AFC West: Norv Turner

QB Watch: Chargers' Philip Rivers

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
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A weekly analysis of the San Diego Chargers' quarterback play.

Rivers
Rewind: Philip Rivers threw a game-tying interception in the fourth quarter of a 31-28 home loss to Houston on Monday night. The Chargers had a 28-7 lead in the third quarter, and Rivers and the Chargers’ offense had only 10 yards on their final five drives. But this was far from a bad overall game for Rivers. He threw four touchdown passes and was brilliant before the huge momentum shift. He was poised, and he was far from the mistake machine he had been the past two years.

Fast-forward: Rivers is seeing an unfamiliar foe. The Chargers are going to Philadelphia on Sunday; it is the first time the Chargers have faced the Eagles in four years. Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III gutted the Eagles in the second half on Monday night. There are passing yards to be had against Philadelphia.

McCoy effect: Even though it was a defeat, it seems like Rivers is getting a lot out of playing for new head coach Mike McCoy. Rivers looked more poised and comfortable. He wasn’t pressing Monday night as he often did in the final two years of the Norv Turner regime. It was a promising start to the Rivers-McCoy pairing.

Prediction: Rivers will go 21-of-36 with 273 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Power Rankings: No. 26 San Diego

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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A weekly examination of the Chargers’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 24 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

A slip of two spots in the Power Rankings are the least of the San Diego Chargers’ problems.

This may have been the most disappointing outcome of Week 1. The Chargers were fantastic for most of their 31-28 home loss to Houston on Monday night. The Chargers led 28-7 in the third quarter. Then the Chargers did what they do -- they fell apart. It was the Norv Tuner Chargers all over again in Mike McCoy’s debut.

It was a punishing defeat. The truth is, the Chargers looked much better than the 26th-ranked team Monday night. But the truth is, they blew another one, and that’s all the voters have to work with.

Upon Further Review: Chargers Week 1

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
12:00
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An examination of four hot issues from the San Diego Chargers' 31-28 loss to the Houston Texans:

Another collapse: Norv Turner is no longer the Chargers’ coach, but a similar thing happened. The Chargers blew a huge lead again in the first game of the Mike McCoy era. San Diego had a 28-7 lead with less than 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter Monday, only to be outscored 24-0 the rest of the game. Last October, on a Monday night, the Denver Broncos came back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat the Chargers 35-24. McCoy was Denver’s offensive coordinator in that game. Seeing such a promising start end a familiar way to begin the McCoy era is difficult for San Diego to digest.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesPhilip Rivers threw four touchdown passes, but struggled in the fourth quarter Monday night.
Rivers’ fourth-quarter failures: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was terrific for the first 34 minutes of the game as he threw four touchdown passes. But as the Texans came back, Rivers was unable to spark his team. Rivers was 1-for-7 in the fourth quarter, including an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown by Houston linebacker Brian Cushing to tie the game at 28-28. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since the start of last season Rivers has an NFL-worst 7.7 fourth-quarter Total QBR and a league-high 13 turnovers.

Great start: The Chargers squandered a dynamic start to the game. After a great stop on special teams, the San Diego defensive came on the field and forced Houston quarterback Matt Schaub into an interception on the first offensive play of the season. Defensive tackle Cam Thomas intercepted the ball at the Houston 14. On the next play, the San Diego offense punched in a touchdown on a pass from Rivers to Ryan Mathews. It was a stunning turn of events. In the end, it meant little.

Get better on third-down defense: The Chargers improved on third down defensively some last year after finishing dead last in the NFL in 2011. But the Texans came back fueled on third-down success Monday night. The Texans converted on third-and-18 and third-and-13 during the comeback. This is a good, solid defense. But destructing on third-and-long is no way to build a winner. There are many reasons Houston came back. But it all started on third down.

Chargers 'sick' following tough loss

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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Philip RiversRobert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsPhilip Rivers and the Chargers fell flat in the second half, surrendering a 21-point lead.

SAN DIEGO -- Maybe it’s the stadium.

It has to be something. Neither coach Norv Turner nor general manager A.J. Smith can be blamed this time. They are both gone.

