AFC West: Larry Johnson

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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 mailbag

August, 6, 2011
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Weekend mail call:

Michael from Long Beach wants to know what I think about Ryan Mathews’ slow start to camp.

Bill Williamson: It’s been a tad worrisome. He didn’t pass a conditioning practice at the beginning of camp that most San Diego players had no problem passing. The running back admitted he could have conditioned his legs more during the lockout. And he has missed some time with a reported toe injury. This is a big year for Mathews. The Chargers need to get something out of the No. 12 overall pick in 2010. He showed flashes a rookie but durability was an issue. There’s no excuse for him not to be in premium shape. It’s early and he has time to get ready for the season, but the team is surely keeping its eye on him.

Brian from San Diego wants to know what I think about Oakland draft picks Denarius Moore (receiver) and David Ausberry (tight end).

BW: They looked decent when I was at the Raiders’ camp early in the week. I think Moore, a fifth-round pick from Tennessee, has a better chance of helping early. I’m not sure if he will have the same impact Jacoby Ford had as a rookie last year, but we may see him get a chance. He seems polished and he gets open a lot. He's been a star of camp. Ausberry, a seventh-round pick from USC, is moving to tight end from receiver. He is big and fast. But he will be a work in progress and it’s unlikely he will be ready to make a huge impact as a rookie.

Aaron from Syracuse wants to know if I think Brian Waters, who was recently cut by the Chiefs, could end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

BW: I read your email and you make a good case, Aaron. He was part of some great running offenses and he led the way for Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. But guards usually have to be extremely dominant to make the Hall of Fame, especially guards without multiple Super Bowl titles. He made five Pro Bowls and he was named All-Pro twice since joining the Chiefs in 2000. Waters has a good reputation and he could get some votes, but it may be difficult for him. Former Kansas City guard Will Shields, however, could easily go in on his first ballot next year. He was named to 12 Pro Bowls in 14 NFL seasons and he was All-Pro nine times.

Evening AFC West notes

March, 31, 2011
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Check out Jeffri Chadida’s story on Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller on ESPN.com. Interesting kid. Miller agrees with scouts that he can play in any defensive scheme. He is a candidate to be taken by Denver at No. 2.
  • Former Kansas City running back Larry Johnson doesn’t think he’d get a fair trial in the city because he thinks he is disliked there.
  • The NFL has reinstated the Lions’ seventh-round pick as part of their appeal of a tampering case involving the Chiefs. The Chiefs and Lions will still swap fifth-round picks next month. The Chiefs now have the ninth pick in the round, while the Lions will pick 23rd.
  • North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn had a strong pro day. He’ll likely be picked in No. 5-10 range, but he likely won’t be considered by the Broncos with the No. 2 pick.
  • LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson is being implicated in a high school-recruiting scandal. Don’t expect that to have any bearing on his draft status. Denver could take Peterson.

AFC West links: Arenas getting ready

July, 19, 2010
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Denver Broncos

A look at the Broncos' running back situation heading into training camp.

Kansas City Chiefs

Javier Arenas is gearing up for his move to the NFL.

A judge scolded former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson for not fulfilling community service requirements.

Oakland Raiders

The fall of JaMarcus Russell continues as he is no longer listed on the Omaha Nighthawks’ roster.

San Diego Chargers

As a rookie quarterback, Jonathan Crompton hopes to "just come in, learn and soak in the system."

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 26, 2010
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NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.

Denver

I could see Denver drafting a safety in the fourth round. Starters Brian Dawkins (36) and Renaldo Hill (31) will not be around forever. Denver did take Darcel McBath in the second round last year and he made some decent strides before getting hurt. It would hurt Denver to try to find another young safety to develop. I could also see Denver looking for a big running back late in the draft. The team needs a pounder. The Broncos struggled in short-yardage situations. The Broncos also need a punter.

Kansas City

The Chiefs have done a nice job in free agency, but they still have plenty of needs heading into the draft. Many of Kansas City’s needs are on the defensive side of the ball. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kansas City added multiple linebackers, perhaps starting in the second round. Since the Chiefs use a 3-4 defense, they need several linebackers on an aging crew. Linebacker might be the top need after safety, offensive line and receiver. The Chiefs are young on the defensive front, but it wouldn’t hurt to get more talent in the later rounds at nose tackle. Even though tight end is not a glamour position in Todd Haley’s offense, the Chiefs do need some talent there.

Oakland

After the offensive line, linebacker and quarterback, the Raiders need some defensive line help, especially at tackle. Watch for Oakland to use a mid-round pick on this position. I could also see Oakland trying to find a running back in the third-to-fifth rounds. It cut Justin Fargas and needs some help behind Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Oakland was set to visit with former Kansas City star Larry Johnson before he signed with Washington. Cornerback and safety are other areas Oakland might address add late in the draft. Oakland also needs some help at receiver. Ideally, it would be in the form of a veteran (Terrell Owens, anyone?) because Oakland is so green at the position.

