AFC West: Keith Brooking

Two guys started games at middle linebacker for the Denver Broncos this past season. They were Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon.

This just in: Neither is on the Broncos’ roster at the moment, so welcome to what is the still one of the biggest unanswered questions in the Broncos’ plan for 2014. But the Broncos have treated middle linebacker more as an August issue over the past two years than one to take care of in March.

Or as executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway put it recently; “We’re not as worried about middle linebacker as some other people are."

[+] EnlargeRyan Matthews, Wesley Woodyard
Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver PostWith Wesley Woodyard, left, in Tennessee, Denver is searching for a starting middle linebacker.
The Broncos exited their initial free-agent spending spree with two holes in the starting lineup unaddressed (at least officially) -- left guard and middle linebacker.

The guard spot, vacated when the Broncos let Zane Beadles leave as a free agent, will likely be filled in-house. The most likely scenarios, and two that will get a look in offseason workouts and training camp, is right tackle Orlando Franklin bumping down inside to left guard and Chris Clark moving to right tackle. Or, the Broncos can play Manny Ramirez and former Washington Redskins starter Will Montgomery -- Montgomery agreed to terms with the team Tuesday -- in some combination at guard and center with the option of leaving Franklin at right tackle.

Both Ramirez and Montgomery have started games at guard and center in their careers.

But at middle linebacker the Broncos are more willing to see what develops in what is now a situational position in their defense. In the past two years they didn’t sign one of their starters at the position until August, and both were 30-something players who were not already in somebody’s training camp.

In August of 2012 they signed Keith Brooking off the street, and he went on to play in all 16 games, starting 14 at middle linebacker. Last August they signed Lenon off the street. He started six games in the regular season and all three playoff games.

It’s a roll of the dice to wait that long and then sign a player good enough to be a potential starter, especially when the Broncos have made a concerted effort to increase their team speed on that side of the ball during this offseason. So, the inside linebackers in the draft will get a long look.

The Broncos could play a rookie in the middle if they find the right one, because weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan is the every-down guy at the position and would be comfortable calling the defensive signals as well.

That would ease the transition in the middle for a younger player, if the Broncos would commit themselves to playing a younger player there. But they haven’t shown the willingness yet. They worked out veterans D'Qwell Jackson and Lofa Tatupu last month just before Jackson signed in Indianapolis.

Tatupu hasn’t played in three seasons.

But they expect to have options later. Time is still on their side, and middle linebacker is no longer a glamour position for many teams. With the bevy of three- and four-wide receiver sets offenses use, the nickel -- five-defensive backs -- is almost the base defensive formation in the NFL.

The Broncos were in the nickel more than any other formation last season, often on early downs when a run play was still among the offenses’ choices. The Broncos had four games this past season when they were in the base 4-3 defense 12 or fewer snaps, and they had just three games last season when they spent more snaps in the base defense than they did in their five- or six-defensive back formations.

The Broncos will continue to look at the veteran players who are available, but getting a young player ready is looking increasingly like the route they will go. Nate Irving has played some in the middle, but he has been far more comfortable, and far more reliable taking on blocks, as Von Miller's backup at strongside linebacker.

In the middle, Irving has shown a tendency to be too quick to work to one side of the blocker instead of facing up and shedding to then move toward the play. That has resulted in an ill-timed running lane at times for opposing backs.

Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy has routinely said the way to get young players to produce in an NFL lineup is taking the first step and not being afraid to play them. For the Broncos, if they want to keep improving their team speed and fill a spot in the starting lineup, using a draft pick and not being afraid to play him in the middle might be the best way to go.
Weekend mail call:

Brad from Kansas City wants to know if I think the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs could swing a deal for left tackle Branden Albert.