The San Diego Chargers began a new era Monday night, and if it weren’t for another second-half meltdown, it seemed like a pretty promising start. New coach Mike McCoy’s team was improved in many areas. And quarterback Philip Rivers was mostly surprisingly good.

But these are the Chargers, so none of that meant much. In the end, McCoy suffered a Turner-esque defeat to start his head coaching career. After building a 21-point third-quarter lead, the Chargers suffered a 31-28 loss to the Houston Texans late Monday night to put a cap on Week 1 of the 2013 season.

“We're sick,” Rivers said. “I'm sick, that we're not 1-0."

A dominating first-half performance by the Chargers ushered in the Tom Telesco-McCoy era. But the game ended up smacking of the Smith-Turner regime.

The collapse seemed to be coming the entire second half. All the crazy things that don’t happen in normal games started happening to the Chargers. As Texans kicker Randy Bullock’s winning 41-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired, there wasn’t much shock in Qualcomm Stadium. It just seemed like a typical ending.

They’ve come to expect it around here.

Turner’s six-season tenure in San Diego was riddled with unlikely losses. It all came to a head last season when the Chargers blew a 24-point halftime lead and lost 35-24 to Denver on a Monday night. It was one of the biggest comebacks in NFL history. The game helped McCoy, who was Denver’s offensive coordinator at the time, become one of the hottest head coaching candidates in the league.

After the Chargers hired McCoy, they were able to take some solace from the embarrassing loss. At least they got one of the guys responsible to come to their side. McCoy was brought in to change San Diego’s losing culture. He was supposed to put an end to colossal collapses like the one against Denver and the famous fourth-and-29 loss to visiting Baltimore last November.

As the Chargers soared to the huge lead by playing near-flawless football in the first half, many might have believed McCoy would indeed prevent a Turner-like finish.

Then all kinds of Turner-like things started to happen.

The Chargers gave up big plays on third-and-18 and third-and-13 to keep two Texans’ scoring drives alive. They were penalized on a field goal which Houston parlayed into a touchdown -- a gigantic four-point swing in the fourth quarter.

Then Rivers threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Houston linebacker Brian Cushing to tie the game at 28 with 9:30 to go. The San Diego offense stopped after taking a 21-point lead. Brilliant play-calling dried up. The Chargers had 10 yards in their final five drives.

It was just like the Turner era. Honestly, as I walked to the interview area, I half expected to see Turner’s familiar blank stare.

But this is on the new regime. These are the new Chargers, even though the results are all too familiar.

After reveling in a Monday night San Diego collapse 11 months ago, McCoy will live with the reality that his first night as the Chargers' coach ended similarly. To his credit, he handled it well.

“The effort was there,” McCoy said. “They did a nice job. We just didn’t finish it. It comes down to finishing a football game. We got to do a better job moving forward.”

That’s the thing about this night. The Chargers played well. Yes, they did some bad things at the worst possible times. But this easily could have been a big win for a team from which not much is expected.

Rivers showed he is fitting in well with McCoy’s scheme. He looked more poised and relaxed than in the past two years, over which he committed 47 turnovers. Yes, he threw an interception and yes, it was paramount to the loss. But Rivers wasn’t a mistake waiting to happen Monday night. His four touchdown passes were the reason why the Chargers jumped out on Houston.

Many young players on both sides stood tall for San Diego. A maligned offensive line put in strong work against Texans pass-rusher J.J. Watt. San Diego’s young receivers came up big. And the Chargers’ young defense made Houston fight for most of the night.

There were signs of a good team. But, in the end, the Chargers fell apart again.

NFL veteran and San Diego newcomer Dwight Freeney tried to put a positive spin on it by saying this team will learn a lesson from the devastating collapse. Freeney was trying to be positive. But what he doesn’t realize: San Diego can teach lessons on such defeats, regardless of who is leading the charge.

Chargers season prediction: 6-10

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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For the long haul, I think the San Diego Chargers are heading in the right direction as they begin the Tom Telesco-Mike McCoy era. However, I am not convinced we will see immediate progress.

