AFC West: Steve Young

SAN DIEGO -- I understand why the San Diego Chargers are trying to protect Manti Te’o from the media onslaught as the polarizing rookie begins his NFL career.

However, after watching the kid handle the spotlight on Tuesday, I don’t believe the organization has anything to worry about. The kid is a polished pro at dealing with the media.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsIt's safe to say that observers at the Chargers' Tuesday workout came away impressed with rookie linebacker Manti Te'o.
It’s stunning that any 22-year-old can handle himself publicly this well, let alone one who had to deal with the pressure Te’o has had.

We all know the back story by now. The middle linebacker from Notre Dame was involved in an Internet hoax involving a fake dead girlfriend. It was the first negative publicity Te’o has ever had to deal with. It likely had a part in his tumble from a top-five prospect to being the No. 38 overall NFL draft pick.

Part of the Chargers’ plan for Te’o was to shield him from overexposure with the media. In the past several team workouts, Te’o has been off-limits to the media. He was basically the only player in the NFL who was off-limits to the media this spring, and the team caught a lot of national heat for it.

The Te’o sequester ended Tuesday as the Chargers made him available in a news conference setting only. There were about 60-70 reporters there for the end of the media boycott, as it were.

Te'o handled it seamlessly -- just like he has with nearly every media session since the hoax story broke.

Te’o patiently answered every question he was asked in a session that lasted about 20 minutes. He gave well-thought-out answers. Nothing was off-limits. However, there was no new ground broken, nor did Te’o supply any headlines.

He did say that he was appreciative that the team made its media plan because it allowed him to focus on football. It is clear he is completely focused on the playbook, and by all accounts Te’o is doing everything the team wants him to do on the field. He is pegged as a three-down player in San Diego’s 3-4 system.

Here are some of the more interesting tidbits from the Te’o session:

  • He said he did allow himself to watch the tape of Notre Dame’s blowout loss to Alabama in the national title game once. Te’o had perhaps his worst college performance in that game.
  • Asked why he went to a recent Maxim Magazine function that poked fun at his hoax Te’o said like, most 22-year-olds, he wanted to “check out” the party. Good answer.
  • He said several NFL luminaries have offered their support including Troy Polamalu, Ray Lewis and Steve Young.
  • We will further delve into Te’o’s transition to the NFL on Wednesday. But rest assured, San Diego, there is little to worry about at this point -- on and off the field. The kid is impressive.

AFC West Stock Watch

December, 26, 2012
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FALLING

Terrelle Pryor's chances of being a starter anytime soon: I disagreed with the Oakland Raiders' decision to use Matt Leinart instead of Pryor as Carson Palmer's injury replacement at the Carolina Panthers. They know what they have in Leinart. He’s a career backup. Why wouldn’t a four-win team see what they have in Pryor? I think the reality is clear -- Pryor must be nowhere near being considered a starter in Oakland. The team didn’t think he was ready to play in a meaningless game. He’s not going to be ready to take over an offense next season. There are many exciting young quarterbacks taking over this league. It doesn’t seem like Pryor, taken in the third-round of the supplemental draft in 2011, will be given the chance soon. Still, Oakland would be smart to let Pryor play Sunday in the season finale at San Diego just to see what he can do.

Chances the Kansas City Chiefs will keep their current brass: We all hear the rumors that Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel are on their way out and we hear rumors of possible replacements. The Chiefs are 2-13 and it is becoming increasingly likely that ownership will feel it has no choice to make but to make sweeping changes.

The San Diego Chargers' chances for a top draft pick: The Chargers have won on the road in two of the past three weeks. They are now 6-9 and they are on pace for the No. 10 pick. A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the Chargers could be poised for a top-five pick. That's no longer true.

RISING

Appreciation for Jamaal Charles: It’s a shame Charles’ wonderful comeback campaign is being lost in the misery of the Chiefs season. Charles has been spectacular. He has 1,456 yards this season and he is 12 yards from setting a personal season best. Charles has three runs of 80 yards or more this season and is tied for the most in an NFL season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Charles is also the all-time NFL career leader in per carry average with 5.82 yards a carry. He is a tremendous player, and he is, by far, the best tailback in this division.

The 36-year-old Peyton Manning: According to ESPN Stats & Information, if Manning has three touchdown passes against the Chiefs on Sunday, he will set an NFL record for touchdown passes by a quarterback 36 years or older. Manning has 34 touchdown passes this season. Y.A. Tittle and Steve Young were both 36 when they tossed 36 touchdown passes.

