AFC West: Josh McDaniels

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The Super Bowl is a long way from the crossroads that led to it.

A long way from the moment when Adam Gase felt doubt creeping in, the moment when he had started to feel he could be many things in his life but a football coach was not one of them.

“I remember sitting in an Applebee's, interviewing for an insurance salesman job," said Gase, the Broncos' offensive coordinator. “And him basically telling me I would have to move back to Mount Pleasant [in Michigan] and me thinking that was what I was going to do."

Yes, the guy who will be on the headset to Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLVIII, the guy who called plays for the highest-scoring offense in NFL history, the guy Manning has called “a superstar" in conversations with some around the team was sitting in a restaurant just minutes from his parents' house, about to call for the check on his coaching career.

[+] EnlargeAdam Gase
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliDenver offensive coordinator Adam Gase almost gave up coaching in his early 20s to sell insurance.
It was just after the LSU Tigers had won the 2001 SEC championship, and Gase, as an “eight grand a year" graduate assistant with student loans staring him in the face to go with the fact he “may or may not have been kicked out of grad school," was contemplating a future that was quickly becoming cloaked in uncertainty.

“It was just kind of that stage," Gase said. “… [LSU] was trying to find a role for me; that's not an easy thing to do at that level. I was back home to see my parents, and there was a part of me that was saying I might not go back [to LSU]."

At least until three friends -- Scott Angove, Nate Lambertson and Jeff Sablack -- who were, as Gase puts it, “beside themselves," got him to reconsider the notion of walking away. So Gase went back to LSU in 2002 and started stepping up the rungs from there. He went to the Detroit Lions, the San Francisco 49ers and the Broncos in the years and nameplates that followed.

He was a scouting assistant, an offensive assistant, a quality control coach, quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach and quarterbacks coach. And then, when Mike McCoy left the Broncos to become the San Diego Chargers coach, Gase, at 34, was named the Broncos' offensive coordinator.

A short, a long and a winding road, all at the same time.

“He's bright -- very, very bright," Broncos coach John Fox said. “We knew his work. We knew how he handled himself. To me, when Mike left, it was a clear choice."

“I know there was a point when I thought it might not work," Gase said. "… I don't really think about sitting there in that interview anymore, but I'm glad I kept going."

Gase is not the product of a playing career that evolved into coaching once the on-field work was done. He is a product of from-the-ground-up work, of rolled-up sleeves to learn a profession. A process that started when he met current Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Gase was in high school, and Pees was at Michigan State.

Pees visited Gase's high school, handed him a business card and said when he arrived at Michigan State the following fall, as a student, he should come to the school's football offices.

“When I was in high school, I enjoyed the sport a lot; I was just terrible at it," Gase said. "… And I think [Pees] was thinking more like equipment manager and that. What ended up happening was Dean said here's my card and come see me when you get on campus.

“… And I showed up, gave the secretary the card. She goes OK, and I sat in [Pees'] office for like an hour and he gave me a self-scout [personnel evaluation] from when he was with the Cleveland Browns. I had just gotten a computer for my graduation, and he said, 'You know how to use a computer?' And I was like, 'I've got a computer' and I hadn't touched it yet. I kind of figured out how to put that together and set it up in my dorm room. I went through a lot of ink cartridges."

That's where it started, the get-it-done side it took to help McCoy dismantle the Broncos' playbook in roughly a week in 2011 and reconfigure it as a read-option attack with Tim Tebow at quarterback. The same guy who helped to then dismantle that when Manning arrived in 2012 and retooled it again when he was promoted to be the team's primary playcaller.

His go-for-it aggressiveness is rooted in Mike Martz's "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that powered the Rams to two Super Bowl appearances. Gase calls Martz “a mentor, a guy who taught me so much." The attention to detail and the respect for the need to play some power football come from his time with former LSU coach Nick Saban to go with some things from Josh McDaniels' Patriots playbook as well as his time with Fox and McCoy that helped him see the bigger picture, the one where he had to understand what defenses were doing and why.

“Adam is just a guy that was ready," McCoy said. “He's smart, creative, works very, very hard, a guy I leaned on a lot in my time in Denver. And you can see he's had a big impact in what they're doing."

What the Broncos did in the regular season was make history. From Manning's statistics to Denver's push-the-pace philosophy to the pile of touchdowns, the Broncos pushed the envelope on offense to a spot that had not been seen before.

None other than John Elway, still considered the final word on most things football for legions of fans across the Front Range, has said “I wish I could have played for him" and characterized Gase's decision not to interview with the Minnesota Vikings and Browns for their head-coaching jobs while the Broncos were still playing as “studly."

