive firepower to do it. But the Chargers need to straighten themselves out in a hurry.