San Diego rookie defensive lineman Kendall Reyes: There will be a new coach in San Diego next year and he will inherit some good young talent on defense. Reyes is one of them. The second-round pick had 3.5 sacks Sunday at the Jets and he has a chance to be a dominant player. The likely departing A.J. Smith gets dinged a lot, but Reyes could be a nice parting gift from Smith.
It has been a special season in Denver. Could it also be historic?

The Broncos, which clinched the AFC West on Dec. 2, are 11-3, have won nine consecutive games and are on pace for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They are widely considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Denver has been dominant on both sides of the ball. Although its season has been a team effort, the work of two players stands out: quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Von Miller.

Manning and Miller have arguably been the best offensive and best defensive players in the NFL this season. Both are leading candidates for major hardware; Manning is in the mix for the NFL MVP award, and Miller is a top candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

If both players win, it will, according to ESPN Stats & Information, be just the second time in league history that teammates have won the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. San Francisco’s Steve Young won the NFL MVP and cornerback Deion Sanders won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1994. The 49ers went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl.

Let’s look at Manning’s and Miller’s candidacies:

Manning: This is shaping up as a close, intriguing race. There is no runaway MVP choice. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and New England quarterback Tom Brady are competing hard with Manning. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers could make a case.

Still, there is reason to think Manning -- in his first season with the Broncos -- has a chance to win his fifth MVP award.

Brady is having a strong season, but the Broncos are 11-3 and the Patriots are 10-4. If the Broncos finish with a better record, Manning could have the edge. Coming back at age 36 from a neck injury that kept him out last season, he has had an immense impact on his new team.

Like Manning, Peterson is coming off a major injury, so the two will fight it out for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award as well. Peterson needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady, Peyton Manning
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady, left, and Peyton Manning are in another tight competition for MVP honors.
Dickerson was not the MVP that year. Miami quarterback Dan Marino won the award. Marino had a monster year, breaking six NFL season pass records, including most touchdowns and most passing yards.

Manning is not having quite that type of season, but his team is having a much better season than Peterson's and Manning’s stats are strong.

Consider these numbers supplied by ESPN Stats & Information: This is Manning's 12th season with 4,000 yards; he leads NFL in Total QBR, which measures the all-around impact of quarterback play; and his 11 wins are the most by a player after missing an entire season. Denver hasn’t won this many games since 2005. If the season ended today, Manning would be the fifth player ever with at least 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns and a 67 percent completion rate while throwing 10 or fewer interceptions. Three of the four previous players won the MVP award.

The vote will be close, but there is no doubt Manning will be in the MVP conversation. If history is any indication, it could come down to Manning and Brady. The last time a nonquarterback won the award was in 2006, when San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson won. A quarterback has been shut out just four times in the past 20 years.

Miller: Denver took Miller with the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011. Last season, he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He could easily win the Defensive Player of the Year award in his second season.

Miller was considered a top-flight pass-rusher as a rookie, but he has worked to improve his overall game. He is now strong in coverage and against the run in addition to being a complete terror as a pass-rusher.

“To me, Miller is the best defensive player in football,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Still, the chase for top defensive honors this season is as close as the MVP race. Miller is competing with a pair of fellow 2011 first-round picks -- Aldon Smith of San Francisco and J.J. Watt of Houston -- and Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

When asked about his chances of winning the award, Miller said he wants it, but his plan is this: “I’m just going to keep on playing with a fanatical effort and a relentless pursuit to the ball.”

It’s working.

Miller has 16 sacks, 3.5 off the pace set by Smith and Watt.

Watt leads the league with a combined 37 sacks and tackles for losses. Miller is second with 29; Smith is third at 21.5.

Watt has made several big plays and is the best player on a strong defense for a winning team, so he is probably the leading candidate for the award. But Miller has his supporters.

I think Manning’s chances of winning may be higher than Miller’s, but both have had major impacts on Denver’s success in 2012.

AFC West Stock Watch

October, 31, 2012
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Falling

Patience in Kansas City: Fan fury is rising along with the Kansas City Chiefs' chances of earning the No. 1 overall draft pick next April. The team was demolished at home by the Oakland Raiders on Sunday and is showing no signs of life. If this season continues to unravel, Kansas City ownership will have a difficult time trying to keep the current leadership structure.

Hope in San Diego: Bad weather be dammed, playoff teams win at Cleveland. Losing 7-6 to the Browns to give the Chargers three straight losses further increases the angst in San Diego. This thing is a ticking time bomb.

Raiders’ penalties: The Raiders were not penalized much in the three games with the replacement officials. However, they were flagged an average of four more times a game after the officials' lockout. The Raiders improved in this area on Sunday, being called for just two penalties at Kansas City. Take that Tamba Hali, who called the Raiders a dirty team last week.