San Diego went 7-9 last season, the final one of the A.J. Smith-Norv Turner partnership. It was the first time the Chargers had a losing record with Philip Rivers as their starting quarterback, a stretch that dated to 2006.

I foresee the won-loss record getting slightly worse -- San Diego finishing this season 6-10 -- because the Chargers just aren’t very deep. Telesco and McCoy are the right men for the job. They will turn this team around.

But for the immediate future, I think the Chargers may struggle. They are dangerously thin at key spots.

The offensive line is not up to par and I think it will have a difficult time giving Rivers the necessary protection. The receivers group is injured and could suffer further damage as the season goes on.

I like the core of the defense, but there are pass-rush questions and depth issues in the secondary. This is what the Chargers are: a promising work in progress. But for the short term, that could mean a losing season in the first year of the new regime.

Predicted finish in AFC West: third
SAN DIEGO -- Gone is the omnipresent GM lurking from the large deck that hovers over the practice field.

Gone is the comfortable head coach who went at his own pace.

It’s a new day for the San Diego Chargers. There is new energy in America’s Finest City.

Change was badly needed. The Chargers arguably had the best roster in the NFL five years ago, but it never paid off. The lack of success finally cost general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner their jobs after another lackluster season in 2012.

The Chargers’ fans demanded new leadership for the stagnant franchise. They got their wish. The Chargers now have some of the youngest, freshest leaders in football as the team moves past the stale days of the Smith-Turner era.

Smith was famous for watching practice from the deck of his office. New general manager Tom Telesco, 40, watches practice from the sideline. There are no messages of pecking order being sent from the general manager’s office. Telesco, in a camp-issued T-shirt and shorts, could easily be mistaken for an equipment manager.

The head-coaching switch from Turner to Mike McCoy, 41, is almost as distinctive as the change at GM. McCoy’s practices have appeared to be crisper and more detailed-oriented than in the past. There isn’t much downtime in San Diego’s practices. Everyone’s moving at all times. That wasn’t always the case under Turner.

“I think we’re getting a lot done,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “Coach McCoy clearly has a plan. It’s been impressive. ... The big thing is everyone has bought in to him. The reality is we are .500 over the past three years. It was pretty easy to buy in what’s now going on here.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziPhilip Rivers threw 15 picks last season to just 26 touchdown passes.
1. The quarterback: Rivers is a major focal point of this training camp. Telesco hired McCoy, Denver’s former offensive coordinator, with an eye toward fixing Rivers. The quarterback has struggled the past couple of years, particularly with turnovers. McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, the former head coach of Arizona, form a strong quarterback-coaching tandem and quarterback coach Frank Reich is also highly regarded. All three men believe in Rivers, and it seems to be paying off. Rivers has looked fantastic in training camp. His confidence is high, and his passes are accurate. It is vital for both Rivers and the Chargers that he has a good season and the team continues build around him. If not, it could be a crossroads season for both the franchise and Rivers’ career.

2. The offensive line: Because of injuries, this unit has been terrible the past couple of years. No matter how much Rivers improves, he won’t have much of a chance if he doesn't have protection. The Chargers' line has four new starters. It is not a great unit, and there will be some growing pains. But the group is getting rave reviews for being athletic and tough. Rivers is impressed and trusts the group. He thinks it’s deeper with players such as rookie D.J. Fluker at right tackle and veterans King Dunlap and Max Starks competing at left tackle. Dunlap is leading the race. But if there are injuries, this group appears better equipped to weather them than last year's squad.

3. The rookie linebacker: The Chargers are thrilled with inside linebacker Manti Te'o. He will start in the team’s 3-4 schemes. He has looked good in training camp and has fit in with the locker room. The hoax he was involved in at Notre Dame is not a factor. The Chargers love the way he works and practices. He is instinctive, and he plays faster on the field than his combine times suggested. The Chargers think Te’o is ready to make a big impact.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsThe Chargers are happy with the progress of second-rounder Manti Te'o, who's slated to start at inside linebacker.
The Chargers are loaded with young talent on defense. Any defense that has Eric Weddle at safety, Te’o and Donald Butler at inside linebacker and Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes at defensive end is an impressive group.