“Being somebody that did not play in college or at the professional level, I had to learn as fast as possible," Gase said. “It was an adapt-or-die situation for me. I said that a lot, especially with Peyton. You go from running an option offense to all of a sudden the protections are ‘you've got to be on it.' You have no choice but to figure out a way to speed up that learning curve.”

The curve now has a Super Bowl on it. The one where Gase will call the plays Sunday against the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

A game, an opportunity, that was almost left on the table. At Applebee's.

“I'm grateful for the chance, grateful to everyone who helped me, grateful to be a part of this organization," Gase said. “And I'm excited to be in this position, in this job. It's what I want to do, and you know, it really has worked out OK."

And then there were two -- two teams that know most of what there is to know about each other, two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who add to their legacies with every pass, all with a Super Bowl trip on the line.

The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, who have faced each other in each of the past three seasons and in the divisional round of the 2011 season, took it to overtime Nov. 24. The Broncos let a 24-0 halftime lead get away, and the Patriots won 34-31 after a punt bounced off Broncos cornerback Tony Carter's leg in overtime on a frigid night in Foxborough, Mass.

ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Legwold: Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick yet again. Do you think, in all your time around Belichick, that he tries to bring something new to the table every time he faces Manning? Or does he assume Manning has done the homework and put his efforts into getting people in the right position?

Reiss: I'd say there's always a new wrinkle or two, Jeff. Belichick has said in the past that Manning is too smart to just do the same thing over and over again -- both within a game and from matchup to matchup. Part of that discussion is also the state of the Patriots' personnel entering the matchup. A player like rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, for example, might give Belichick the flexibility to introduce something unique based on his breakthrough since the Nov. 24 meeting between the teams.

The weather forecast looks promising for Manning. No icy cold forecast. How do you think he approaches this game compared to the Nov. 24 contest? Do you think he will be less reluctant to hand the ball off?

Legwold: It will be a postcard day Sunday with the temperature expected to be 58 degrees with 0 percent chance of rain and light winds. So any decisions the two teams make on offense will have to do with what's in front of them on defense only. Manning will be inclined to hand the ball off if he sees the Patriots in some of those lighter personnel groupings deployed to handle Denver's three-wide-receiver look. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has a run option built into most things Manning can change into at the line of scrimmage. The Broncos certainly like how Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball are trending in the run game. They have split carries down the stretch, and both run with tackle-shedding power.

Gase, with coaching DNA that includes his time with Mike Martz, is an aggressive sort. With the next-generation numbers the Broncos' offense has put up this season, it's easy to forget they still averaged 28.8 carries per game and topped 30 carries per matchup nine times this season. If they get a look from the New England defense that calls for a run, the Broncos will be inclined to pound away.

Where is Tom Brady's game and the offense right now after some rough moments early in the season? Has Brady benefited from a run-heavy approach down the stretch and into the postseason?

Reiss: The biggest benefit for Brady with the run-heavy approach has been how it opens play-action opportunities. Danny Amendola's 53-yard catch in the divisional round is one of the best examples. Also, part of the reason the Patriots have gone so run-heavy is that it's the area where they have their most assets. They are limited when it comes to pass-catchers who create consistent separation at tight end and receiver. As for Brady's game, there have been no signs of decline in arm strength, accuracy or decision-making. The main reasons for the struggles early in the year, from my view, were more about the changes around him. That's not to say Brady didn't make his mistakes, but it's sort of interesting to look back on some of the media-based discussion around Weeks 6 to 8 about how maybe Father Time had caught up to him.

Now that we're a full season in, how would you sum up the Wes Welker signing? Just as the Broncos hoped for? Better? Worse?

Legwold: Welker finished the regular season with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns. His presence in the slot, along with Julius Thomas at tight end, is part of the reason the offense had a historic season. With the Broncos lining up in a three-wide-receiver set the majority of the season -- and every snap of the divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers -- they force defenses into some difficult choices. Thomas is often in the slot on one side of the formation, and Welker is in the slot on the other side. When Thomas missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury, both the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 1) elected to double-team Welker. He missed three games after suffering his second concussion in a four-week span Dec. 8 against the Tennessee Titans but played last week against the Chargers without issue.

Welker did have some spells this season when he had a cluster of dropped passes -- three against the Patriots on a frigid night to go with drops against Washington and San Diego in the regular season. Overall, though, he was exactly what the Broncos hoped he would be in their offense. He meshed with Manning quickly and was a big part of the plan right from his nine-catch performance against the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.

The Patriots did not face Thomas in the Nov. 24 meeting. Do you think they will try to match up Collins on Thomas this time around?