San Diego

This is an important draft for the Chargers. The team has has lost several players this offseason. San Diego is still the class of the AFC West and it has pretty nice depth. But reinforcements are needed at several positions. The Chargers’ biggest needs are running back and nose tackle. But San Diego will be busy after filling those two early needs. San Diego could use some youth at defensive end and inside linebacker. Also, watch for the team to look for a cornerback in the post-Antonio Cromartie era. Offensively, San Diego needs a blocking tight end to replace Brandon Manumaleuna, who signed with Chicago. That position could be addressed in the middle rounds. San Diego also could use a young right tackle to groom. I could also see a young receiver taken in the late rounds.
Thomas JonesIcon SMIThe addition of Thomas Jones gives the Chiefs an explosive backfield.

After winning a total of 10 games the past three seasons, Kansas City needs to make major improvements.

So far, in the offseason, the Chiefs have made decent strides. There has been some talk that perhaps in the second year of the Scot Pioli-Todd Haley era, Kansas City will be poised to make a major jump and become one of the NFL’s most improved teams in 2010.

I am not sure if Kansas City is quite ready to be considered a sleeper team. However, in the early portion of the offseason, it is the most improved team in the AFC West.

Most of Kansas City’s improvements have been made on offense. Defensively, Kansas City has a lot of work to do. Still, there is time through free agency and next month’s draft. Kansas City has the No. 5 overall pick and two picks in the second round. The Chiefs have three picks in the first 50 choices and four picks in the first 66 selections. It has a chance to get much better.

The following is a look at where I believe Kansas City has made great strides this offseason and areas in which it still needs to make improvements before it can be considered a viable playoff contender.

Reasons for optimism

Better coaching: The Chiefs now have the makings of an outstanding coaching staff. Todd Haley went back to his own well and Pioli’s past by bringing in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. The two worked together during New England’s dynasty years of the early 2000s. Weis and Crennel are premier coordinators and they will help the Chiefs’ young players. Weis and Crennel will help Haley immensely during practices, in the meeting rooms and on game days. Haley has raved about his new staff additions. The Chiefs will be better coached in 2010 and it should result with more victories.

Running game: Kansas City has a chance to be one of the most effective running teams in the NFL. Kansas City’s big player splash of free agency was signing Thomas Jones to a two-year deal. Jones is 31, but he is a tough runner who still appears to have plenty left in his legs. He had more than 1,400 yards rushing last season. Jones will be a complement to young star Jamaal Charles. He burst onto the scene last November after Larry Johnson was cut. Charles had 1,120 yards rushing and he had 259 yards in the season finale, an upset win at Denver. Charles is a game breaker. Jones’ presence will keep Charles fresh. The pounding style of Jones and the speed of Charles will frustrate defenses. Teams that can run and control games on the ground can win a lot of games. This is a huge boost for Kansas City.

Better offensive line: The Chiefs’ offensive line has been one of their biggest problems in recent years. Quarterback Matt Cassel, who is not mobile to begin with, was under constant pressure last year. The Chiefs have been diligently trying to improve the line this offseason. Kansas City signed center Casey Wiegmann, who was a standout from 2001-07 and was part of some terrific offensive lines in Kansas City. He has a chance to start. He will be 37, but he is still tough and he’s a pro. The Chiefs signed Ryan Lilja this week. The former Colts starter is a fine player who will team with veteran Brian Waters to make up a good guard tandem. An interior line of Wiegmann, Waters and Lilja makes Kansas City much tougher upfront.

Needs improvement:

Overall defensive needs: While Kansas City gave Weis more to work with, Crennel hasn’t gotten much help yet. Kansas City is still void of overall talent on defense. I really like cornerback Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, but there are questions on much of the unit, starting with a weak pass rush. Crennel’s staff will have to do a better job than the previous defensive staff in fitting in 4-3 players such as linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey into the 3-4 system. These players have to help. Second-year defensive end Tyson Jackson has to do a much better job in his second season as well. But the Chiefs also need more talent. It appears Kansas City will have to rely on much of the help in the draft because the current free agency crop is not overly talented. Still, it is a lot to ask for a rookie class to make a difference on an overall unit.

Offensive tackle situation: The offensive line makeover has been impressive, but there is a big need remaining. The Chiefs need a true left tackle. That is the most vital position on the line. Until the position is addressed, the line will still need help. The Chiefs can address the position very nicely with the No. 5 pick. If Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung is available when Kansas City picks, he would be a great choice. He could step right in and help this unit. Okung’s selection would allow Branden Albert, who was picked at No. 15 in 2008, to move to right tackle. Albert would likely a much better right tackle than he is a left tackle. If Okung is available and Kansas City takes him, the Chiefs’ line will be set. If not, the line will be incomplete.