I think these players will be the core to one of the better defenses in the coming years. The Chargers are doing backflips over the combination of Liuget and Reyes. Liuget is entering his third NFL season, and Reyes is entering his second. Liuget was terrific all of last season, and Reyes showed serious pass-rush potential toward the end of the season.

While this defense has some holes, there are some exciting pieces here.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chargers are pretty thin in a lot of places. I think this team is on the rise, but it may not be a quick fix. There are too many positions where depth is an issue.

San Diego has dealt with the injury bug already. Pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, the No. 18 overall pick in 2012, suffered a torn ACL in May. Starting receiver Danario Alexander and backup linebacker Jonas Mouton suffered the same injury during camp.

Alexander's and Ingram’s injuries are particularly worrisome. This team can’t afford to lose high-end talent before the season starts. Other positions vulnerable to injuries include the offensive line (even though the depth is better than in the past), defensive tackle, edge rushers and the secondary. There isn’t much wiggle room on this roster.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Chargers appear to be well-coached. The influx of offensive coaches and the return of several defensive coaches, led by coordinator John Pagano, makes for a nice mix. Most of the new blood was needed on the offensive side of the ball.
  • The team feels great about Dwight Freeney, who was signed to replace Ingram. The Chargers are convinced Freeney still has something left in the tank and will be a difference-maker.
  • The Chargers like the progress of nose tackle Cam Thomas, who they think is ready for a breakout year. Coaches and teammates are talking him up big.
  • San Diego is looking to add depth on the defensive line. Free agent Justin Bannan on is still on the team’s radar. I think we will see the Chargers be active on the waiver wire at a few positions.
  • Free-agent guard Chad Rinehart is showing solid leadership skills.
  • The team loves free-agent running back Danny Woodhead. He has been a camp star and should take pressure off starter Ryan Mathews. Expect to see Woodhead used in several different ways. He could be a poor man’s Darren Sproles, perhaps.
  • Yes, tight end Antonio Gates hasn’t had a superstar season in years because of injuries, but the team likes what they see from him. He may have another year or two left in the tank.
  • Ladarius Green, Gates’ potential successor, is still growing. But he has shown flashes. He has natural pass-catching ability.
  • While there are questions at cornerback, the Chargers feel like Derek Cox and Shareece Wright will be an upgrade over last year’s starting duo of Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason.
  • Rookie quarterback Brad Sorensen has been up and down. He has a good enough arm to keep him on the 53-man roster.
  • Cornerback Johnny Patrick has looked good. He could see a lot of action in nickel situations.
  • Fifth-round pick Tourek Williams is getting looks at both defensive end and outside linebacker. The team would like for him to contribute at linebacker.
  • Robert Meachem, a big-money, free-agent bust last season, has been given new life after Alexander’s injury. Still, I have my doubts that Meachem will make much of a difference. He hasn’t been a standout in camp.
A look at what to expect as the San Diego Chargers begin the Mike McCoy era:

Biggest change to expect: McCoy is a mystery because he became a head coach for the first time at age 40. But from his days as an offensive coordinator and from watching and listening to him, I expect a very straightforward approach. McCoy is a buttoned-up guy who will not be Mr. Rah-Rah. But he is highly detail-oriented and his new players seem to like him. McCoy is known for adjusting to his talent. Remember, as Denver’s offensive coordinator, McCoy scrapped the Broncos’ entire offense at midseason in 2011 to adjust to Tim Tebow at quarterback. The risk resulted in a division title and a playoff victory. One NFL head coach recently told me it was the greatest in-season coaching move he’d ever seen. McCoy said flexibility will be crucial in every facet as he begins this journey with the Chargers; his approach will be dictated by what his players do best. So there will be a learning process in San Diego as the McCoy era gets going.