Rising

Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos, quarterback: Manning has said he is still not fully healed from a neck injury that caused him to miss all of last season. Despite Manning’s claim, there is no denying he is playing out of his mind. Manning has thrown for 2,113 yards and is on pace for his highest yardage total in any season of his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Manning is the second player in NFL history with 300 passing yards and three pass touchdowns in four straight games in a single season. Steve Young did it in five straight games in 1998.

Raiders’ no-huddle offense: Oakland has found some nice offensive rhythm while using the no huddle. Expect to see the Raiders use it to help them continue to get in a groove for the rest of the season.

Wesley Woodyard, linebacker, Denver: Woodyard had a tremendous game as the Broncos’ defense stymied Drew Brees and New Orleans. Woodyard was all over the field as he had 13 tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble in the game. It was a message to D.J. Williams that he may have a hard time finding playing time when his NFL suspension is over after two more games.

Broncos far from a finished product

September, 23, 2012
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Peyton ManningJustin Edmonds/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning's strong second half was not enough to save the Broncos.

DENVER -- These new-look Denver Broncos are on the right track. But they are far from a finished product. Peyton Manning and the Broncos teased the home crowd in an impressive season-opening win over Pittsburgh two weeks ago. However, Sunday, fans were given a dose of reality.

For the second straight week, Manning and the Broncos were given a stern, painful lesson by one of the better teams in the league. The Houston Texans showed the Broncos they have a ways to go if they think they can hang with the top playoff contenders.

The good news for Denver is it is not being embarrassed by the game’s best teams. The bad news is the NFL is not an "almost" league.

Denver's 31-25 loss to the Texans was eerily similar to the 27-21 loss at Atlanta in Week 2. The Broncos fell behind early, Manning caught fire in the second half, the Denver defense settled and they had a chance to win both games.

Just like the Atlanta game, Denver surrendered a key first down with fewer than three minutes to go. If the Broncos would have held, Manning could have had a legitimate chance to win the game.

The Broncos are 1-2 because they are not a complete team yet.

“We’re close,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said. “But it’s going to take more than that.”

There is potentially a good team here. Last week, during ESPN’s “Monday Night Football," Jon Gruden and Steve Young said they expect the Broncos to jell at the midway point because Manning will finally be comfortable. They expect this team to make noise in the AFC playoff chase in November and December.

The AFC West continues to look unimpressive. After looking great against Oakland and Tennessee, San Diego was humiliated 27-3 at home by Atlanta on Sunday. The Chargers looked far from a team ready to run away with a division crown. Kansas City and Oakland both had late wins Sunday for their first victories of the season. The Broncos are in a three-way tie for second (and last) place at 1-2.

Manning is keeping the AFC West race in perspective after two straight non-divisional losses. Manning makes his first start against a division opponent next week against the Raiders.

“Division games count double, so we have to learn from this game, address it, be honest -- everybody needs to be accountable -- and try to improve for it,” Manning said. “It’s not the ideal situation. Everybody would love to be 3-0. But that is not the way it is right now. We’ve got to keep fighting and find a way to correct some of these mistakes and a find a way to play better.”

The problem for Denver is pretty simple, especially against teams like the Falcons and the Texans -- the Broncos are not good enough right now to spot teams an early lead. Denver fell behind 20-0 last week and it fell behind 21-5 and 31-11 against the Texans.

Denver miscues -- turnovers against Atlanta; dropped passes and poor offensive line play against the Texans -- fueled the huge deficits in both games. Against the Texans, Denver’s offense stalled. When not forced to punt, the offense was settling for field goals. The Texans’ offense had their way against a Denver defense that was stout in the first two weeks.

Denver did show life on both sides in the second half of both games.

While the Denver defense rallied, Manning came alive in the second half. Manning led two touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes as the Broncos’ receivers stopped dropping passes and the offensive line started to protect better. But it was too late to overcome Houston.

“We need to feed off of each other,” Manning said. “We done it at times, but we need to be able to do it for 60 minutes.”

Yes, the Broncos think they can get there and they might. For now, they just aren’t good enough yet.
ESPN.com has ranked the top 25 individual performances in NFL postseason history.

There are several games that involve the AFC West. The top four performances involve the division. The top two involve the San Diego Chargers.

One very good one very bad. The No.1 performance on the list is San Francisco’s Steve Young in the Super Bowl against the Chargers in 1995. The No. 2 performance is by San Diego tight end Kellen Winslow in the playoffs against Miami in 1982.

Overall, 12 of the performances involve the AFC West.

In other San Diego news:

The Chargers are thrilled with what they have in first-round pick Melvin Ingram and they will give him “all he can handle.”

San Diego center Nick Hardwick is mentoring rookie David Molk, who may be Hardwick’s heir apparent.