Safety: The Chiefs’ safety and offensive tackle needs are connected. One will likely be addressed in the first round. The good news is there will be one less need area after the draft. But there could also be a hole. If the Chiefs don’t take Okung, they could take Tennessee safely Eric Berry. If St. Louis takes a quarterback Sam Bradford at No.1, Berry should fall to Kansas City. If Okung and Berry are both available, the Chiefs will have a tough choice. Okung may fill a greater need, but Berry could become the face of the defense. If Berry is taken, the Chiefs’ defense will get better and it could adopt a new, aggressive personality that can help this team as it continues to rebuild.
The Contra Costa Times reported that several players said JaMarcus Russell looked to be in much better physical shape than he was at the end of last season when he showed up at the team’s offseason conditioning program Tuesday. This is a good start for Russell who is entering a huge season.

The Jets won’t talk about the possibility of pursuing Brandon Marshall. That doesn’t mean they are or they aren’t interested. They just aren’t talking. ESPN’s John Clayton suggested receiver Braylon Edwards would be part of a potential Jets package if they pursue Marshall.

Former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil has high hopes for former Kansas City running back Larry Johnson in Washington.

The Broncos are looking closely at some of the best interior offensive linemen available in the draft.

It didn’t take Andra Davis long to bounce back from his surprise release from Denver. He signed with Buffalo on Tuesday. I still say he would have fit in with the Chiefs,

Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer ran better at his pro day than he did at the combine. Dwyer has met with the Chargers and he could be a target of the team in the first or second round.

Tampa Bay signed free agent safety Sean Jones. Perhaps that will lessen the chances of it taking Tennessee safety Eric Berry at No. 3 and allow him to slip to Kansas City at No. 5.

AFC West mailbag

March, 13, 2010
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Weekend mail call:

Greg from Orange, Ca. wants to know if the Raiders could make a run at Terrell Owens.

Bill Williamson: I guess the longer he is available the more Oakland could think about it. I mean, the Raiders set up a visit with running back Larry Johnson. That shows the Raiders aren’t afraid of adding players who are past their prime and who have issues. Owens could help the Raiders’ young receivers. Oakland has plenty of unproven receivers who have potential. It could use a veteran presence. It could be a fit. The Raiders have passed on Owens in the past, so it will be interesting to see if they would change their minds on him now.


Steve from Woodside, New York wants to know if I think the Chiefs should take Tennessee safety Eric Berry or Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung if they have the choice at No. 5.

BW: It’s an interesting question, Steve. Ultimately, I think if Berry is available, Kansas City needs to take him. He looks like he is going to be a sure impact player. Kansas City needs to score with a top pick after taking Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson the past two years in the top five. Neither of those two players made immediate impacts. The left tackle position is very deep. Kansas City could get a good tackle in the second round. Now, if Berry (who should slip past Tampa Bay at No. 3 if St. Louis takes a quarterback at No.1) if off the board, Okung would be a great fit at No. 5.


Mike Bultemeier from Indianapolis wants to know if the Chargers are interested in taking Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews at No. 28.

BW: I know a lot of mock drafts have San Diego taking Mathews. He told me at the NFL combine last month that he had a good interview with the team. Still, it is a deep running back class and I think the Chargers will covet several players. If a nose tackle like Terrence Cody is available at No. 28, I could see San Diego filling that need first and then taking a running back later. In short, Mathews fits San Diego’s offense and he could be the choice, but he is one of several options.
Larry Johnson will not become a Raider.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting the former Kansas City standout has signed with Washington. Johnson, who finished last season with the Bengals after being cut by the Chiefs, was supposed to visit Oakland on Sunday.

This isn’t a great loss for Oakland. Johnson, 30, is way past his prime. He wouldn’t have brought Oakland much.

The team wants a third tailback after releasing Justin Fargas. The top free-agent names available are LaDainian Tomlinson and Willie Parker. Parker would be more likely for Oakland than Tomlinson at this point.

LJ to visit Oakland

March, 10, 2010
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The Raiders will visit with former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Johnson will also visit with Washington.

It is interesting the former Chiefs star is drawing attention from teams with AFC West connections. Washington’s new coach is former Denver coach Mike Shanahan.

Oakland would bring in Johnson to replace Justin Fargas, who was released last week. Johnson likely would be the third option behind Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Johnson finished last season with the Bengals after he was cut by the Chiefs.

Johnson is 30 and his production has slipped greatly.

AFC West awards

January, 27, 2010
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Let’s take a look at the best performances in the AFC West 2009 season:

MVP: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers:

Why: In his fourth season as an NFL starter, Rivers continued to get better. He was a great leader who led his team to 11 straight wins.