Bill Williamson: I think is a long shot, but perhaps it could develop if other opportunities continue to dry up. The Albert-to-Miami talks are not officially dead with Miami agreeing to terms with right tackle Tyson Clabo. The Dolphins will move Jonathan Martin to left tackle. As for the Chargers, they badly need a left tackle. I’m sure they’d love to get Albert. He’d solve a huge problem. But there are two issues in the way of a trade. I’m not sure these two AFC West rivals would want to deal with each other and I’m not sure the Chargers have the money right now to give Albert a long-term contract. So, while a fit is there on paper, there are some big obstacles.

Adam wants to know if I think Taiwan Jones could play safety for the Oakland Raiders.

BW: I doubt it. The team is planning to move Jones from running back to cornerback. He is a former cornerback and he has the skill set and speed to perhaps make it work. Safety is a different animal. I just don’t think Jones has the size to be a safety. If it is going to work for the former fourth-round pick in Oakland it appears it will be at cornerback.

Dan from Fort Collins, Co. wants to know if I think the Denver Broncos could pursue free-agent middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.

BW: I think if that happens it would be later in the summer. The Broncos have free-agent signee Bradley Stewart and youngsters Nate Irving and Steve Johnson. They think they are good there. But if these guys falter in training camp and the preseason, I think Denver could then be open to Urlacher. Remember, the Broncos signed middle linebacker Keith Brooking late in camp last year. A similar situation could potentially arise this year.
The Denver Post had an interesting nugget Sunday when it mentioned that the Denver Broncos plan to fill one of their biggest needs in-house and not in free agency or in the draft.

The newspaper reported the team plans to allow third-year player Nate Irving and second-year player Steve Johnson to compete for the middle linebacker job. Joe Mays began last season as the starter and Keith Brooking took over early in the season. Brooking, a summer addition, played well and was a leader on the defense. But he is 37. Brooking is a free agent.

Both Irving and Johnson are interesting players, but it is a bit of a risk relying on one of those two players as being a starter. It is a strong rookie class at middle linebacker and the Broncos could conceivably take a player at the position with the No. 28 overall pick.

In the end, I think Denver will at least consider adding another starting competitor at the position. I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. what he thinks of the current plan. Like me, he is skeptical that it will come down to simply Irving versus Johnson.

“Denver’s middle linebacker is really just a two-down player,” Williamson said. ”Still, I also don’t believe them when they say they will stick with these two. Someone will be added at some point.”

But for now, it seems both Irving and Johnson will get a chance to impress the team.

How Denver can improve in 2013

February, 16, 2013
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The winter doldrums of a football-less mid-February are taking over in the Rocky Mountains. The days are a little colder and a little darker as the Denver Broncos come to grips with what could have been.

Watching confetti fall on the jubilant Baltimore Ravens after their Super Bowl victory Feb. 3 had to further damage the Broncos’ collective psyche -- part of a haunting winter theme of “it could have been us.”

The Broncos saw their Super Bowl push end in a 38-35 double-overtime defeat to the visiting Ravens in the AFC divisional round. Denver was 13-3 in the regular season, had the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and entered the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak in which it won every game by at least a touchdown. Its early exit from the postseason was stunning -- and particularly painful for the Broncos because they know it was so avoidable.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesFilling a few holes, including at receiver, could give Peyton Manning and Denver a better end in 2014.
Baltimore sent the game to overtime on a 70-yard bomb from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a play in which Denver safety Rahim Moore inexplicably allowed Jones to get behind him in the final seconds of regulation. Countless former players said they had never seen an NFL defensive back make that type of play. Had Moore simply done his job, Denver would have advanced.

Instead, the Broncos will try to regroup and move forward. Despite the sobering end of the season and its painful aftereffects, the Broncos should feel good about themselves heading into the 2013 season as NFL Comeback Player of the Year winner and MVP runner-up Peyton Manning prepares for his second season in Denver at age 37.

“There’s a lot of young players in this locker room that need to use this as motivation, as a spark to have that fire burning inside of them this offseason and come back stronger,” veteran middle linebacker Keith Brooking said shortly after the season. “This is a great locker room. The Denver Broncos are really close.”