Reiss: That seems like the natural matchup, especially after seeing Collins splitting out wide on Colts tight end Coby Fleener on Saturday night and playing very well. Collins is unique in that, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he is fast enough to be competitive down the field in coverage (e.g., fourth-quarter interception versus the Colts) but powerful enough to play in the box and deliver a blow in the running game and as a pass-rusher. The Patriots' top draft pick in 2013, selected 52nd overall out of Southern Mississippi, he is an intriguing player whom Patriots fans really got their first extended look at Saturday as he played every snap against the Colts. He had been groomed behind the scenes up to that point, playing just 25 percent of the defensive snaps on the season in more of a reserve role.

Thomas may not have played in the first game between the teams, but Von Miller did. How does Miller's season-ending knee injury affect the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Of all the players who were signed in the weeks after the initial leaguewide binge in free agency, the Broncos' signing of Shaun Phillips was easily one of the best. Denver signed Phillips to a one-year, $1 million deal during the draft weekend in April, well over a month after free agency had opened, a deal that didn't have a signing bonus but did have some incentives based on sack totals.

Phillips was initially how the Broncos planned to deal with the loss of Elvis Dumervil in free agency. When Miller was suspended for the first six games of the season, Phillips had 5.5 sacks in those games to lead the way. He finished the regular season with 10 sacks to lead the team. In Sunday's win, with Miller on injured reserve, Phillips had two sacks against the Chargers. He is the single-most important player in the Broncos' pass rush in Miller's absence. Denver may have to take more risks without Miller on the field, and that's always a tough choice against someone like Brady, who can easily find the holes in coverage. But if Phillips can consistently create pressure -- with both sacks on three-man rushes against San Diego -- it allows the Broncos to move things around a little more and cover more of the bases.

Did Belichick make a conscious effort to get big backs like LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley in the lineup when he knew he would get smaller defensive personnel against the team's passing attack?

Reiss: That's fair to say, as the Patriots pride themselves on creating those matchups during the game, with coordinator Josh McDaniels finding his groove in recent weeks. They refer to themselves as a "game plan" offense because they tailor their plan weekly based on what they perceive to be the weakness of the opposition. They'll shuttle in different personnel groupings early -- multiple receivers, two backs, two tight ends, etc. -- to get information on how the opponent is matching up and then focus on the one they like best. This week, what's fascinating to me is that I think they probably see vulnerability in the Broncos' secondary, but I wonder how they feel about their own personnel in being able to exploit it. So that could keep them grounded.

The Patriots have been running the ball very well. How is the Broncos' run defense?

Legwold: In a year when the Broncos have been forced, by injuries and Miller's suspension, to mix and match on defense, their run defense has likely been more consistent in comparison to some of the other issues they've had. When defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson went to injured reserve Nov. 27 with a hip injury, they did wobble a bit, surrendering 159 yards rushing to the Chiefs and 177 yards rushing to the Chargers in two of the three games that immediately followed.

They have regained their balance a bit since, moving Paris Lenon into the middle linebacker spot in the base defense, and rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has played better each week. Overall, the biggest issue for the Broncos will be how they defend the run if the Patriots get them in nickel or dime personnel on defense and then run the ball at the smaller looks. The Broncos' safeties will have to tackle and tackle well to make it work.

Belichick has always tried to make "other" people beat him and take away an offense's front-line players. How do you think he would rank the Broncos' threats in the passing game, and where do you think the one-on-one matchups will be?

Reiss: One insightful point that ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi made in his weekly chat was the idea of defending the Broncos from the inside-out. Manning is still an accurate marksman, one of the greatest of all time, but I'm guessing that even he would agree that some of the downfield and outside-the-numbers throws he used to make don't come as easily to him. So it makes sense that the Patriots would focus more resources on the inside part of the field, where it would seem we would most likely see Welker and Thomas. With this in mind, I could envision the Patriots matching up cornerback Aqib Talib with Demaryius Thomas on the outside and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with Eric Decker and taking their chances that those one-on-one matchups will be competitive. Trusting those cornerbacks in those one-on-one matchups would allow the defense to focus extra attention/personnel to the inside part of the field.

Any X factors or special-teams contributors we should keep on the radar?

Legwold: The Broncos have usually been lockdown tight on special teams -- opening the season with two touchdown returns and two blocked punts, one of those returned for a score, in the first four weeks of the season. Those normally reliable units, however, have wobbled plenty down the stretch. The Chiefs' Knile Davis had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the Titans' Leon Washington had a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Texans' Keshawn Martin had a 51-yard punt return. Toss in the first blocked punt of Britton Colquitt's career in Oakland to go with Trindon Holliday's occasional adventures catching the ball, and it's been an unpredictable stretch. But Holliday is always a threat to uncork a return because of his breathtaking speed. The Broncos used wide receiver Decker as the primary punt returner against the Chargers last week, and he had a 47-yarder. So the Broncos have the potential to pop one at any time, especially in Denver, where Holliday returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in last January's playoff loss to the Ravens.