Offensive player of the year: San Diego tight end Antonio Gates.

Why: Gates had arguably his best season in what could be a Hall of Fame career. He bounced back from a year of injures in 2008 to be a devastating weapon for Rivers. A matchup nightmare, Gates had 79 catches for a career high 1,157 yards.

Defensive player of the year: Denver linebacker Elvis Dumervil.

Why: In his fourth NFL season, Dumervil clicked when he was moved to linebacker in a 3-4 defense after being an undersized defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Dumervil led the NFL with 17 sacks.

Coach of the year: San Diego's Norv Turner

Why: Turner rallied his team from a slew of early injuries and a 2-3 start to end the season with 11 straight victories to win the AFC West for the third time in three years as San Diego’s coach.

Rookie of the year: Louis Vasquez, San Diego guard

Why: In a division where skill position players (Darrius Heyward-Bey and Knowshon Moreno) were taken among the first 12 picks of the draft, it was an offensive lineman taken in the third round who was the best rookie in the division. Vasquez impressed San Diego’s coaches in the May minicamp and he got better as the season progressed. He was a big part of the team’s offense.

Breakout player of the year: Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles

Why: Charles is the reason for hope in Kansas City. The second-year speedster flourished after Kansas City cut Larry Johnson in November. Charles finished 1,120 yards. He averaged an eye-popping 5.9 yards per carry. He had 259 rushing yards in the season finale at Denver.

Specialist of the year: Oakland punter Shane Lechler.

Why: In a division full of punting, kicking and return aces, Lechler is the best specialist. He averaged 51.1 yards a punt. He is a major weapon.
DENVER -- In the end, Jamaal Charles was a gentleman.

He was 38 yards from setting a new NFL single-game rushing record and Kansas City got the ball back with 2:43 to go in a game that was well in hand.

Charles, however, didn’t carry the ball again. He happily settled with 259 yards on 25 carries. It is a Kansas City franchise record.

“I didn’t really want to get it because I want it to be in a game when it’s competing time,” Charles said. “People give up at that time and don’t really care. I could have gone back in the game, but I just decided I was satisfied right now and I’ll get it another time.”

The way the second-year player ran Sunday, you have to believe he may get the chance to set the record again. Charles was spectacular as he sliced through Denver.

Charles ended the season with 1,120 yards. He gives Kansas City hope for the future. Charles became the feature back in Kansas City when Larry Johnson was cut in November.

Now, expect the offense to center around him in Kansas City moving forward. For now, Charles is happy the team reached their goal for the final week of the season.

“At the beginning of the week (Kansas City coach Todd Haley) said our goals were to knock Denver out of the playoffs, have Jamaal go over 200, have the defense hold them under 20 points, and the offense score over 30 points,” Charles said.
DENVER -- Jamaal Charles is having an incredible game.

He just had a sensational 56-yard touchdown run to give the Chiefs a 44-24 lead over Denver, which is seeing its playoff hopes die.

Charles broke the Chiefs' franchise single-game rushing record with the run and has 259 rushing yards. The previous high was 211 yards by Larry Johnson.

When Johnson was cut in November, it opened the door for Charles’ 1,000-plus yard season.

Charles running wild in Denver

January, 3, 2010
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DENVER -- Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles is, once again, showing he is ready to be the centerpiece of the Chief’s offense next season.

Charles has 109 yards rushing on seven carries and it’s not even halftime. It is Charles’ fourth straight game with at least 100 yards rushing. He needs 30 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark. Kansas City is leading 10-7 with five minutes to go in the first half.

The second-year player from Texas has been dynamic after the Chiefs cut Larry Johnson. The Kansas City season has long been lost, but Charles is showing the team it has a bright future at running back.

Wrap-up: Bengals 17, Chiefs 10

December, 27, 2009
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The Kansas City Chiefs addressed the defensive issues which plagued them last week and played tough at Cincinnati.

But in the end, it was another Kansas City loss. The Chiefs limp into the final game of the season with a 3-12 record. Kansas City has won a total of nine games since the start of the 2007 season.

Todd Haley’s team competed on Sunday, giving fans some hope. That hasn’t always been the case. Kansas City gave Cincinnati all it could handle before the Bengals pulled away late to clinch the AFC North title.

Kansas City was awful on defense and special teams last week. It improved in those areas.

Offensively, running back Jamaal Charles once again showed his potential. He had 102 yards on 24 carries. Charles outshined former Kansas City running back Larry Johnson. He is a backup in Cincinnati after being cut last month by the Chiefs. Johnson had 11 yards on four carries.

Still, the bottom line is it’s another defeat for a franchise that is about to end another dreadful season.

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