The Broncos are not alone in building high expectations for the immediate future. The Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Broncos the early favorite to win next year’s Super Bowl. In an Insider piece, ESPN.com pegged them as a strong early contender for next season Insider.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. had this to say about the Broncos heading into next season: “I think their roster is exceptional.”

Still, it would be inaccurate to say this is the perfect roster. The Broncos, two years removed from a 4-12 season, need to upgrade at certain spots. With the No. 28 pick in the draft and expected room under the salary cap, Denver should be able to improve. Let’s take a look at some areas the Broncos should look at as they aim for a long Super Bowl run next season:

Running back: The Broncos have the making of a decent stable of running backs but could use another pair of legs. I think Denver needs to find a bigger back to help in short-yardage situations. Jacob Hester did a nice job at the end of the season, but Denver might want to find a better back. Again, with Willis McGahee, a revived Knowshon Moreno and young Ronnie Hillman, there is a lot to like in the immediate future. But another talented runner wouldn’t hurt.

Receiver: Brandon Stokley did a nice job at age 36 as the slot receiver, but I could see Denver looking for a younger, more special option. There will be some interesting options available, including Wes Welker in free agency and perhaps Percy Harvin in a trade. Denver could even try to go big and add a player such as Mike Wallace. If Denver’s brass decides it can afford to make a big splash, this could be an area where Manning can take advantage. The truth is that the future is now in Denver. Manning has only so many years left, so Denver could be intrigued by striking big at this spot.

Defensive tackle: Denver’s defense made huge strides in 2012 under first-year defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Veteran defensive tackles Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan were good in their roles. But both are free agents, and Denver might want to get younger. There could be some solid options in the first round at this position, such as Purdue’s Kawann Short and Georgia’s Johnathan Jenkins. Denver should find a good, young run-stuffer to plug in the middle of an explosive defense.

Middle linebacker: Brooking played well last season, but he was 37 and Denver needs to find a better starting option, whether via free agency in the form of someone like Baltimore’s Dannell Ellerbe or in the draft if Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree or LSU’s Kevin Minter is available. Denver has a lot of young pieces on defense. Adding another one at this position wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

Secondary: The last time we saw the Broncos, it wasn’t a great day for Denver’s secondary. In addition to Moore’s last-second gaffe, surefire Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey was torched. But Bailey, who will turn 35 in June, had a good season and the Broncos will keep him for another year with young, promising Chris Harris and Tony Carter. As at receiver, though, Denver could be tempted to go big and try to get into the Darrelle Revis trade talks if the Jets make a move. I also could see Denver looking to upgrade at safety. Moore, a second-round pick in 2011, made strides in 2012, and the team likely will not give up on him because of the one bad play. But adding another safety might be smart.
Here are some highlights of our AFC West chat, which was held earlier Wednesday:

DENVER

Spencer from Denver: Is Denver's biggest need MLB? I know weapons for Peyton would be nice but Brooking is 37!

Bill Williamson: Yeah, every layer of the D needs a little more help. I'd say MLB may be the greatest need.

KANSAS CITY

Steve from Alabama: In your opinion, will Dwayne Bowe be a Chief next year?

BW: If I had to guess, I'd say yes. Andy Reid is a pass-first coach and Bowe is by far his best receiver. giving Bowe what he wants to send a strong, positive message to Reid's new locker room.

OAKLAND

Mike from NJ: I continue to think all-pro long snapper Jon Condo might be a cap casualty(1 mil), your thoughts?

BW: Every team should be able to handle the snapper's contract. Didn't he prove his value in Week 1?

SAN DIEGO

Nick from Florida: With some key cuts the chargers could very well end up being in the 16m cap range, any decent( not huge signings)FA names pop up for you that the chargers could sign?

BW: Start with the best names on the O-line.

Blog note: It’s time for a little post-season downtime. I won’t be on the blog much between now and Tuesday morning. In the meantime, I will have some posts and our blog editing team will file news updates. Talk to you soon.
I’ve seen several mock drafts that have the Denver Broncos linked to Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o with the No. 28 pick in the first round.