 
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If you really want to feel what the Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders rivalry should be, what many of those who fill the seats in each city in each football weekend expect it to be, you’re going to need a few things.

Like …

Gray hair.

A good memory, as in a really, really good memory. You know, almost Mensa.

VHS.

Oh, and quarterbacks. Game-changing, rivalry-stoking quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsQB play has helped Denver dominate its rivalry with the Raiders in recent seasons.
As the Broncos and Raiders prepare to open up AFC West play for each on Monday night, these two ships will again pass in the night. The Broncos, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, consider themselves a Super Bowl contender, complete with plenty of eight-figure contracts and a parcel of off-the-field drama in tow.

The Raiders are in Year 2 of not just a re-build job, but they have largely scrapped the lot and elected to start from the ground up. With that the team's decision-makers, including general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach (and former Broncos defensive coordinator) Dennis Allen, have handed the offensive keys, at least for the moment, to quarterback Terrelle Pryor, their latest hope behind center.

The bottom line is it’s been quite some time since this long-standing, annual battle between two of the AFL’s original eight, has been a give-as-good-as-you-get rivalry. Even with all of the road the two have traveled together, the fact is they have rarely been good together, facing off at the peak of their powers.

One of the two has most often been up, flexing potential postseason muscle, and the other has basically been the welcome mat. There have been just five seasons when both the Raiders and Broncos made the playoffs in the same year. And since the start of the 1992 season, they have both made the playoffs in the same year just once -- in 2000 when the Raiders won the division at 12-4 and the Broncos were a wild card at 11-5. That’s a long way from the zenith, the 1977 season when the two didn’t just meet in the playoffs, they met in the AFC Championship with a Super Bowl trip at stake.

Or as Broncos Ring of Famer Randy Gradishar put it; “Now that’s what a rivalry looks like. If people ever want to know what it looks like, what it feels like, that was it right there."

Since, however, there’s also the Shanahan effect. When Mike Shanahan was hired by the Broncos, it was his second stint as an NFL head coach since his first stint had ended rather unceremoniously in Oakland four games into the 1989 season. Shanahan and the late Al Davis also had a long, well-chronicled tiff over some bonus money after the firing, adding some emotional hot sauce. So, needless to say, Shanahan liked beating Davis’ team and made it an organizational priority. And Shanahan did it a lot, going 21-7 against the Raiders in his time with the Broncos.

Current coach John Fox is 3-1 against the Raiders in his two previous seasons on the Front Range. The only time since Shanahan’s first season in Denver the Raiders have had an upper hand against the guy wearing the big headset for the Broncos was during Josh McDaniels’ just-under-two-year tenure when the Raiders were 3-1 against the Broncos.

But like most things in the league these days, success and failure over the long haul can often be traced back to what happened at quarterback, how the draft went and just how many ill-conceived contracts were handed out to free agents who didn’t perform.

While the Broncos have certainly had their draft/checkbook stumbles over the past two decades, they have had fewer than the Raiders. Even as the quarterback search in the post-Elway era has had some ups and downs in Denver -- seven different quarterbacks have started against the Raiders for the Broncos since Elway retired following the 1998 season -- it has gone far better than the mistake-filled search behind center for the Raiders.

Brian Griese, Jay Cutler and Peyton Manning have been named Pro Bowl quarterbacks for Denver in the post-Elway era while Gus Frerotte, Tim Tebow, Jake Plummer and Manning each started postseason games for the Broncos over the past 15 years. By contrast the Raiders have started 13 different quarterbacks against the Broncos since the start of Shanahan’s first season in Denver. And Rich Gannon is the only Raiders quarterback to have started at least five consecutive meetings with the Broncos over that span.

Sure, Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey will often say "we don't like them and they don't like us," when the division games come rolling by, but Broncos-Raiders is really a remember-when rivalry right now, something maintained and nurtured because folks feel it’s the right thing to do along the way. The bones are there, though, just waiting for both teams to cooperate and make it what all involved always seem to hope it will be.
The Denver Broncos are in mourning Wednesday.

The parents of running back coach Eric Studesville were killed in a motorcycle accident in Texas on Tuesday.

