AFC West: Patrick Crayton

When Manti Te'o's foot injury was first disclosed by the San Diego Chargers on Aug. 10, they said he’d be out a week.

Nine days later, the starting rookie inside linebacker is out of the walking boot, but he is not practicing. He is working on the side. That is a good sign, but it is unclear if Te'o will be ready to play Saturday in the team’s third preseason game. He was hurt in the preseason opener and he has not worked since. Because he is a rookie starter, Te’o needs all the preseason work he can get.

Standout defensive end Corey Liuget didn’t practice with a shoulder injury. Receiver Eddie Royal was at the team’s complex Monday. He suffered a bruised lung Saturday and spent the night in the hospital.

In other AFC West notes:

First-quarter notes

November, 10, 2011
11/10/11
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SAN DIEGO — Notes from early in the second quarter, where the Raiders lead 7-3:

First-year Oakland coach Hue Jackson has earned a reputation as being one of the trickiest coaches in the NFL in the first half of the season. Among the tricks he pulled out was a fake punt in which Shane Lechler hit tight end Kevin Boss for a touchdown Oct. 16 against Cleveland.

Thursday, on fourth-and-1 from inside Chargers territory, Lechler – the Raiders’ emergency quarterback — tried to hit Jacoby Ford, but the pass fell incomplete. San Diego’s Quentin Jammer was all over Ford, but officials ruled that there was no pass interference because there cannot be pass interference on the widest receiver on punt formations.

Oakland running Michael Bush – starting his second consecutive game for the injured Darren McFadden – had a strong first quarter. He had 78 yards on 13 carries as Oakland handled the Chargers’ defense pretty easily.

The Chargers’ red-zone issues bit them again on their first drive. They scooted inside the Raiders’ 20-yard line before making some mistakes and settling for a short Nick Novak field goal.

The Raiders need to shore up their punt defense. Sunday, Denver’s Eddie Royal returned one back for a touchdown. In the first quarter, San Diego rookie Marcus Gilchrist took a lateral from Patrick Crayton and went 40 yards into Oakland territory.

For the second consecutive game, the Chargers are getting booed in their own stadium. There is a solid number of Oakland fans here, although not nearly the amount of Green Bay fans who attended Sunday’s game.

Oakland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Boss played early in the game after barely seeing the field against Denver. Jackson simply said the two were not a big part of that particular game plan.
The San Diego Chargers’ biggest problem of this season got worse in a 23-20 overtime loss at Kansas City on Monday night.

Everyone will rightfully remember Philip Rivers' fumble in the final minute of the game, but the Chargers’ offense struggled all game. Entering the game, the Chargers were terrific until they got to their opponent’s 40-yard line. On Monday, the offense got to the 35 before it fell apart.

San Diego made it to the Chiefs’ 35 nine times. It scored just one touchdown. Four of those possessions ended without a San Diego score.

Slop isn't hurting Chargers yet

September, 25, 2011
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SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers have continued to play sloppy on offense.

But, it has yet to hurt them Sunday against Kansas City. The Chargers lead the Chiefs, 7-0, midway through the second quarter.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers (who committed three of San Diego’s four turnovers last week) has been intercepted and has fumbled. The Chargers recovered the fumble. San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton also fumbled, but he recovered it.

In fairness to Rivers, the Chiefs probably should have been called for pass interference on the ball that was intercepted. Kansas City safety Kendrick Lewis returned it deep into San Diego territory. But the Chiefs’ Ryan Succop missed a 38-yard field goal attempt to nullify the big defensive play.

So far, Kansas City has been turnover free. It committed a whopping nine turnovers in the first two games.

UPDATE: Rivers was just intercepted by Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers on a bomb attempt near the end zone. He returned it 41 yards to the Chargers’ 43. Rivers has never thrown three interceptions in one game.

Broncos without key players

September, 18, 2011
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The Denver Broncos are without four key players Sunday against Cincinnati.

Cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring), defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), running back Knowshon Moreno and receiver Brandon Lloyd (groin) are all out. Lloyd was limited in practice Friday while the other three players missed all week of practice.

The Broncos are also without the following defensive starters: linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow) and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas (shoulder). The Broncos are trying to avoid starting the season 0-2.

Meanwhile, San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton is out with an ankle injury. He was probable to play. He missed last week’s game.

There were no other surprises on the Chargers' inactive list in New England.

Jacoby Ford is still out

September, 16, 2011
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The Oakland Raiders are in danger of being without receiver/returner Jacoby Ford at Buffalo on Sunday. He didn’t practice all week because of a hamstring injury that knocked him out of the win at Denver on Monday.