On Monday, I presented my second AFC West mock draft. I have Denver taking Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes. I think Te’o will be off the board before Denver picks at No. 28.

Now, if Te’o is available at No. 28, do I think Denver should take him? Without a doubt, yes.

Yes, even after the confusing, wild hoax involving a fake girlfriend. Te’o has gone from a possible No. 1 overall pick to a national punch line in a matter of weeks.

But I think once the smoke settles, Te’o is still going to be a sought-after player.

If he does fall to the Broncos and they feel comfortable with his side of the story involving the hoax, I can’t see the Broncos doing any better than Te’o with the pick. In the short John Elway era, Denver has taken the approach of taking the best available player. If Te’o falls, I can’t see him falling past Denver.

The Broncos don’t have many holes, but middle linebacker is one of the need areas. Keith Brooking took over as the starter last season, but he is 37 years old. Te’o would become an immediate contributor for Denver.

One guy to watch

December, 28, 2012
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One player to watch from each AFC West team in Week 17:

Denver Broncos, linebacker, Keith Brooking: Brooking has been one of the more under-appreciated additions in the division. He was signed before the season at the age of 37 and was simply expected to provide some veteran depth. But he took over for Joe Mays as the starting middle linebacker in October and Denver’s defense hasn’t looked back. He has helped transform the run defense.

Kansas City Chiefs, defensive end, Tyson Jackson: There is a chance the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft will leave as a free agent and there a chance he has played his final game with the Chiefs. Jackson, who is dealing with a toe injury this week, is not flashy and he will never be, but he has developed into a solid player. I think the Chiefs will try to keep him as part of their defense. He will be missed Sunday at Denver if he can't play and he will be missed in 2013 if he isn't re-signed.

Oakland Raiders, receiver, Rod Streater: He has 35 catches. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Streater is the sixth undrafted rookie to catch 35 passes or more since 2000. He has been a bright spot for Oakland.

San Diego Chargers, Melvin Ingram, linebacker: Ingram hasn't had a lot of gaudy statistics as a rookie. He has just one sack this season, but has shown flashes and he had a great game against the Jets on Sunday. He looks like he has a good future and I’m sure he will try to finish the season strong against Oakland.

Punter a bright spot for Chargers

October, 30, 2012
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Life is not fun for the Chargers these days, but at least, something is going right.

Punter Mike Scrifres is the ESPN Stats & Information punter of the week.

The Chargers lost their third straight game, 7-6 at Cleveland on Sunday. But Scrifres’ punting added two percent to the Chargers’ chances of winning the game. Scrifres averaged 46.5 yards on six punts and had just two punts returned against him for a total of 7 yards.

His net punting average was 45.3 yards. Scrifres pinned three punts inside the Browns’ 10-yard line. Again, the Chargers wasted Scrifres’ effort, but he has been recognized for his strong game.

In other AFC West news:

Inactive lists for Monday night

October, 15, 2012
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SAN DIEGO -- There are no surprises on either inactive list for the Denver-San Diego game.

San Diego tackle Jared Gaither is out, as expected, with a groin injury. Undrafted rookie Mike Harris will start for him as Harris did for the first three weeks of the season when Gaither was down with a back injury.

Denver cornerback Tracy Porter is ill and he did not make the flight. Chris Harris will start for him and Tony Carter will be the nickel cornerback.

The Denver Post reported during the weekend that Keith Brooking has replaced a struggling Joe Mays in the starting lineup at middle linebacker. The Broncos did not make that announcement, but I can see it happening. The team trusts Brooking more than Mays because Mays struggles to keep up with the pace of the game and he misses a lot of tackles.

All of San Diego’s running backs are active, so expect the Chargers to try to pound it on the ground.