“Our most heartfelt condolences go to Eric Studesville and his entire family following the tragic loss of his parents, Al and Jan Studesville,” the team said in a statement. “We were devastated to learn of their passing today. Our thoughts and prayers are with Eric and his family, and our organization will support them however possible during this difficult time.”

The Broncos cancelled media availability for their organized training activities (OTA) practice.

Studesville, 46, is a popular member of the coaching staff. He was the team’s interim head coach to end the 2010 season after Josh McDaniels was fired. He was kept on staff when John Fox took over as head coach. Studesville’s parents were major influences in his life as the Denver Post explained in this 2010 story.

Our condolences go out to Studesville and his family.

In other AFC West news:

U-T San Diego reports the Chargers are showing some interest in former Denver defensive tackle Justin Bannan. The Chargers need depth there and Bannan is a versatile player. He is solid against the run and he’d likely come cheaply. The interest makes sense.

U-T San Diego reports new pass-rusher Dwight Freeney reported to voluntary OTAs Wednesday for the first time since signing late last month.

New England quarterback Tom Brady said it was a “very sad day” when his close friend and top receiving option Wes Welker signed with Denver this spring.
All four AFC West teams will have interest in a running back in some form. It is not a strong free agency class. One player who could attract some interest is Peyton Hillis.

Hillis
Hillis
Hillis was not effective in Kansas City last season. He had just 309 yards on 85 carries. He did have 101 yards on 15 carries in Week 16. Hillis, just 27, is a 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. He will get another chance elsewhere. He has already played for Denver and Kansas City (he signed with the Chiefs last season on a one-year deal). Let’s see if Hillis could continue his AFC West tour:

Denver: The Broncos could use a short-yardage back like Hillis. He did not play for this current regime, and he would reunite with just a handful of teammates. But the seventh-round pick in 2008 would likely be welcomed back by the fan base.

Kansas City: If the new regime likes Hillis as a complement to Jamaal Charles, I could see some interest. It all depends on Hillis and the new regime being on the same page.

Oakland: This would reunite Hills with Arkansas backfield mate Darren McFadden. It would be interesting. Oakland could use a big back, and Hillis likely won’t be expensive. I could see this being a real fit.

San Diego: New Chargers’ head coach Mike McCoy was Denver’s offensive coordinator in 2009 when Hillis fell out of favor with head coach Josh McDaniels. He went from being a rookie star for Mike Shanahan to being a forgotten man under McDaniels, who traded Hillis to Cleveland the next year. If McCoy felt the same way about Hillis that McDaniels did, then this is not a fit. Otherwise, he could be intrigued by Hillis as a situational player.
On Monday, hours after firing yet another unsuccessful head coach, Clark Hunt reached out to season-ticket holders of the Kansas City Chiefs with a personalized email.

In it, Hunt expressed his sorrow and embarrassment over what has become of the franchise that his father, the legendary Lamar Hunt, made one of the most respected franchises in NFL history. The young Hunt, who has always preferred to stay in the background, promised better days ahead.

By the end of the week, the franchise's CEO gave his fan base huge reason for optimism.

By hiring Andy Reid -- arguably the biggest and best name of the available coaches -- Hunt has shown he is serious about making his team a winner.

“This is instant credibility,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “It’s much like Denver hiring John Fox and St. Louis hiring Jeff Fisher ... it’s great for the long haul.”

[+] EnlargeAndy Reid
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsAndy Reid brings lots of playoff experience and professionalism to Kansas City.
It became clear early that Hunt’s plan to revive the Chiefs -- who went from an expected playoff contender to a 2-14 team that has earned the No. 1 pick in the April draft -- was to get a powerful coach.

Four years ago, Hunt tried to keep the same structure that the franchise held from 1989 to 2008 when Carl Peterson ran the organization. Hunt hired Scott Pioli as general manager, and the hire was met with high expectations because of Pioli’s success as part of the process in New England. The Chiefs parted ways with Pioli on Friday, shortly before finalizing the Reid hiring.

Pioli was the hot general manager candidate in 2009. Hiring him was a sign that Hunt was going for it. Now, after the Pioli experience didn’t work, Hunt is going with a different strategy. But he’s still going for it.

Hunt is giving the power of the team to a coach. Reid will report directly to Hunt. It is a sign to the fans that Hunt is really serious about fixing this issue. A look at Reid’s track record suggests it is a worthwhile endeavor.

He won 130 games in Philadelphia and was a fixture in the playoffs. He knows how to run a team and an organization.

Reid is known for being a good man and a fair coach. He needs to create a happier atmosphere at Arrowhead Stadium. Pioli was known for being abrasive to some employees and it wasn’t always a pleasant work atmosphere, even though recently fired coach Romeo Crennel was well-liked by players and team employees.