San Diego coach Norv Turner said this could be the deepest team he’s coached.

John Elway was quiet about Tim Tebow's future during the 2011 season. Elway opted to focus on the present.

However, Elway didn’t wait long after the season ended to commit to Tebow moving forward. Elway said in a news conference Monday that Tebow has earned the right to be the Broncos’ quarterback heading into training camp.

Some folks may take that as Elway hedging his bets a bit because he didn’t commit to Tebow as the certain 2012 starting quarterback in Denver. But the fact that Tebow is going to camp as the starter is truly all he can ask for. Elway’s announcement means that the Broncos want him to be their starter in 2012 and that they will build their team this offseason with the hopes that Tebow will be the starter.

No team wants to plan to have one quarterback be the starter going into camp only to replace him later. Thus, Denver plans on Tebow being its starting quarterback in 2012.

It’s the right move. Yes, he was up-and-down in 2011, but he’s young. He has started just 16 games in the NFL. His first-year totals compare favorably to those of Hall of Famers Elway and Steve Young.

Elway is right. Tebow earned more time. And it’s no surprise he will get the chance to further prove himself. I will be back with more later on this story.
The Denver Broncos’ AFC divisional playoff loss at New England was Tim Tebow's 16th NFL start.

Thus, the 2010 first-round pick has started the equivalent of one full NFL season.

There were many ups and downs for Tebow during the 16-game run, in which he led Denver to a 9-7 record. Denver was 4-14 in 2010 and 2011 without Tebow as its starter.

Tebow’s statistics in his 16 starts were a mixed bag.

While Tebow needs to work on his accuracy and consistency, he has done a good job not throwing interceptions. He has thrown for 2,835 yards and 19 touchdowns while being intercepted nine times.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tebow’s first 16-game numbers compare favorably to the first 16 games of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks with whom he is often compared — John Elway and Steve Young. The Elway comparison is relevant in that Elway played for Denver and is now the Broncos’ main decision-maker. Young, like Tebow, was a left-handed quarterback who made plays with his feet.

Elway threw for 2,448 yards, 10 touchdown passes and was intercepted 21 times in his first 16 games. Young threw for 2,722 yards, nine touchdown passes and had 16 interceptions in that span.

Does this mean Tebow is on a Hall of Fame pace? Of course not, but it shows that he did some good things — and that he isn’t the first quarterback in history to have his early-career trials and tribulations.
Tim TebowJustin Edmonds/Getty ImagesThe Denver Broncos are 7-1 this season with Tim Tebow as their starting quarterback.

Just how long can this Denver Broncos circus act last?

It is officially time to wonder what kind of damage the Broncos could administer if they actually get into the playoffs -- and how they match up against the best teams in the AFC.

After going 7-1 with Tim Tebow as the quarterback and riding a six-game winning streak (including the past four games in which they trailed in the fourth quarter, only the second time in history that has happened), the Broncos are on pace to win the AFC West and be the No. 4 seed. Denver -- which has a 78.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN.com's Insider Insider Playoff Predictor -- leads Oakland by one game in the AFC West. If Denver beats Kansas City at home in Week 17, the Raiders will have to finish with a better record than the Broncos to win the division because of tiebreakers.

The Broncos will face their greatest challenge of the Tebow run Sunday, when they host 10-3 New England. In the most anticipated game of Week 15, we stand to find out a lot about the Broncos, who are winning with a wicked combination of Tebow’s late brilliance, the league’s best running attack, timely, stiff defense and clutch special teams play, all guided by first-year coach John Fox and his staff in one of the best coaching runs in the NFL this season.

Denver doesn’t necessarily have to win this game to win the division, but if the Broncos can stick with the Patriots, it could send quite a message about their readiness for January football. Because Denver is winning with complete football, it is taking on the look of a team no one wants to see on the same side of the playoff bracket.

“My head says it will end this week, but my heart says they have a real shot,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “I think it’s going to end every week, and then it just goes on. I talk to a lot of smart football people every day and no one has any answers for it. But we’re buying in. I think this game against New England should be the end, but I can also see Denver pulling it off.”

Part of the phenomenon that has been the Broncos' season is the evolution of expectations for them. After a 45-10 drubbing by Detroit on Oct. 30 in Tebow’s second start, the Broncos were 2-5 and had the look of a team that would be picking in the top five and looking for a new quarterback in the offseason. Analysts gave the Broncos no chance. And they weren’t alone: I remember talking to several people in the Broncos’ organization that day, players included, and despair hovered over the team.

Since that day, however, the Broncos have mesmerized the league and caused several analysts to change their tune. ESPN analysts and previous Denver skeptics such as Merril Hoge, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer all said on the air this week that they are buying into what Tebow and his teammates are doing. When asked on ESPN this week if he could see Denver ending up in the Super Bowl in less than two months, analyst and former NFL head coach Herm Edwards responded this way: “I can’t say no."