With a short week, it looks like the Raiders may have to play without the speedster. Watch for Derek Hagan and Denarius Moore to get more action at receiver. Moore could also be in the mix as a returner as could fellow rookie Taiwan Jones.

Oakland did get some good news as safety Michael Huff (groin) and defensive end Richard Seymour (ribs) returned to practice Friday. Barring setbacks, they should be on pace to play Sunday.

UDPATE: As expected, Ford will not play at Buffalo on Sunday.

In other AFC West-injury news:

As expected, Kansas City first-round pick, receiver Jon Baldwin, is out for Sunday’s game at Detroit with a thumb injury he reportedly injured in a fight with teammate Thomas Jones four weeks ago. Baldwin has worked since.

San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton is probable to play at New England. He missed last week’s game with an ankle injury.

In other AFC West nuggets Friday afternoon:

Trying to find a spark at tight end following the season-ending knee injury to Tony Moeaki, the Chiefs have re-signed Anthony Becht. They cut Jake O’Connell. Becht was signed and cut this summer in Kansas City.

This NFL.com columnist thinks the Raiders are for real.

Jamaal Charles’ fumble issues have returned.
Kansas City Chiefs first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin remained out of practice Wednesday with a thumb injury he reportedly suffered in a fight with teammate Thomas Jones nearly four weeks ago. Baldwin has not practiced since. There is no timeline for his return. Because he has had limited practice time, there is no guarantee Baldwin will play soon after he returns to practice.

In other AFC West notes Wednesday:

As if there was any doubt, Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski was named the AFC special teams player of the week. He nailed a 63-yard field goal in Oakland’s 23-20 win at Denver on Monday night. The field goal tied the record for the longest field goal in the NFL.

Mike and Mike discuss the pressure Kyle Orton is under in Denver.

Two AFC West players made ESPN.com’s MVP Watch after Week 1. Here’s a hint: There is one player each from the two 1-0 teams in the division.

The Chiefs signed safety Reshard Langford to replace injured star Eric Berry, who was put on the injured reserve after tearing his ACL Sunday. Langford was cut earlier this month.

Hue Jackson had an official's crew at practice Wednesday. It was a direct response to the fact that Oakland was penalized 15 times for 131 yards Monday night. Give Jackson credit for trying to rectify the problem. Ultimately, though, it’s all on the players to respond and start playing disciplined football.

San Diego Chargers receiver Patrick Crayton practiced fully Wednesday. He missed the season opener with an ankle injury.

Pregame notes from San Diego

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Chargers third-year linebacker Larry English is inactive. He was not on the injury report all week, so at this point, it has to be assumed it is a coach’s decision. He was the No. 16 overall pick in 2009.

San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton (ankle) is inactive.

Rookie San Diego receiver Vincent Brown is out with a hamstring injury.

Rookie running back/returner Jordan Todman is inactive.

Veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs is inactive. He is learning the Chargers’ 3-4 system after signing last week. It may take a few weeks before he is ready to play.

AFC West notes

September, 9, 2011
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San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton (ankle) and Vincent Brown (hamstring) did not practice all week and both players are questionable to play against Minnesota on Sunday.

AFC West notes

September, 8, 2011
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The Raiders may be on the verge of signing linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. He was released by the Patriots. The Bay Area native had 15 sacks in the past two seasons combined. Banta-Cain, 31, would likely be a depth addition for Oakland.

I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. if he thought Banta-Cain has much left in the tank. Williamson said this: “not much.”

However, Williamson thinks Banta-Cain, who played in a 3-4 defense in New England, could fit in Oakland. The Raiders could use help on the weakside.

“Oakland uses 3-4 outside linebacker types usually for the weakside in their 4-3, so in that regard, he would fit,” Williamson said. “But still, Banta-Cain isn’t much of a space player and he would be a liability in coverage.”

AFC West notes

September, 7, 2011
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According to Forbes Magazine, the Denver Broncos are one of 15 NFL teams that are worth more than $1 billion dollars. Meanwhile, the Raiders had the lowest revenue at $217 million last year according to the report.
The brilliant folks at Scouts Inc. have come up with the list of the 200 best players in the NFL in an Insider piece. The AFC West is well represented, but it has only one player in the top 25. It’s no shock who the player is. We would have had another player in the top 25 but he recently took his talents to South Philly.

Mel Kiper took a look at the list and adds some rookies who he thinks will quickly join the list. The first two residents on the list are new residents of the AFC West.

