AFC West: Takeo Spikes

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.
The San Diego Chargers continue to make cuts, as they have jettisoned safety Atari Bigby.

This move is not a big surprise. Bigby, who had 79 tackles last season, was not considered a top starter. The Chargers probably will be able to easily find a replacement. In-house candidates Darrell Stuckey and Brandon Taylor are possibilities. One potential replacement could be former Arizona safety Adrian Wilson, who was cut Friday. Former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt is now on San Diego’s staff.

On Thursday, San Diego cut linebacker Takeo Spikes. The Chargers also will likely cut defensive tackle Antonio Garay and left tackle Jared Gaither.

As for free agency, don’t be surprised if the team shows interest in Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers. He was in Indianapolis with new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco. The team will let starting cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer test the market.
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Whenever a 36-year-old is released, especially by a new regime, it shouldn’t be a shock.

But I do find it just a tad surprising that the first big move by San Diego's new brass is releasing linebacker Takeo Spikes. He does provide some value. He is still a starting-quality player and a positive influence in the locker room. In his two seasons in San Diego, Spikes was a defensive captain and voted the most inspirational player. Earlier in the offseason, quarterback Philip Rivers said he hoped Spikes would be back.

Spikes
But changes on the roster happen when there is a regime change. This new group is not connected to Spikes. All they saw was a 36-year-old linebacker and the opportunity to save some salary-cap room. The move saved the Chargers $3 million on the cap, and they now have more than $10 million in cap room.

But now the Chargers, who have pressing needs on the offensive line and at cornerback, have another need. They need to find another inside linebacker. No one on the current roster can be relied upon to replace Spikes. Perhaps Jonas Mouton will be ready, but that's not a given. It appears the Chargers will have to find a starter in free agency or through the draft.

Meanwhile, I can see Spikes getting some interest from teams running 3-4 defenses. The Chiefs could use an inside linebacker and adding a vocal force such as Spikes to a unit that has three Pro Bowl players could be worth pursuing. Plus, Andy Reid traded for Spikes in 2007 when he was with the Eagles. He played there one season and was released after a serious injury. I could see Reid thinking about a reunion.

Meanwhile, here is a look at the Chargers’ needs going into the offseason.
It will be interesting to see whether the new brass in San Diego wants to bring back linebacker Takeo Spikes for a 16th NFL season.

Spikes’ efficiency in 2012 shows it might be a good idea for the Chargers to ask him to return. According to Pro Football Focus, Spikes rarely missed a tackle. The site reports Spikes, who told U-T San Diego this month that he wants to return to San Diego, missed just two tackles last season. Both came in the passing game. Thus, Spikes was perfect in tackles in the run game.

Spikes has long been a sure tackler. The site reported that Spikes has missed just 11 tackles in the past five seasons.

Yes, Spikes is 36. But he is a technically sound tackler, and he brings such consistency on the field and leadership off it, the Chargers should welcome him back.
Now that the Kansas City Chiefs have hired Andy Reid, the coaching-search spotlight within the division is squarely on San Diego.

Some interesting names are emerging.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports San Diego is one of several teams interested in Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. He is a former offensive coordinator in New Orleans and his name is getting hot. U-T San Diego reports that former NFL coach and current UCLA coach Jim Mora is a candidate.

The paper reports that Mora would bring Noel Mazzone as his offensive coordinator. Mazzone was the offensive coordinator for San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers when he played at North Carolina State. The two men remain close and work out together in the offseason.

Getting Rivers back to his old self would be the Chargers’ quickest way to being successful again, so it’s a worthwhile notion.

Former Chicago coach Lovie Smith and Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians are also candidates in San Diego.

The Chargers are still very much in the process of finding a general manager. Schefter is reporting they are interviewing the Giants’ Marc Ross on Saturday. They have interviewed several people and that process is expected to be done before the hiring of a coach. U-T San Diego reports in-house candidate Jimmy Raye and Colts executive Tom Telesco may be the favorites. If Telesco gets the job, Arians could become an even bigger candidate.

In other AFC West news:

CBS Sports report that Doug Pederson could be Reid’s offensive coordinator. He was Reid’s quarterbacks coach the past two years with the Eagles.

San Diego linebacker Takeo Spikes and Oakland Mike Goodson were both fined $7,875 for fighting Sunday. They were both ejected from the game. It may have been Spikes’ last game. The 15-season veteran may retire.