Here are the complete inactive lists for the game:

Denver

QB Caleb Hanie
CB Tracy Porter
RB Knowshon Moreno
LB Steven Johnson
C C.J. Davis
TE Julius Thomas
DT Sealver Siliga

San Diego

K Nate Kaeding
S Brandon Taylor
CB Shareece Wright
LB Jonas Mouton
T Antonio Garay
T Jared Gaither
TE Ladarius Green
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The news that linebacker D.J. Williams has been suspended an additional three games is not a shock to the Denver Broncos.

It has been expected in NFL circles that Williams would get a three-game NFL suspension after his second conviction on an alcohol-and-driving charge. Williams is already serving a six-game NFL ban for using a banned substance, meaning that will be eligible to play in Denver’s 10th game, Nov. 18 against visiting San Diego.

Frankly, Williams has become an afterthought in Denver. He was barely a presence in training camp as the Broncos prepared for his suspension. Wesley Woodyard and Keith Brooking have been playing at the weakside linebacker spot.

There is no guarantee Williams will regain his starting job when he returns. Williams is a talented player, but his off-field issues have worn thin in Denver and the Broncos are currently focused who is on the roster, not who isn’t.

In other AFC West news:

As expected, Kansas City running Peyton Hillis (ankle) and defensive end Glenn Dorsey (calf) will not play Sunday against Baltimore after sitting out last Sunday's game.

Meanwhile, Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson (groin) is questionable. Cornerback Brandon Flowers practiced fully Friday and is probable with a heel injury.

It looks like Chris Kuper will play Sunday at New England. The Broncos listed the standout guard as probable on the injury report Friday to play in the game. He broke his forearm in August.

Jacksonville signed receiver Micheal Spurlock. The return man was cut by the Chargers this week.

Former Kansas City running back Larry Johnson has been arrested in Las Vegas on a domestic battery charge. He had several arrests in his NFL career.

AFC West notes

September, 29, 2012
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Catching up on the news of the day after arriving in Kansas City:

Denver put safety Quinton Carter on the injured reserve. He will require knee surgery. That means fellow 2011 draft pick Rahim Moore will likely remain the starter. Carter, who took the job from Moore last year, had been expected to push Moore at some point.

Denver promoted safety Duke Ihenacho and linebacker Mike Mohamed from the practice squad. Mohamed was promoted because starter Joe Mays is suspended for Sunday’s game against Oakland for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Matt Schaub last Sunday. Keith Brooking is expected to start for Mays.

San Diego officially announced that kicker Nick Novak has been signed and offensive lineman Reggie Wells has been cut. Novak is replacing kicker Nate Kaeding, who is out for Sunday’s game at Kansas City with a groin injury. Novak kicked for the Chargers last season after Kaeding tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Kansas City's top receiver, Dwayne Bowe (groin), is expected to play Sunday. He is one of four Chiefs receivers listed as questionable on the injury report.

In addition to receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion), backup Oakland tight end Richard Gordon (hamstring) has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Broncos. Derek Hagan is expected to start for Heyward-Bey.
Darren McFaddenEd Szczepanski/US PresswireThe Raiders are confident Darren McFadden will thrive in their new zone-blocking scheme.
The zone-blocking scheme is under scrutiny in the Raider Nation.

The running attack made famous by the late 1990s Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos teams has been the cause of angst for many Oakland Raiders fans this season, and has put Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Knapp on the hot seat in fans’ minds.

However, after a disastrous first two games, the Raiders showed some signs that they are getting used to the scheme during a 34-31 upset win against Pittsburgh in Week 3. The centerpiece of the scheme, Darren McFadden, finally broke loose with a 64-yard touchdown run, and he finished with 113 yards rushing.

However, besides that one run, McFadden had 49 yards on 17 carries in the game. He has 103 yards on 43 carries on the season other than his big run.

McFadden excelled in the power attack Oakland used the past two seasons. He was in the zone-blocking system of Knapp (who was Oakland's offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008) in his rookie season and had his issues.