In other AFC West notes Tuesday afternoon:

Denver sixth round pick Mike Mohamed is working with the second-team defense at middle linebacker. Third-round pick Nate Irving is back with the third team. Irving was projected as the starter in the middle. Denver still wants Irving to take over there, but it is taking time.

The Chiefs hope the addition of Dexter McCluster to the backfield sparks the NFL’s No. 1 run offense. The Chiefs hope the diminutive McCluster can help the make the offense special on third-down situations.

Key reserve San Diego receiver Patrick Crayton had minor ankle surgery and he is likely out for the rest of the preseason. He should be ready for the regular-season opener.

New Denver running back Willis McGahee appears to be the team’s best option in short-yardage situations.

Camp Confidential: Chargers

August, 10, 2011
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SAN DIEGO -- If anything beneficial came out of the San Diego Chargers’ early-season stumbles in 2010, it was that the team that always seemed to be living dangerously had finally learned its lesson.

Starting slow can catch up to a team. In the three previous seasons under coach Norv Turner, the Chargers overcame slow starts with torrid finishes that resulted in AFC West championships. It didn’t happen last year. San Diego couldn’t overcome an early 2-5 hole and finished 9-7, allowing the upstart Kansas City Chiefs to steal the division title.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelThe Chargers stumbled out of the gate last year to a 2-7 record, thanks partially to a rash of turnovers.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said earlier in this abbreviated training camp that the Chargers must learn from last year’s disappointment and find a way to finally start fast.

Turner is all for starting fast, and he said one emphasis during camp is working to fix what has made the Chargers vulnerable in recent seasons. San Diego's offense has often been sloppy early on, committing too many turnovers. Last season, the Chargers committed 18 turnovers in their first seven games.

“We’ve played good football, but the turnovers hurt us,” Turner said. “When we didn’t turn the ball over, we’d win. That’s what we’re working on. I think the key is not talking about the slow starts, but working on the reason why we started slow.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Getting special teams up to speed. The 2010 Chargers will be remembered for assembling perhaps the worst special-teams unit of all time. San Diego had the No. 1-ranked offense and No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL last year, yet it didn’t make the playoffs because of special teams, which cost the Chargers in every imaginable way. The Chargers have put a major emphasis on the unit during camp. Special-teams practice segments are long and spirited. New special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia is well-respected and determined to get his players on track.

“It is a major point of emphasis in this camp,” Turner said.

2. Get Ryan Mathews ready. This is a big camp for Mathews, the running back who was the No. 12 overall pick in 2010. He alarmed the team when he failed a conditioning test at the start of training camp. Teammates reportedly were surprised Mathews failed the test, and he admitted he should have worked out his legs more during the lockout. That is the last thing a team wants to hear from its rich 24-year-old tailback of the future. He is currently dealing with a minor leg injury that is expected to keep him out of the preseason opener against Seattle. Mathews had durability issues last year, although he flashed at times, and he must show during camp that he is ready to be a lead back and can stay healthy.

“Ryan has to get some carries,” Turner said. “We need to get him some work.”

Turner expects Mathews to continue to work in tandem with powerful veteran Mike Tolbert, who looks as fearsome as always. Tolbert is an underrated weapon. Look for him to see more action in all phases of the run game as Mathews tries to develop.

[+] Enlarge Bob Sanders
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireVeteran safety Bob Sanders has struggled to stay healthy the past few seasons, but has looked good in camp.
3. The veteran safeties. Oft-injured Bob Sanders looks good. It may be too much to ask for the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year to return to his peak form, considering he has played in nine games over the past three years, but Sanders looks primed to bounce back. He and fellow safety Eric Weddle, who last month signed a $40 million deal to stay in San Diego, seem to have a strong on-field connection. They should be fun to watch and should benefit from playing with each other.

“Bob has been amazing,” Weddle reports. “There’s no rust there.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE

The Chargers have their starting receivers together. That wasn’t expected.

The Chargers wanted to bring back No. 2 wideout Malcom Floyd, but they thought they would be outbid for Floyd's services. The market didn't develop as expected, though, so Floyd took a two-year deal that could be worth as much as $7 million to stay in San Diego.

That means the Chargers have No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson (who held out for much of last season, and was given the franchise tag this year) and Floyd in the fold. Last year, because of a rash of injuries at the position, Rivers was throwing to street free agents at the end of the season. Having Jackson and Floyd at his disposal will be a treat for Rivers, who threw for 4,710 yards last season.