The tone of the atmosphere is set by the man running the program, and Reid can change the feeling around the building. The importance of that cannot be underscored. In Denver (even before Peyton Manning arrived), players and employees raved about the atmosphere Fox created after the not-always fun regimes of Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels.

The hiring of Reid and the departure of Pioli pushes the restart button for everyone involved.

In addition to the losing, the Chiefs had to deal with a December murder-suicide. Starting linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, Kasandra M. Perkins, and then took his own life in front of Pioli and Crennel in the team’s parking lot.

Reid also is coming off a terribly painful season. His son, Garrett, died at the team’s training camp before a terrible on-field season commenced.

This is a fresh start for everyone. Still, there is plenty of work to be done.

Reid needs to find a quarterback and find a way to get success out of a talented but underachieving roster.

But Reid picked this job instead of talking to the Cardinals and the Chargers, for many reasons. He likes the stability of the Hunt family. He likes the roster. He likes having the No. 1 draft pick. He likes the passion of Chiefs fans. He probably also likes the fact that coaching in Kansas City will be less of a fish bowl than in Philadelphia.

He likes the idea of making Arrowhead Stadium a dreadful place for opponents to visit again.

And Hunt likes the idea of Reid's getting the job done. Will it work? That is yet to be seen. But there is no doubt Reid is equipped to handle the job, and give Hunt credit for quickly recognizing that in an attempt to end the misery in Kansas City.

Chargers' decision a year late

December, 31, 2012
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Dean Spanos made the right decision Monday.

It’s too bad it was a year too late.

Time is precious in the NFL and the Chargers will never get back the 2012 season, which goes down as an unnecessarily lost season.

The Chargers can look at their AFC West rival Denver Broncos as an example of making a harsh decision at the right time. Denver dismissed Josh McDaniels before his second season with the team was complete in 2010. The Broncos didn’t worry that it was too soon. Now, two years later, the Broncos are as healthy as any franchise in the NFL. It all began with the McDaniels firing.

Last year, Spanos kept general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner because they were good football men. He liked them and the players liked them. But their time was up. They were no longer effective in their roles. Instead of making the decision to move on, Spanos waited until the Chargers went 7-9 in 2012.

San Diego badly needs an infusion of new blood. It needs to become a healthy franchise.

Smith and Turner did some good things. But the program got stagnant and the talent base has dried up some. Smith was with the team for 10 years and Turner was there for six years.

Four years ago, this was one of the NFL’s best rosters. That is no longer the case. Several free agents, such as Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert, have left and the program has suffered. Smith has been unable to keep up the roster because of free-agent and draft decisions that didn’t work.

He will never be forgiven by the fan base for passing up Clay Matthews in favor of Larry English in the first round four years ago. The 2010 blockbuster trade to get running back Ryan Mathews is looking shaky as well.

The decisions have shown on the field. The Chargers' offensive production has suffered a steep decline in the past three seasons. After starting 32-16 in San Diego, Turner finished 24-24.

Smith and Turner were given more than enough time. They were given a year’s worth too much time.

What’s next for them?

Smith could interest some teams. There will be a lot of front-office change, so he could be in the mix.

Turner is considered one of the NFL’s all-time great offensive coordinators. He will be sought after. If Mike McCoy gets a job (he is interviewing in Chicago and Arizona), I could see Denver having interest. I could see the Jets and the Ravens (if they make a hire) being interested as well. Turner should get his pick of jobs as he likely moves from his final stint as an NFL head coach.
The Oakland Raiders reportedly visited with veteran receiver Jabar Gaffney on Wednesday.

The move makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, the Raiders are banged up at receiver. Starter Denarius Moore (hamstring) and No. 3 receiver Jacoby Ford (foot) have been not been practicing for several weeks. The team is hopeful Moore could play Monday against San Diego. Ford’s chances of playing Monday may be more up in the air at this point. Rookie Juron Criner is dealing with an ankle injury, but he has been practicing some.

Right now, the Raiders are relying on starter Darrius Heyward-Bey and undrafted rookie Rod Streater if those players can’t play against the Chargers. Even if Moore can play, the Raiders could use a veteran like Gaffney in the San Diego game.

Even for the long term, if the Raiders want a veteran, I like the idea of adding a player like Gaffney. The Raiders have long been connected to the likes of Plaxico Burress, Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson. However, Gaffney is a much better option in my mind. Gaffney, 31, is younger than those players. He doesn’t carry the baggage those players do and he has been more productive recently.

Gaffney had 68 catches for Washington last season. He was cut by New England in August. Gaffney had success in Denver under Josh McDaniels, who is now the Patriots’ offensive coordinator.