Can McFadden succeed in this scheme or are the Raiders going to just hope the speedster pops the occasional long run like he did against Pittsburgh? The Raiders are convinced McFadden and the rest of the offense will thrive in Knapp's system.

"It's fun to watch Darren run. We weren't as worried about the running game as everybody else was,” Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer said after the win against Pittsburgh.

Added Oakland coach Dennis Allen: "We have the right personnel to get it done."

Many people think McFadden is not the typical one-cut-and-go runner that best fits the zone-blocking scheme, and not all of the Raiders' offensive linemen are best suited for the zone-blocking scheme. But the Raiders did bring in guard Mike Brisiel from Houston, which is one of the best zone-blocking teams in the NFL and is where Knapp last coached. Guard Cooper Carlisle and tackle Willie Smith also have experience in the system.

Traditionally, zone-blocking offensive linemen are smaller and more athletic than more power-blocking lineman. Mike Shanahan's Broncos were probably the most famous zone-blocking running team, and Shanahan preferred smaller offensive linemen.

However, one of those former Denver offensive lineman, Mark Schreleth (now an ESPN analyst), doesn’t buy that certain players are not good fits for the zone-blocking schemes.

“I think the Raiders have the pieces for it,” Schreleth said. “People think you need a certain type of a guy for the zone-blocking scheme, but it’s not true. It can work as long as everyone in the offense, that’s all 11 guys, are tied together. That's the key, and it takes time.”

After the second game, Knapp preached patience. He said the team needed to grow into the system. Schreleth is behind Knapp.

“You have to have patience,” Schreleth said. “Every guy on the offense is part of it. It is complicated and it’s not something that just comes overnight. It takes great teamwork, but when it comes it is very effective, and I think Oakland can get there.”

The essence of the zone-blocking schemes is the running back quickly finding the hole and the rest of the offense working in concert to continue to develop the play. Most teams have the zone-blocking scheme as part of their running attack, and many use it as their primary attack.

When it runs correctly, it can wear down defenses. The Denver defense is preparing to face a zone-blocking team for the second straight week. The Broncos played Houston last week. The Texans had 152 yards on 34 carries. Denver linebacker Keith Brooking said defending the zone-blocking scheme is not for the antsy.

“You have to be patient,” Brooking said. “The gaps move quickly, so you have to be sound in your gap responsibility. You have to know where your leverage is, as far as where your help is in the run game, as far as if you’re bringing a safety down, if you’re not. So you really have to be in tune with that. I think more than anything it is just attacking. They want to kind of get you running sideways and then cut downhill, so you have to take the attack to them. First of all, setting the edge of the defense is key, because they’re really good at stretching the perimeter of your defense. You have to set the edge of your defense and then your inside guys have to stay in their gaps and come downhill and attack and get off blocks, because they do a great job of trying to sustain those blocks. The key is once you attack them, you get off of them and make the play.”

Schreleth believes Houston runs the scheme the best in the league right now. He calls the Texans’ running attack a “well-oiled machine.” Knapp was part of it last season, and the Raiders are fully committed to seeing it work now.

After the first two games, there was speculation about whether the Raiders would scrap the attack during the season. The Raiders have scoffed at that. Even though there might be continued growing pains, the Raiders are going to try to make this work. Matt Williamson of ESPN.com believes Oakland’s patience could pay off, partly because McFadden is so special.

“I have no worries that McFadden can and will adapt to the scheme,” Williamson said. “I do think their offensive line is still a work in progress, but overall, the linemen move well enough to pull it off. It just might take some time.”

Joe Mays' ban upheld

September, 27, 2012
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As expected, Denver linebacker Joe Mays will not play Sunday against visiting Oakland.

Denver coach John Fox told reporters Thursday that Mays’ suspension was upheld after his appeal. He was suspended a game and fined $50,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub on Sunday. Schaub later said he lost a piece of his ear on the hit.

Expect Keith Brooking and rookie Danny Trevathan to play a lot in Mays' absence.