Beyond the comebacks, the Broncos are answering a lot of questions. Against Oakland (a 38-24 win) and Minnesota (35-32), they proved they can outscore teams. Against Chicago, Denver proved it can win when Tebow has to throw 40 times. And Denver is 5-0 on the road with Tebow as the starter. What might make Denver tough to beat in the playoffs is that it is playing at a high level in all areas, as this ESPN Stats & Information post explains.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he is not taking the Broncos lightly going into Sunday’s game.

“They’re a good football team and they’re playing great,” Belichick told reporters this week. “They’re well-coached; solid team. Defensively they do a lot of things well. They run well. They have good pass-rushers, cover well. They’ve made a lot of big plays, third-down stops, short-yardage, goal-line, red area, turnovers. They’ve made them all at the right times. They’re real good on special teams, good coverage team, good kickers and good returners. Offensively they do a good job of running the ball, getting it down the field. They have a lot of long passes. Again, they’ve made the big plays when they had to in critical situations at the end of the game, fourth quarter, overtime, third down, all those kind of things. They’re at the top of their game.”

How Denver hangs with New England should provide some gauge of its playoff hopes. But what about against other AFC big hitters -- Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston?

“It’s like the Patriots, I don’t like their chances,” Horton said. “But then again, I do like their chances because of what the Broncos have done in the past six weeks. I think Denver’s strategy in every game will be to keep it low.”

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. doesn’t think Tebow could win in the playoffs against the Ravens, Steelers or Texans.

“I can’t say I see Tebow doing well at all against any of these three defenses,” Williamson said.

Haven’t we been saying that for weeks?

“I’m dumbfounded," Horton said. “But I’m not going to underestimate Denver anymore. Maybe they won’t do anything if they get to the playoffs, but did you ever think we’d even be talking about them having a chance at the playoffs this late in the season?”

Does Denver have any other option?

November, 25, 2011
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Tim TebowChris Humphreys/US PresswireAs long as Tim Tebow continues to win, Denver has no choice but to keep him as the starter.
How long will the Denver Broncos' option offense work?

The team clearly hopes it works as long as possible, hopefully through this season so the Broncos can make their final decision on quarterback Tim Tebow's future in the offseason.

Denver coach John Fox believes it's the offense Tebow is most qualified to run right now. So it's either option or bust for Denver.

“We’re just trying to win football games, that’s all we’re trying to do, take advantage of the guys on our football team and utilize their talents the best we can to win,” Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy recently told reporters in Denver.

With the 5-5 Broncos in the AFC West hunt -- they are 4-1 in Tebow’s five starts – there’s little chance the Broncos will risk changing the offense now. There’s not enough time to make Tebow an NFL-quality pocket-passer during the rest of the season.

While Denver has been hot, relying on the option offense is still a major risk in the final six weeks of the season. What if the San Diego Chargers completely shut down the option offense on Sunday?

After the Broncos had terrific success using variations on the option at Oakland and Kansas City, it was shut down for a big portion of Denver’s Week 11 game against the New York Jets. But the offense clicked when Tebow led an aggressive, 12-play, 95-yard drive that culminated in a 20-yard touchdown run by Tebow.

The truth is, the Broncos have become better in every phase of the game since Tebow took over. The key for him is to continue to buy himself time. For each victory, Tebow will earn another chance to convince Denver football leader John Elway he can be the long-term solution at quarterback.

Despite the win-loss success, there have been red flags. Tebow has had a completion percentage of less than 50 percent in all four victories. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is only the second quarterback to do that in four wins in one season in the past 20 seasons -- and there’s plenty of time left in this season.

The legendary Elway is one of the strongest-armed quarterbacks ever to play. He can’t be thrilled to see his first team as an NFL executive play leatherheads football. Who would have ever thought an Elway team would be a gimmick-led offense? Shannon Sharpe -- a fellow Hall of Famer who was one of Elway’s favorite targets -- said Denver’s current offense is straight out of the “Big Eight days." After he watched the offense beat his brother Rex’s Jets, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said seeing the option offense in the NFL made him “vomit.”

Elway is clearly not convinced, either. He angered many Denver and Tebow fans earlier in the week when he said on radio that he is not yet committed to Tebow for the long term. In the meantime, Elway and his staff have scouted many of the top collegiate quarterback prospects this fall.