I don’t necessarily think Gaffney is a total impact player, but he’d fill some needs in Oakland, so I think he is worth pursuing.

Meanwhile, the Raiders announced these are their 2012 team captains: quarterback Carson Palmer, running back Darren McFadden, defensive tackle Richard Seymour, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and punter Shane Lechler.

And the wait continues

August, 31, 2012
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Some nuggets as we await cuts from around the AFC West. A warning: it might be awhile before we get all four team in:

San Francisco reportedly will cut running back/special teamer Rock Cartwright. He left Oakland as a free agent. Oakland could use Cartwright on special teams. It will be interesting to see if the Raiders make a push for Cartwright, who I’m sure would be interested in returning to the Raiders.

Alphonso Smith continues to flop. Detroit reportedly cut the cornerback. Smith was traded from Denver to Detroit two years ago; a year after former Denver coach Josh McDaniels traded a future No. 1 pick to take Smith at No. 37 in the 2009 draft. Smith is one of the poster children of McDaniels’ disastrous era in Denver.

The Chiefs are reportedly keeping undrafted rookie running back Nate Eachus. He had 197 yards rushing in the past two games. The Colgate product could potentially play on special teams as a rookie.

U-T San Diego reports, as expected, tackles Mario Henderson and Anthony Davis, will be cut. Expect the Chargers to try to find offensive line help in the coming days.

As expected, U-T San Diego reports, veteran defensive lineman Jacques Cesaire has been cut. He had a long career in San Diego and he was known for being a star in the locker room in addition to be reliable on the field. San Diego’s defensive line is much younger and Cesaire was an odd man out.

Broncos cut Lonie Paxton

August, 27, 2012
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Long snapper Lonie Paxton highlighted the list of 12 players the Denver Broncos cut to get down to 75 on Monday. The 53-man cut-down date is Friday.

Paxton was one of Josh McDaniels’ first signings in Denver after playing for him in New England in 2009. The 12-year veteran has been solid for Denver and there were no indications he was going to be cut. Undrafted rookie Aaron Brewer is set to take over as Denver’s long snapper.

The other players Denver cut are: linebacker Elliot Coffey, receiver Mark Dell, receiver Cameron Kenney, tight end Anthony Miller, defensive end Cyril Obiozor, running back Xavier Omon, safety Anthony Perkins, tackle Mike Remmers, cornerback Ramzee Robinson, fullback Austin Sylvester and guard Austin Wuebbels.

Omon’s release was a bit of surprise. He had a strong game against Chicago on Aug. 9 and there was a chance he would make the roster. His release could be a good sign for 2009 first-round pick Knowshon Moreno. He is on the bubble but he played well Sunday against San Francisco.

The team placed defensive end Jason Hunter on the injured reserve. He tore a tricep earlier in camp. He will likely be ready by December, but the team deemed it too risky to save a roster spot for him.

AFC West links: Exit Cutler, enter Peyton

July, 11, 2012
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Denver Broncos

Was Demaryius Thomas a big fan of former Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow? "The only thing I can say is it was fun while it lasted. He helped my career out, that was my best year since I've been in the league," Thomas told NFL.com's Dan Hanzus.

Had Josh McDaniels not chased off quarterback Jay Cutler, the Broncos would not have been in the market for Peyton Manning, says the Denver Post's Mike Klis.

Offensive line coach Dave Magazu talks with DenverBroncos.com about the progress of the group and how the team's new quarterback changes things for his position group.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs appear to be interested in several prospects, including Josh Gordon and Larry Lumpkin, both players who could go in the supplemental draft.

Oakland Raiders

General manager Reggie McKenzie is the one who chose safety Tyvon Branch as the Raiders' franchise player, and McKenzie is the one who should work to get a deal done, writes Chris Shellcroft of Just Blog Baby.

San Diego Chargers

While recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, rookie guard Johnnie Troutman says the injury won't discourage him from getting on the field.

The Chargers opened up Week 1 of the 2011 season with a fourth-quarter comeback victory against the Vikings. Follow along as the team's official website takes a look back at last season.
Eddie Royal is trying to recharge his career in San Diego after an uneven four years in Denver.

The Chargers signed the receiver/returner this offseason. He wasn’t in Denver’s plans. A second-round draft pick in 2008, Royal was a star in his rookie season under coach Mike Shanahan. However, he fell out of favor in Josh McDaniels’ offense and then didn’t fare much better under John Fox last season. Royal had a whopping 91 catches as a rookie. Yet, he has added just 115 combined in the past three seasons.