[+] EnlargeMike McCoy
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsNew Chargers coach Mike McCoy has a reputation for adjusting to the talent around him.
What success would look like: The Chargers are going to stay the same on defense, where John Pagano remains coordinator. If they are going to make a move from last season's 7-9 record, it will come due to more success on offense. That’s why McCoy was hired -- the Chargers believe he is the man to get the unit on the right track. Norv Turner was a fine offensive mind, but he just couldn’t sustain success as a head coach, and the Chargers definitely needed a new approach. I think the Chargers will be refreshed by a new leader and I expect McCoy to have more success with in-game decisions than Turner.

All about the quarterback: The focal point for McCoy in 2013 will be getting more out of signal-caller Philip Rivers. After playing at a high level, Rivers’ play dipped the past two seasons, with turnovers a particular issue. Not all of Rivers’ problems are on him, however. The talent level on San Diego’s offense has cratered, and the offensive line has been ravaged by injuries. But Rivers does need some fixing. That’s why McCoy was hired: He has had great success with quarterbacks. And the new head coach is on the record as saying Rivers will have a big year in 2013 -- something the Chargers are counting on.

More or fewer wins? This is a difficult team to try to pin down. The talent level is better in some areas than it was during the 7-9 campaign in 2012, but there are still big questions on the offensive line and in the secondary. I think this is the beginning of a good era in San Diego, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chargers stay in the seven- or eight-win range.
SAN DIEGO -- Those expecting complete changes to the San Diego Chargers' offense may be disappointed.

Yes, Mike McCoy’s offense will be different than Norv Turner’s. But there will be remnants from the past. Turner was the Chargers’ head coach since 2007 before being fired and replaced by McCoy, who was a successful offensive coordinator in Denver.

“You’ll see some of the things we did in the past,” Rivers said. “You will see Antonio Gates run of the same routes. ... There are only so many plays. This thing is not going to be totally different.”

Yes, with that said there will be philosophy differences and there is hope for better results under McCoy, Rivers said. He said the combination of McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Frank Reich is strong.

“It’s just a different approach,” Rivers said. “It’s nothing against the former approach. But sometimes change is good. Sometimes fresh approaches and tweaks and new ideas help. I will be friends with Norv Turner for the rest of my life. This is not about him, but I do think this change will be good for me and us as a team ... I’m excited about these guys.”
SAN DIEGO -- Some notes from the Chargers’ minicamp Tuesday:

New coach Mike McCoy seems to have the trust of his players. It appears the group, which has been coached by Norv Turner since 2007, has totally bought into McCoy and there is a strong chemistry building between the players and the coaching staff.

McCoy
McCoy may never win any awards for his media candor, but his players have been struck by him and that is what’s most important.
  • McCoy has been talking up quarterback Philip Rivers all offseason. Tuesday was no different: “Philip is going to have a great year. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
  • New running back Danny Woodhead looks good. He is versatile and I expect him to be a part of a lot of packages in the offense.
  • Undrafted rookie free agents, cornerback Kenny Okoro and safety Jahleel Addae, have had strong springs. If they continue to perform well in training camp, they could be in the mix for the 53-man roster.
  • His new teammates have clearly taken to D.J. Fluker. The first-round pick was the voice of the team’s huddle to start minicamp Tuesday. That says a lot about the offensive lineman. Players and coaches are raving about Fluker.
  • McCoy is excited about adding pass-rusher Dwight Freeney to the defense. Even though Freeney has excelled in a 4-3 defense, McCoy reiterated Tuesday he has no worries that Freeney will fit into the Chargers’ 3-4 defense. The team is often multiple in its looks on passing downs.
  • ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that linebacker Takeo Spikes will visit the Rams this week. He was with the Chargers last season.
TelescoBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports"Its my job to know the league," said GM Tom Telesco. "... It's my job to study rosters every day."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“(I) come into work every day trying to find the best players we can,” Telesco said. “Part of building chemistry with the team and the team process is getting to know the coaches well, getting to know the scouts, the front office. That's all part of team building for me. It's just trying to get to know everybody really well.”
Dennis Allen and Mike McCoyUSA TODAY SportsDennis Allen and Mike McCoy both fell from the John Fox coaching tree and landed in the AFC West.

If the four 2013 AFC West head coaches were put together for a group photo, folks would wonder why the big guy from Philadelphia crashed the Denver reunion.