Add veteran Patrick Crayton and third-round possession receiver Vincent Brown, and the Chargers’ receiving corps is stronger than it was expected to be.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

The Chargers couldn’t come to a contract agreement with inside linebacker Kevin Burnett. He was a priority for the team, but Burnett ended up being the one who got away from the Chargers, who otherwise enjoyed a strong free-agent period.

In the end, Burnett wanted more than San Diego was willing to offer, and he ended up signing with Miami.

Burnett had a good season for the Chargers in 2010, with 95 tackles and six sacks, and San Diego wanted him back as part of its 3-4 defense. Now a young player probably will be inserted opposite free-agent signee Takeo Spikes on the inside. Right now, 2010 draft pick Donald Butler (who missed all of his rookie year with an injury) is getting those repetitions with the first team. Second-round pick Jonas Mouton will have a chance to impress in the preseason too, and the Chargers could look for a veteran if the youngsters show they are not ready.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky -- who replaced Ron Rivera, now the head coach in Carolina -- lets his presence be known. He is a high-energy coach who is not afraid to bark instructions constantly. No need to worry about the San Diego defense falling flat after being ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year.
  • Spikes has looked good. He is 34, but he played for Manusky in San Francisco last year and has Manusky's trust. Spikes has never played for a winner and seems energized by being part of this roster.
  • Rookie free-agent quarterback Scott Tolzien has looked good in camp. The Wisconsin product is a smart player who may be a nice developmental prospect.
  • The Chargers are not overly concerned about the foot injury hampering star tight end Antonio Gates, who started camp on the physically unable to perform list because of the plantar fascia injury that ended his 2010 season prematurely. The team will be cautious, and Gates is expected to be ready for the season.
  • Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green continue to vie for the right guard spot. Vasquez had been the starter, but Green proved to be a worthy injury replacement for Vasquez and now is hoping for more playing time.
  • Sixth-round pick Jordan Todman is running the ball well. He could make a contribution as a rookie replacement for the departed Darren Sproles.
  • Cornerback Antoine Cason is going to take over punt returns now that Sproles is gone.
  • Defensive tackle Antonio Garay doesn’t look like a one-year wonder. He is having a strong camp after a huge season in 2010.
  • The Chargers have loved what they've seen from rookie cornerback Marcus Gilchrist so far. He may have a chance to contribute.
  • Last year, Chargers camp was dampened by the holdouts of Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill. This year, there is contract harmony after several players received new deals. It wouldn't surprise me to see Tolbert, Cason and center Nick Hardwick also get new deals in the next year.

Philip Rivers unplugged

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
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SAN DIEGO -- I had a chance to catch up with San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers on Tuesday, and we discussed several topics.

Rivers
Rivers
Here is a sampling:

Rivers is excited about the prospect of playing with starting receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates. Last season, the three played together for a total of one quarter of a game. Jackson held out much of the season, and Gates and Floyd were hurt late in the season. In 2009, those three players combined for 192 catches for 3,100 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns catches.

That is a lot of missed opportunities for Rivers. However, he still passed for a career-high 4,710 yards in 2010.

Rivers said he is thrilled to have his top receivers back, but the good part about last season was that several other players showed they can contribute to the offense, including receiver Patrick Crayton and tight end Randy McMichael.

Add veteran free-agent pickup Laurent Robinson and rookie receiver Vincent Brown, and Rivers likes what he sees.

“We have a lot of weapons,” Rivers said. “I have so many different guys who I can count on. It’s really going to be exciting.”

Meanwhile, Rivers complimented second-year running back Ryan Mathews for his development in camp. Mathews has been maligned for not showing up to camp in prime shape, and he has continued to deal with nagging injuries. He likely will not play Thursday against Seattle as a precaution because of a minor leg injury.

However, Rivers said Mathews is making strides in all aspects of the game, including pass protection. Rivers said he believes Mathews will only improve as he takes more repetitions.

Rivers admits it didn’t break his heart to see star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha leave Oakland and the AFC West to sign with Philadelphia. However, Rivers said he is impressed by Oakland cornerbacks Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, who likely will replace Asomugha.

“Nnamdi is great, but Routt and Johnson can cover,” Rivers said. “Oakland had us covered as well as anyone in [Oakland’s 28-13 win at San Diego in December]. ... Those guys can play.”

Rivers also has been impressed by rookie free-agent quarterback Scott Tolzien. Rivers said he knew the first day he saw Tolzien that Tolzien is more than camp fodder.

“He’s a pro,” Rivers said. “You can tell the kid can handle himself.”

If the Wisconsin product has a good preseason, perhaps San Diego will add him on the active roster behind Rivers and Billy Volek.

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