It’s difficult to find anyone who thinks the option offense can really fly in Denver in the long term. Countless analysts have panned the offense, calling it nothing more than a survival move. Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young was one of the most ardent opponents of the idea. He said several times on the air that it is a disservice to Tebow because it is stunting his development and he guaranteed it will not work for the long haul. ESPN’s Merril Hoge and Mel Kiper have also chimed in with similar thoughts.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. agrees. He can’t see the Broncos’ offense lasting even long enough to let the Broncos overtake first-place Oakland (6-4) in the division race. Plus, Williamson is unsure if Tebow can withstand the pounding he’ll take using this offense the rest of the season.

“I do not think it can be the long-term answer,” Williamson said. “The quarterback just takes too much of a beating and this league is won through the air.”

The key for Denver to continue to have success with the offense for the rest of the season, Williamson said, is to add wrinkles. The Broncos added different option plays each week and that probably will continue Sunday at San Diego after a 10-day break since the Jets game.

For the team’s short-term success and Tebow’s long-term future, the Broncos must continue to develop their take on this ancient offense or the back-to-the future experiment could all go away in a cloud of dust.

Putting another spin on Tebow Time

October, 21, 2011
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On "NFL Live" Friday, ESPN analyst Jerry Rice explained that when the 49ers transitioned from Joe Montana to Steve Young at quarterback, Rice and his fellow receivers had to make an adjustment to the left-handed Young.

Rice said the spin of the ball is different when thrown by a left-handed quarterback than it is with a right-handed quarterback. Left-handed quarterbacks are rare; Rice said it took a lot of repetitions for him to get used to Young’s ball.

Why is this important now?

Well, Rice was talking about how Denver’s receivers will adjust to life with new starting quarterback Tim Tebow. Like Young, Tebow is a lefty.

Shortly after Denver drafted Tebow in 2010, I did a column on left-handed quarterbacks and how their teammates must adjust to them. In the end, everyone involved said the adjustment period is initially awkward but it doesn’t last long.

In other AFC West news:

Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel is happy for college roommate Carson Palmer’s opportunity in Oakland.

The Broncos feel healthy heading into Sunday’s game at Miami.

Evening AFC West notes

May, 5, 2011
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In a conference call with some Kansas City Chiefs’ season-ticket holders, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Chiefs’ owner Clark Hunt talked about the importance of parity in the NFL.
    • The Denver Post gives Broncos’ fans a chance to get to know second-round pick, UCLA safety Rahim Moore.
    • It looks like tight end Brad Cottam is going to attempt a comeback in Kansas City after missing last season with a neck injury. Why else would he be working out with his teammates?
    • San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding is working out with several other kicking specialists in California during the lockout.

    Aaron Rodgers is Chico's man

    February, 1, 2011
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    Aaron RodgersAP Photo/David J. PhillipAaron Rodgers started his career as an unheralded high school quarterback from Northern California.
    CHICO, Calif. -- Craig Rigsbee called Ed Rodgers for directions to his house in the winter of 2001.

    With directions in tow, the head coach of the highly successful Butte College Roadrunners hung up the phone, walked out his house, took a short stroll to the next cul-de-sac and began the only true college football recruitment Aaron Rodgers received in high school.

    And so started the rise of this idyllic Northern California college town’s most successful athlete.

    “That’s Chico,” Rigsbee said. “I just walked over there.”

    Rodgers‘ journey to the center stage of Super Bowl XLV as the Green Bay Packers' quarterback and his status as the man who allowed the state of Wisconsin to successfully move away from Brett Favre began humbly and with long odds.

    Asked last week if Rodgers had the look of a future elite NFL quarterback when he entered high school, Ron Souza -- Rodgers’ high school quarterback and baseball coach -- grew quiet. After a pause, Souza answered honestly and apologetically.

    “No, I couldn’t say that,” Souza said. “He was a talented kid and a very hard worker, but I don’t think you could predict what he’d become. No offense to Aaron. I guess we all missed on him.”

    Souza shouldn’t be so hard on himself. When Rodgers entered Pleasant Valley High School, he was 5-foot-2, 130 pounds. He didn’t stand out from the other freshman athletes.

    [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers at Cal
    eff Gross/Getty ImagesCal coach Jeff Tedford recruited Aaron Rodgers while visiting Butte Community College to scout another player.
    Rodgers, the middle of three late-blooming boys (which includes current Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers), grew steadily, but he was never an imposing figure in high school. He was about 6-foot, 170 pounds in his senior season, Rigsbee said.

    Unlike so many future professional sports stars, Rodgers wasn’t exactly a household name in his hometown as a high school player. He was known as a talented player, but going to watch Rodgers play wasn’t must-see entertainment on Friday nights in Chico.