The AFC West is undergoing a major change at the top: The division is now headed by a fascinating group of coaches. After just two seasons in Denver, John Fox is the dean of AFC West coaches. Oakland’s Dennis Allen -- who, in his second season, is still the youngest coach in the NFL -- is second in seniority in the AFC West.

When San Diego fired Norv Turner, who was previously the senior AFC West coach with six years in the division, and Kansas City jettisoned Romeo Crennel after one season as the permanent coach, two interesting head-coaching doors opened.

The Chargers followed the stale Turner era with former Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, and the Chiefs kicked off the 2013 NFL coaching season by making a big splash in the form of Andy Reid, who was fired after a 14-season stay in Philadelphia.

Both hires were met with rave reviews. Reid was the most accomplished coach available, and McCoy -- who was on virtually every short candidate list in 2013 -- was considered the most desirable of the available coordinators. Along with former Oregon coach Chip Kelly's hiring in Philadelphia, the Reid and McCoy hires are the most anticipated of the eight new hires in the NFL.

Making the new division coaching lineup even more intriguing is that both McCoy -- the second-youngest head coach in the NFL -- and Allen are direct branches on the Fox coaching tree. Allen was hired by Oakland in 2012 after one season as Denver’s defensive coordinator. Then, San Diego did the same thing with McCoy after the 2012 season.

[+] EnlargeFox
Chris Humphreys/US PresswireAfter just two seasons, John Fox is now the dean of AFC West coaches.
"There's only 32 of these [jobs], so it's a little unusual that it would be two years in a row that a coordinator [from the same team] would get a head-coaching job [in] the same division,” Allen said.

The changing power structure in the division was a major topic at the NFL combine in Indianapolis last month.

“I’ll tell you it’s a pretty good division,” Reid said. “[Denver has] a lot of good players, and they’ve got a phenomenal coach. You see what happened in San Diego with the hiring there. Mike is a heck of a football coach, great offensive mind. He’s got a quarterback that is a good football player, and he’s got a good surrounding cast. Then, you look at Oakland, they’re a good football team. [General manager] Reggie [McKenzie] is building that thing up and doing a nice job there, so I think there is great competition in there. Obviously, we didn’t do very well last year, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

The reason there has been so much change in the AFC West in the past few years is that the division has been among the weakest in the NFL. In 2012, Denver won 13 games, and the other three teams won a combined 13 games.

These changes have people thinking the division can get better quickly.

“Mike McCoy, Dennis Allen and then Andy Reid in Kansas City -- you’re looking at with me really knowing two of them and then Andy Reid and his reputation and what he’s done in this league, we know we’ve got our hands full,” Denver vice president John Elway said. “So we have to continue to get better and hopefully stay ahead of them.”

McCoy acknoweldged that getting his first job in the division where he's spent the past four seasons is a head start. He knows the personnel of his three opponents well. McCoy can focus on getting his new team to compete better within the AFC West.

Still, McCoy is aware that the Broncos will know his traits, as they knew Allen’s when he went to Oakland.

“You got to look at it that you still have to go out and play between the lines,” McCoy said. “You can give the players so much information, but if you give them too much information, you might hurt them to a certain extent. Obviously, knowing the Broncos inside and out, we’ll have a good idea on what they want to do. But they’re going to change also. With Peyton [Manning], he’s going to change code words and all those things. So sometimes, I think there’s too much made of that.”

We’ll find out the answer to that question soon enough in the new-look AFC West.

Alex Smith was Chiefs' best option

February, 27, 2013
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Alex SmithBenny Sieu/US PresswireAlex Smith was the best available option for the Chiefs to upgrade under center.
Have the Kansas City Chiefs finally found their long-term franchise quarterback with the pending acquisition of Alex Smith?

That may be a stretch.

But he is a solid solution for the next few years, and considering the quality of available quarterbacks and the Chiefs’ considerable talent level, that may be good enough.

I don’t consider Smith a franchise quarterback. Frankly, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who does. But I do consider him a fine bridge starter, and he was the best option for Kansas City in 2013.