The Chargers announced most of their 2013 tickets will remain the same price as in 2012 or be reduced. The team had trouble selling out games in 2012.
It appears the Denver Broncos will be without standout guard Chris Kuper for a third straight game.

Kuper is listed as doubtful to play against Cleveland on Sunday. He has been dealing with an ankle injury. On Friday, Denver coach John Fox said Kuper has also been dealing with migraine headache symptoms.

This has been a painful season for Kuper. He broke his forearm in the preseason and he had another ankle issue. He has missed eight games this season. Manny Ramirez has taken Kuper’s place.

The Broncos will need Kuper in the postseason as the offensive line has been better with him on the field.

In other AFC West injury news:

Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour will miss his seventh straight game Sunday with a hamstring injury. Seymour will be a free agent and thus, he may have played his last game as a Raider. Safety Tyvon Branch (neck) is questionable to play at Carolina.

For San Diego, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin (knee) missed practice all week and he is listed as doubtful to play at the Jets on Sunday. However, linebacker Takeo Spikes (hamstring) practiced fully Friday after missing the first two days of practice this week and he is listed as probable.

For Kansas City, in addition to tight end Tony Moeaki (head), who is doubtful, tackle Branden Albert (back) is questionable.

AFC West injury update

December, 20, 2012
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Denver standout guard Chris Kuper remained out of practice Thursday with an ankle injury that kept him out of the past two games. That means Manny Ramirez may be starting once again for the Broncos.
  • Kansas City tight end Tony Moeaki (head), center Ryan Lilja (back) and guard Russ Hochstein (back) did not practice Thursday for the second straight day. Receiver Jon Baldwin was limited Thursday after not practicing Wednesday because of an illness. Cornerback Brandon Flowers didn’t practice Thursday because of an illness.
  • Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour (hamstring) and safety Tyvon Branch (neck) both didn’t practice for Oakland.
  • San Diego linebacker Takeo Spikes (hamstring) and defensive linemen Aubrayo Franklin (knee) missed a second straight practice Thursday.

Difficult process underway in KC

December, 19, 2012
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I file this in the “it’s that time of year” category.

A report from a Houston radio station that the Kansas City Chiefs have informed general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel they won’t return next year is inaccurate, NFL.com reports, and a decision will be made after the season.

We all know Pioli and Crennel are serious candidates to be let go. Reports and denials are all part of the process. We’ve already been through this process in San Diego and in Oakland this month.

The Chiefs’ season ends in 11 days. The team has been an immense disappointment at 2-12. The Chiefs have lacked competitiveness and are not getting better at the end of the season. Fans are in an uproar. I think we can all see the writing on the wall regardless of early reports and corresponding denials.

At this point, I’d be surprised if we weren’t taking about potential replacements in Kansas City in a couple of weeks.

In other AFC West news:

Several injured Chargers players returned to practice Wednesday. Tackle Jeromey Clary (knee), guard Tyronne Green (hamstring), linebacker Donald Butler (groin), linebacker Demorrio Williams (hamstring), running back Ronnie Brown (hamstring) and receiver Eddie Royal (hamstring) are all working, which is a good sign for a roster that has been beset injuries.

Not all the injury news in San Diego is good. Linebacker Takeo Spikes missed practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin (knee) also missed practice.

AFC West Stock Watch

December, 19, 2012
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FALLING

Takeo Spikes' postseason dreams: You have to feel bad for Spikes. The San Diego linebacker has been one of the NFL’s great competitors in his 15-year career. Yet it has been a career that has never seen postseason play. When the Chargers were officially eliminated from the playoff chase in Week 15, Spikes saw his mark go to 15-for-15 in playoff-less seasons. It is an NFL record. He deserves better.

Rolando McClain's status: McClain is back on the Oakland Raiders’ active roster after a two-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. But the middle linebacker is far from active. The No. 8 pick of the 2010 draft was relegated to being a scout-team running back in practice and he was not active for the Raiders’ victory over the Chiefs on Sunday. His days in the Silver and Black appear numbered.

Job security of Kansas City offensive coordinator Brian Daboll: It hasn’t been a banner year for Daboll’s offense sans for the running of Jamaal Charles. But Daboll’s unit hit a new low Sunday when it managed just 119 total yards and was shut out by an Oakland’s defense that entered the game allowing more points than any in the NFL. If head coach Romeo Crennel is somehow kept, Daboll likely won’t be. Either way, Kansas City looks likely to see another offensive coordinator in 2013.