In other AFC West news:

There are several former AFC West players among the preliminary nominees for election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

I’ve been asked a lot if the Raiders would be interested in Kellen Winslow Jr. now that he has been cut by New England. I don’t think so. Oakland has had multiple chances to get him this year, and the Raiders have bypassed those chances. With Brandon Myers looking good, I don’t think the Raiders would turn to Winslow now.

Joe Mays' ban: Opinions vary

September, 26, 2012
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More fallout from the Joe Mays suspension:

Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton has some strong opinions on Mays, who was suspended one game for a nasty hit Sunday on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub. Tarkenton thinks Mays’ suspension should be much longer.

Wednesday, however, Denver defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson supported Mays, who is appealing the suspension.

“You’re taking away the aggression of a guy,” Vickerson said “To me, if (Schaub) wouldn’t have ducked his head, it would have been a clean hit. It still looked like a clean hit. But it was just the aggression with it and the violence of the hit. And that’s going to open eyes all around the league. At the same time, it’s a violent game we play. You can’t take away a guy’s aggression. It’s hard. On a defense, it’s real hard. At the same time, all we can do is try to clean it up and hit him in this little area that we have to hit. We can’t hit him too high; we can’t hit him too low. So just hit him in the chest.”

The Denver Post reports that Broncos coach John Fox wouldn't say who would start at middle linebacker Sunday against Oakland with Mays out, but the paper expects it to be Keith Brooking. Between the suspension and injury issues, Denver’s linebacking crew is going to be limited.

NFL hits Joe Mays back

September, 25, 2012
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This is the most chaotic of Roger Goodell’s time as NFL commissioner.

Yet in a time when the officiating labor issue has affected the integrity of the game, Goodell has taken control of one of his hot-button topics -- player safety. It will cost Denver Broncos’ middle linebacker Joe Mays.

The NFL suspended Mays for one game and fined him $50,000 for a violent hit on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub on Sunday. Mays hammered Schaub, whose helmet shot off his head. Schaub went down, holding his head in his hands in obvious pain. Later, he said he lost part of his ear on the play.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Mays is appealing the suspension. Mays has a reputation for being a good person and a respectful player. He twice apologized to Schaub on Sunday, and Denver coach John Fox has supported Mays.

Mays -- who was fined nearly $9,000 for a hit on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan in Week 2 -- said Monday in an interview with a Denver radio station that he knew he was in the wrong, but he made it clear his intention was not to hurt Schaub.

“What I was thinking is, I’m just reading my progression, my gap blocks, so I’m thinking, try to get to the quarterback as fast as I could, try to get him down before he gets the ball off,” Mays said in the radio interview. “I see him back there, I’m coming, I’m coming and I see him cock back to release the ball, but I’m still going to try to hit him so I can affect the release a little bit. So, he threw the ball, and he kind of ducked his head because he saw me coming. When he ducked his head, that’s when I came in and hit him. It looked worse than what … I mean, it didn’t look good. I’ll just put it that way. My intention was to go in there and get a hit on him, not hit him in the helmet. Unfortunately, that’s what happened.”

Mays admitted, “I guess I could’ve been lower.” Still, in the radio interview, it seemed Mays thought he’d be fined, not suspended.

“If you hit him like that, you can also get fined,” Mays said. "Who knows how much money they’ll take away from me? When it comes to quarterbacks, they’re definitely going to protect them. I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen to me.”

If Mays loses the appeal, he’d likely be out for Sunday’s home game against Oakland. The Broncos could use several players in his spot, opting for Keith Brooking, Wesley Woodyard and backups Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving if he is cleared after suffering a concussion against Houston. Denver might have to make a roster move at the position if both Mays and Irving are out Sunday.

Rules are rules. It was a brutal hit. I was there, and I could feel the hit from the press box. I don’t think Mays’ intentions were bad. I believe his explanation, but the NFL has strict helmet-to-helmet rules. I don’t think Mays has a lot to complain about, especially a week after he was fined for a hit on Ryan.

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