There is no question Smith gives the Chiefs the best opportunity to win now out of the group of available quarterbacks. Let’s face it: This is a bad year to need a quarterback.

Smith, who played well while compiling a record of 19-5-1 in 2011 and 2012 before he was hurt and replaced in San Francisco, is the best option. This trade means the Chiefs will not draft Geno Smith with the No. 1 overall pick. Smith was considered a major reach with the No. 1 pick, anyway.

Other potential options were Nick Foles of the Eagles and Matt Flynn of the Seahawks. New Kansas City coach Andy Reid drafted Foles and made him his starter last season. He would have been a fine fit -- a better fit than Smith because of his age and familiarity with Reid. The Chiefs asked about Foles, but he wasn't available.

New Kansas City general manager John Dorsey was with Flynn in Green Bay, but the Chiefs never really showed interest in Flynn. Besides, Smith is a better player than Flynn.

Yes, the compensation Kansas City paid is steep. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Chiefs sent a second-round pick this year (No. 34) and a conditional high pick in 2014. It’s a load, and the 49ers made out like bandits in this deal considering they were moving away from Smith.

For Kansas City, though, it’s the cost of doing business when you need a quarterback. If Smith leads the Chiefs to the playoffs a couple of times and finally solidifies the position, then the traded draft picks will be well worth it. The Chiefs think they can win with Smith, who turns 29 in May.

Getting a starting quarterback isn’t cheap. Oakland gave up a first- and second-round pick for Carson Palmer when he was 31, and Arizona gave up a second-round pick and standout cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for the unproven Kevin Kolb.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaMatt Cassel had 18 turnovers (12 interceptions and six lost fumbles) and threw just six touchdowns in 2012.
Let’s not forget that Kansas City has a solid roster overall. A major reason this team went 2-14 in 2012 was poor leadership from coach Romeo Crennel and his staff and terrible quarterback play from Matt Cassel, who should be released any day, and Brady Quinn. The Chiefs addressed the coaching issue by hiring Reid, who is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL.

And now they have their quarterback.

I know many people worry that Smith is similar to Cassel, who was brought in by the previous regime in 2009 to be the franchise quarterback. Cassel played well in 2010 but regressed badly the past two years.

Smith is a better version of Cassel because he doesn’t turn the ball over. Smith turned the ball over six times last season, while Kansas City quarterbacks turned it over 29 times. He plays well in the West Coast system. And he'll benefit from a premier running game in Kansas City.

A key here is Reid. He reportedly has liked Smith, who was the seventh highest-ranked quarterback in Total QBR in 2012, since he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. Reid has shown he can succeed with multiple quarterbacks.

I think Reid and Smith have similar personalities. Both are calm and level-headed. Smith responded to good coaching when he played for Norv Turner and Jim Harbaugh. He will continue to get good coaching from Reid in an atmosphere that he should respond well to. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said Wednesday that Smith and Reid could make a good pair.

“Smith is great at valuing the football,” Williamson said. “How many wins would Kansas City have had last year with a quarterback who didn’t turn over the ball?”

If Smith continues to play well and continues to value the ball, the Chiefs should be much better in 2013. Are they a surefire playoff team with Smith? Well, that depends on a lot of variables, but there is no question that the addition of Smith gives them a better chance than any of the other available options.

For now, that’s all the Chiefs can ask for.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The San Diego Chargers hired a pair of 40-year-olds in Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy to bring a fresh approach to an organization that got stale.

The two men put on an impressive showing in their NFL scouting combine debut Thursday when both met the media. Both came off as strong, confident leaders who have a common goal in San Diego.

[+] EnlargeMike McCoy
AP Photo/Michael Conroy"We're going to build a football team that is going to win a lot of games," coach Mike McCoy said.
McCoy, the former Denver offensive coordinator who has been described as being presidential in how he goes about his business, finally stated that he and Telesco plan to change the culture of the organization that was once known as having one of the better rosters in the NFL, but now has gone three straight years without making the playoffs. When he was asked what that met, McCoy replied without hesitation: “We’re going to build a football team that is going to win a lot of games.”