He reception numbers may increase in San Diego this season. Chargers coach Norv Turner has been complimentary of Royal. San Diego is expected to make Royal a big part of a varied passing game.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. says he thinks Royal can revive his game in San Diego.

“Royal is interesting,” Williamson said. “He was very good as a rookie. He’s a pure slot guy. He can thrive in that role with initial explosive movements and he has after-the-catch skills.”

There is no doubt Turner is going to give Royal every chance to rekindle the spark of his rookie season.

The three-man leadership structure is Denver is down to two.

General manager Brian Xanders is no longer with the team.

Denver leader John Elway and Xanders told the Denver Post that the team and Xanders have mutually parted ways. Elway told the paper the Broncos are streamlining their leadership structure and Xanders will not be replaced.

I think the move was made because Elway is comfortable in his role. The legendary quarterback became Denver’s primary football decision maker in Jan. 2011.

Elway released this statement:
“Brian deserves a tremendous amount of credit and recognition for the contributions he made to the Broncos during his four years with the organization. His hard work and dedication played a major role in the recent success of our team, most notably last season’s division title and playoff win.

“Brian and I had a very productive conversation earlier today. Although it was an extremely difficult decision, it became clear that it was best for both the Broncos and Brian to part ways. I believe a change to the structure of our football operations will be mutually beneficial, allowing the department to improve its efficiency while affording Brian the opportunity to continue his promising career with another NFL team.

“My responsibility to the Broncos and our fans is to build a championship football team. The setup we have throughout every phase of our football operations will better position us for success going forward.

“Making a change with someone of Brian’s caliber is not easy. I thank him for everything he did for the Broncos and wish him all the best as he continues his career.”

In the past year it became clear the Broncos were top heavy. Elway and coach John Fox have a terrific working relationship and there is a great comfort level between the two.

Simply put, there just wasn’t enough for Xanders to do. Elway is essentially the general manager and Xanders’ role was decreasing. After a little more than a year into the Elway-Fox relationship, the Broncos felt comfortable moving on with a smaller leadership core.

Mike Shanahan brought in Xanders in 2008 and was promoted to general manager early in the Josh McDaniels’ era in 2009. When Elway became the leader in Denver, Xanders’ future was clear.

This decision is another sign that the Broncos are Elway's team.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Monday that the Chargers are trying to trade up to take Alabama safety Mark Barron.

For what it’s worth, I heard the rumblings a couple of times, too. Barron looks likely to go in the 12-to-16 range in the first round, meaning that there isn’t much of a chance he will be around when the Chargers draft at No. 18. A trade up could cost a third-round pick and the No. 18 pick or a similar package.

If Barron is the apple of Chargers general manager A.J. Smith’s eye, a trade is likely necessary. We all know Smith is not scared to move up. He’s done it before and I can see him doing it again.

In other AFC West news:

NFL.com reported that the Broncos could still trade for Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel. The Broncos reportedly tried to get Samuels last week, but talks with Samuel about a new deal stalled; perhaps they will reignite. The price for Samuels is expected to be a late-round pick.

The NFL boosted the number of roster spots for the beginning of training camp from 80 to 90. That means each team will probably sign more undrafted free agents. The in-season 53-man roster remains.

Jacksonville cut safety Darcel McBath. He was cut by Denver last year being a second-round pick in 2009. Josh McDaniels’ first draft in Denver was a disaster.

Will the Chiefs draft a receiver with Dwayne Bowe's future unsettled?

The Chargers began their offseason program Monday.

The Raiders had a solid turnout at a voluntary minicamp. These are considered voluntary, but teams highly encourage players to attend, so attendance is usually pretty strong.
Brian Dawkins will be remembered as one of the few strong moves of the Josh McDaniels era in Denver.

Dawkins was signed by McDaniels on the first day of free agency in 2009. It was McDaniels’ first major move in Denver and it worked out well.

Just as he was in Philadelphia, Dawkins instantly became Denver’s spirited and vocal leader. He was the most respected player in Denver’s locker room for the past three years.

Monday, as expected, he announced his retirement. On the field, this move really won’t impact the Broncos. Dawkins is 38 and he had a serious neck injury last season. The Broncos didn’t expect him to be back.

When they brought him back for the 2011 season, the in-house thinking was that it would be for one more year. The Broncos drafted Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter last year and signed Mike Adams as a free agent this year. They could draft another safety in the mid-rounds this week.

The Broncos had moved on from Dawkins.

Still, he will be remembered for his impact and zeal he brought to Denver.

Dawkins will very likely end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he deserves to be inducted. Ultimately, Dawkins will be remembered for his special 13-year stay with the Eagles. But there is no doubt he made an impact in Denver.

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