    Rodgers –- now one of the NFL’s most rugged quarterbacks at a strapping 6-foot-2, 225 pounds -- attended the University of Illinois’ camp his senior season, but the school’s interest in him waned because of his lack of size. Rodgers was a 3.9 GPA student in high school, was involved in Young Life and had (and still has) a pristine reputation in the community. He had the off-field tools to go to any school out of high school that he wanted. He just didn’t have the on-field interest.

    Rigsbee was basically recruiting Rodgers against himself. Despite his lack of ideal size, Rigsbee saw a strong-armed player with a natural aptitude for the quarterback position. He stayed on Rodgers’ trail for months, making a point to attend every one of Pleasant Valley’s baseball games in the spring of 2002. With his high school football career over, Rodgers picked up a baseball for the first time in five years that spring. He suddenly was throwing 91 miles per hour as a pitcher and having success as a switch-hitter with some pop.

    “Finally, one day Aaron said to me 'Coach, you don’t have to come to my games. I’m coming to Butte,’” Rigsbee recalled.

    So, Rodgers traveled the short rural highway ride south to Butte to begin his college playing days. He is five days from becoming the second high-profile former Roadrunner to play in the Super Bowl, joining former Dallas superstar guard Larry Allen, who played at Butte in the early 1990s.

    Rodgers -- who was then recruited by Cal when Bears coach Jeff Tedford went to Butte to watch another player -- is clearly proud of his humble beginning. He regularly wears Butte College shirts in interviews and texts his former coach to make sure he noticed the Butte love.

    The feeling is mutual in Chico.

    This may be San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders territory -- Chico is about a two-and-a-half hour drive north of the Bay Area -- but Chico is all about the Packers and its hometown kid.

    “There is a lot of green and gold walking around Chico these days,” Chico Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Jolene Francis said. “This is a Packer town.”

    Pleasant Valley had a “Green and Gold” day the Friday before the Packers beat Chicago to advance to the Super Bowl. There is a Facebook initiative for everyone in Chico to wear Packer colors to work this Friday in support of Rodgers. The local sports memorabilia stores can’t keep Green Bay items on the shelves. Sports bars are crammed for Green Bay games and Ed Rodgers said he has been told there is a water tower just west of town that has been freshly painted with a giant “G” on it.

    [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
    Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesChico plans to honor their native son in the spring regardless of the outcome from Super Bowl XLV.
    “Chico is really excited for Aaron,” Ed Rodgers said. “It seems like everybody has become Packer fans”

    Several Green Bay-themed parties are planned for Sunday in the city. “If there are any Pittsburgh parties in town, I don’t know of anyone who’ll be showing up,” Francis said.

    The San Francisco Giants’ improbable World Series Championship run caught the imagination of this city. The Giants chose Chico as one of the 13 cities to bring the World Series trophy to as part of a celebration tour in January. Thousands of people lined up to get a glimpse of the hardware. Rodgers apparently has the same effect on the town.

    “I think Aaron is even bigger,” said friend Matt Hock, the director of the local Young Life chapter. “I think Aaron going to the Super Bowl blows the Giants winning the World Series out of the water here, and that was a big deal in Chico.”

    The city plans to have a parade in Rodgers’ honor sometime this spring, win or lose Sunday. Rodgers’ parents still live in Chico, where Ed Rodgers has a successful chiropractor practice. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t live in Chico during the offseason, but he does regularly visit. He has an annual golf tournament in the spring to benefit Young Life.

    “Everyone who knows Aaron has nothing but good things to say about him,” Francis said. “We are so proud of him and the attention he has brought our city for being such a stand-up young man.”

    Souza jokes that Chico and Green Bay are sister cities. Souza said Rodgers has told him the two cities are similar because of their small-town feels. Chico’s population is 87,000-plus. It is a spread-out town known for Chico State University, Sierra Nevada beer and now a Super Bowl quarterback.

    Rigsbee credits Rodgers for showing the college football world that it is worth traveling north of Sacramento for talent. Among those who have been recruited from the area after Rodgers are journeyman NFL backup quarterback Brett Ratliff, Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl (who is expected to be a mid-round draft pick in April), Jordan Rodgers and Rigsbee’s two sons. Tyler Rigsbee is at Cal and Jordan Rigsbee is a Cal recruit.

    Witnessing his son become a pioneer of local football is one of the things Ed Rodgers is struggling to grasp as he prepares to head to Dallas. As a child in Chico, Rodgers grew up watching Joe Montana and Steve Young lead his beloved 49ers to Super Bowls.

    “I can’t wrap my head around the idea that now Aaron is doing the same thing.” Rodgers said. “It’s the Super Bowl.”