RISING

Denver Broncos' reputation: The Broncos earned themselves some respect in Week 15 with their smashing victory at Baltimore. Had the Broncos lost to the Ravens, they would have gone into the playoffs with people thinking they can’t beat a good team. Winning convincingly in a tough place like Baltimore answers those questions. I think the league views Denver as a legitimate Super Bowl contender with two weeks left in the regular season.

AFC West speculation: There will likely be wholesale changes in both San Diego and Kansas City in the next few weeks, with an outside chance of a coaching change in Oakland. So naturally, speculation is high. We’ve heard about interim Indianapolis coach Bruce Arians as a candidate in San Diego and about former Indianapolis general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian potentially being a candidate to run the Chiefs. My reaction? I think everything is on the table, and I expect plenty more names to emerge in the coming weeks.

Chances of defensive coordinator Jason Tarver staying in Oakland: There have been a lot of rumblings that the first-year defensive coordinator could be in trouble. The Raiders’ defense has been abysmal this season. But the shutout victory over Kansas City coupled with major personnel issues could help Tarver stuck around.

San Diego setting the right tone early

September, 16, 2012
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ChargersChristopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireSan Diego's defense dominated Tennessee and held the Titans to 212 yards.
SAN DIEGO -- Every year the San Diego Chargers seem to set a tone early in the season.

It’s been only two games, but the Chargers deserve to be excited about what has happened so far. Despite being riddled by injuries on offense, they pushed their record to 2-0 with a convincing 38-10 win over Tennessee on a blazing day by the sea.

“It’s safe to say, after two weeks, that all it is, that this is the best start we’ve had around here in awhile,” Philip Rivers said. “We’ve made some mistakes but really both sides of the ball have been good.”

“Attention to details,” San Diego linebacker Takeo Spikes said. ”Credit goes to the coaching staff.”

We haven’t heard those words attached to Norv Turner lately. In the first few years of his tenure that started in 2007, the Chargers seemed to mostly start poorly only to turn it around late. Last year San Diego began 4-1, but it rarely looked good in the process and then the team went on a six-game tailspin.

What was most impressive about San Diego on Sunday, as was the case in a 22-14 win at Oakland last Monday night, was that it had dominant, smart and timely play by Rivers and that it was aggressive, hard-nosed, and physical on defense. Those were major goals for this team going in this season.

Rivers had his worst NFL campaign in 2011 (he improved after a tough first 10 games) and the defense often betrayed the Chargers, especially on third-down conversions, where they ranked last in the league. On Sunday the Chargers held Tennessee to 1-of-9 on third down.

“Last year, we were 4-1, but it didn’t feel right,” Rivers said. “Everything was a grind. We had to grind for first downs and we had to ground for stops. This feels different.”

It’s vital for this season to be different because this entire team is on the hot seat. Turner was kept by ownership -- despite the urging from much of the fan base -- because the players like and believe in him. The team also didn’t think there was a candidate better suited to lead the Chargers than Turner. But things will change quickly if they fail to make the playoffs for the third year in a row.

With an eighth of the season in the books, San Diego looks like it is serious about keeping Turner around. The Chargers have seen the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders stumble badly and both teams deserve their 0-2 starts. The Denver Broncos, however, were impressive in Peyton Manning's debut last week and they play at Atlanta on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” to end Week 2.

But the Chargers showed Denver they are not going to concede anything to Manning.

They quietly changed the culture of the team by bringing in more than a dozen veterans. The Chargers’ depth has been a problem in recent years and adding quality players throughout the roster was the approach general manager A.J. Smith took this offseason.

The free-agent acquisitions are already paying off for the Chargers, who played without four offensive starters. Tight end Dante Rosario, playing because star Antonio Gates was out with a rib injury, caught three touchdown passes from Rivers. Former Kansas City running back Jackie Battle added 69 yards rushing yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries as the Chargers continued to plug along without starting running back Ryan Mathews.

“I’ve said that all the new guys we brought in this year really add something,” Rivers said. “They are all guys who love football and they really help this team. Today, we saw guys like Rosario and Battle just come in do things when we needed them. We’re just very steady now.”