The fresh approach is exactly what was needed in San Diego. The Chargers fell flat and probably should have made an organizational change after 2011. But general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner were given one more year. It didn’t work.

Telseco was hired away from the Colts to take over as general manager and then he led the charge to hire McCoy, who was one of the most coveted coaching candidates in the league this year. McCoy said the goal of both men is to turn the franchise into a “long-term winner.”

McCoy said he thinks Denver has to be considered the favorite in the division because it is coming off a 13-3 season, but “it is a new season.”

Both Telesco and McCoy said the team will continue to build around quarterback Philip Rivers. Both men said the presence of Rivers was a major selling point in coming to San Diego.

“Philip is a big asset of this job,” Telesco said.

Rivers had had two down seasons and he has been turnover-prone in both years, although he drastically cut down on his miscues in the final six games of last season. McCoy said he believes Rivers can flourish in his system and he expects Rivers to “get it going again.”

It’s a new day in San Diego, but getting Rivers back on track will make McCoy and Telseco reach their goals much quicker.

McKenzie talks McFadden, cap

January, 17, 2013
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Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie gave his end of-the-season address to media on Thursday.

There wasn’t much earth-shattering news as reported by CSNBayArea. As expected, McKenzie said he expects running back Darren McFadden to be with the team in the final year of his contract. McKenzie did say he didn’t think McFadden was best suited for the zone-blocking scheme Oakland used last season.

He also said he hopes the Oakland coaching staff is filled in the coming days and acknowledged he talked with former San Diego head coach Norv Turner about the offensive coordinator job. Turner was not interested.

McKenzie also said the Raiders’ salary-cap situation (they are currently $4.5 million over the cap for 2013) is better than last year, but the team still has work to do and he doesn’t expect any big-name free-agent additions. Still, he hopes to be able to make some additions in free agency.

Guard Mike Brisiel underwent “major” ankle surgery after the season, McKenzie reported. Even the worst ankle injuries are often healed within eight months. Barring something unusual, Brisiel should be on pace to play next season.

In other AFC West news:

Knowshon Moreno's injury from the Saturday playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens is not considered serious. Surgery will not be required and he is expected to be fine moving forward.

As expected, John Spanos has been named executive vice president of football operations with the San Diego Chargers. He will work closely with his father, owner Dean Spanos.

The sad story of former San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf took another turn. He was dismissed from a drug treatment program and he is now in a Montana prison.

 

Oakland has O-coordinator options

January, 17, 2013
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I’m sure it had to bother Oakland Raiders fans to see AFC West-rival Denver fill its offensive coordinator job less than 48 hours after it opened. Oakland’s search has been ongoing now for 17 days with no end in sight.

But Denver’s decision to promote quarterbacks coach Adam Gase to offensive coordinator instead of going outside of the organization could benefit the Raiders. There seem to be more offensive coordinators than open jobs at this point.

Among the available candidates include Ken Whisenhunt, Pat Shurmur, Chan Gailey, Cam Cameron, Mike Mularkey, Marty Mornhinweg and Mike Tice.

Oakland has already considered Mike Martz, Greg Olson and in-house candidate Al Saunders. Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton could also be a candidate. He is well-regarded and has NFL experience. Oakland coach Dennis Allen tabbed defensive coordinator Jason Tarver out of the nearby school last year.

Yes, the process is slow, but there is no real timetable. Sure, the Oakland staff is coaching in the Senior Bowl next week, but it doesn’t need an offensive coordinator in place for that game. The Raiders would get by with its current staff if need be. The Senior Bowl is traditionally a prime opportunity to interview for coaches, so perhaps Allen will find his new offensive coordinator there. Allen also needs a special-teams coach, offensive line coach and a linebackers coach.

So, even though the process has been slow, there is no shortage of potential candidates in Oakland.

In other AFC West news:
  • As long expected, the Browns hired former San Diego coach Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. He is reuniting with former San Diego assistant Rob Chudzinski, who is now Cleveland’s head coach. Turner’s son, Scott, is the Browns’ wide receivers coach.
  • Former Kansas City special-teams coach Tom McMahon has been hired for the same job with the Colts.

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