    Chargers regular-season wrap-up

    January, 5, 2011
    1/05/11
    1:00
    PM ET
    NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

    Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

    Final Power Ranking: 14
    Preseason Power Ranking: 8

    [+] EnlargeMike Tolbert
    hoto by Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesMike Tolbert finished his breakout season with 735 yards and 11 touchdowns.
    Biggest surprise: Running back Mike Tolbert and defensive tackle Antonio Garay. Both entered the season as role players. Both ended the season as players the Chargers want to lock up with long-term deals. Tolbert proved to be a terrific running back; he ran over opponents and was a great counter-punch to rookie running back Ryan Mathews. Tolbert is also good as a short-yardage back. Garay, a Chicago castoff, filled the role left by Jamal Williams wonderfully. Many NFL scouts thought he was one of the better nose tackles in the league this season. It looks like San Diego scored big with these little-known talents on each side of the ball.

    Biggest disappointment: The season as a whole. There’s no way the Chargers expected this season to unfold the way it did. They finished 9-7 and saw their four-season reign as AFC West champions end. The Chargers finished the season ranked No. 1 in total offense and total defense. Yet, special teams problems and injuries took a toll. The unit seriously hurt the Chargers for the first three quarters of the season, so it’s no surprise that the Football Outsiders ranked San Diego’s special teams last in the NFL. The team fired special teams coach Steve Crosby after the end of the season. The Chargers also were battered, especially at receiver and linebacker. They used 73 players, one off the NFL record. Quarterback Philip Rivers completed passes to 17 players. In the end, the Chargers’ record was a lot worse than what this offense and defense showed they were capable of doing.

    Biggest need: The Chargers’ No. 1 ranking on both sides of the ball shows that this is a very talented roster. Assume the Chargers will be healthier next season and this should still be a good team. But it could always use some depth. Expect the Chargers to look for help at safety, linebacker and defensive end. If this team could find a pure pass-rusher in the draft, it would help immensely. The Chargers could also use offensive line depth and perhaps another receiver, especially if they don’t put the franchise tag on free agent Vincent Jackson. San Diego should be well equipped to get what it wants in the draft with extra second- and third-round picks coming. The Chargers will have five picks in the first three rounds, which will give it trading power and the ability to stockpile picks.

    Team MVP: Rivers. At 29 years old, the quarterback just gets better. Expect him to get some NFL MVP votes. He is the third player to have a passer rating of 100.0 or more for three straight years, joining Steve Young and Peyton Manning.

    The numbers lie: The 2010 Chargers showed that statistics aren’t everything. Since 1970, five previous teams led the NFL in total offense and defense. All five made the playoffs. The Chargers had a plus-119 point differential in 2010, fifth best in the NFL. It was the highest plus-point differential for a non-playoff team since the 1991 San Francisco 49ers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
    Will Peyton Manning be the best player on the field Sunday night when the San Diego Chargers visit Indianapolis?

    Usually, it wouldn’t even be a question. Of course, he would. He’s Peyton Manning, one of the best players ever to step on an NFL field. But, for one night, in this season, Manning may have competition. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is playing as well as anybody in the NFL in 2010, including Manning.

    Rivers, who is No. 2 on ESPN.com’s MVP Watch this week (Manning is No. 5), is playing out of his mind. He has thrown for 3,177 yards. He has thrown for 23 touchdowns and he has been intercepted nine times. Manning has thrown for 3,059 yards. He’s thrown for 20 touchdowns and he’s been picked off seven times. Rivers is less than a yard shy off the pace of Dan Marino’s single-season passing yardage record of 5,084 yards in 1984.

    Like Manning, Rivers is playing with a less-than-stacked deck. He’s been playing without his top four receivers and star tight end Antonio Gates the past two games. It is not going unnoticed.

    “Philip Rivers reminds me of what Peyton Manning has been doing,” ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer told me last week. “Manning does it with not a great supporting cast, but so has Rivers. These guys are really playing at another level.”

    Added Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “Nobody is playing better than Rivers this season. Nobody.”

    Again, this is not to say that Rivers has replaced Manning atop the NFL quarterback mountain. Manning is an all-time player. But Rivers is joining the conversation. Monday night, after Rivers tore up Denver in a 35-14 win, Hall of Fame quarterback and current ESPN analyst Steve Young said that Rivers is a potential Hall of Fame player. Wednesday on “SportsCenter,” Young ranked Manning as the No. 2 quarterback in the league and Rivers is No. 4.

    Rivers is certainly putting up the numbers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers lead the NFL this season with 19 completion of 30 yards or longer. That should increase when his favorite deep threat, Vincent Jackson, joins the team Sunday after ending his holdout and spending time on the roster-exemption list. Rivers has the longest current streak by throwing a touchdown pass in each of the past 22 games.

    There’s no doubt Manning is special. But he will not be the only special quarterback on the field Sunday night.

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