In addition to Gates and Mathews (they both should be back next week against visiting Atlanta barring setbacks), San Diego is playing without left tackle Jared Gaither and promising receiver Vincent Brown. Undrafted rookie Mike Harris is playing for Gaither. Brown will be back in about six weeks and there is no timetable for Gaither’s return.

Still, the San Diego offense is clicking. After going 1-for-5 in the red zone at Oakland, the Chargers were 5-for-6 against Tennessee.

“It’s all because of [Rivers],” said San Diego receiver Malcom Floyd, who had a game-high six catches for 109 yards. “We have guys out, but he keeps us all together and he makes the plays. He gets this offense going.”

However, the Chargers have been much more than an offensive show in 2012. The defense has been outstanding, even suffocating.

The Chargers have completely bottled up star tailbacks Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson. Last week, McFadden was held to 32 yards on 15 carries. Sunday, Johnson had 17 yards on eight carries and the Titans totaled 38 yards on 10 attempts on the ground.

San Diego’s defense is building an identity. It is swarming, physical and mean. This was a stagnant group last season under the fired Greg Manusky, but linebackers coach John Pagano was promoted and the improvements have been dramatic and immediate.

“The defense has been great,” Rivers said. “Offensively, we had some lulls at times, but they just kept plugging and plugging … That’s what good teams do.”

And for the first time in September under Turner, the Chargers can truly say they are a good team.
The Broncos announced their six team captains. They were voted on by the team.

The 2012 Denver captain are quarterback Peyton Manning, guard Chris Kuper, running back Willis McGahee, cornerback Champ Bailey, defensive end Elvis Dumervil and special teams captain Wesley Woodyard.

It’s no surprise Manning was voted a captain. He is known as one of the great leaders in the game. This is Bailey’s sixth consecutive seasons as a captain, and it is Woodyard’s fourth straight year as a captain.

In other AFC West notes:

Our ESPN experts’ picks for Week 1 are here. Pretty interesting results on the “Monday Night Football” affair in Oakland.

The Chargers have announced they will permanently retire Junior Seau’s No. 55 jersey at their home opener Sept. 16 against Tennessee. Seau committed suicide May 2. The team also urges fans to wear all white to the game. The team will be wearing white jerseys and white pants in the game.

San Diego linebacker Takeo Spikes is closing in on an impressive milestone.

ESPN.com's Ashley Fox has some high hopes for the Chiefs.

San Diego pass-rusher Melvin Ingram is ranked high on Matt Williamsons’ Rookie Watch in an Insider piece.

Forbes’ annual list of the value of NFL franchises has been released. The Broncos are the highest ranked AFC West team on the list, while the Raiders are the lowest. Stadium status often plays a role, so if the Raiders can clear their stadium issues, they could move up the list.

Mike Sando ranks Manning 10th on his initial MVP Watch of the year.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers talks about the challenges of playing with an undrafted rookie at left tackle, which will be the case Monday at Oakland, in a radio interview.
We continue our position-by-position divisional rankings with a solid group of linebackers:

1. Tamba Hali, Kansas City: This is a special player. He is truly one of the best defensive players in the NFL.

2. Von Miller, Denver: Miller will only improve from a stellar rookie season. He is a gem.

3. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City: An underrated player. He is an A-player.

4. D.J. Williams, Denver: Very talented, but the red flags are piling up. He needs to stay focused on the field.

5. Justin Houston, Kansas City: I’m a big fan of this second-year player. I think he and Hali will be fun to watch rush the passer.

6. Jarret Johnson, San Diego: Free agent is a very solid pro. He will help this defense.

7. Melvin Ingram, San Diego: I’m very high on this versatile rookie. I expect big things right away.

8. Donald Butler, San Diego: A very talented player. He has a real future.

9. Rolando McClain, Oakland: McClain has to make fast improvements or his Oakland career may be on the rocks.

10. Shaun Phillips, San Diego: He can help, but he may be nearing the end.

11. Aaron Curry, Oakland: He can make some big plays, but he needs to become more consistent.

12. Takeo Spikes, San Diego: Spikes is getting way up there in age, but he isn’t the type of guy who you count out.

13. Philip Wheeler, Oakland: The Raiders will give this free-agent pickup a chance to prove he can be a better-than-average player.

14. Antwan Barnes, San Diego: He is limited but he has a real burst as a pass-rusher.

15. Jovan Belcher, Kansas City: A solid inside starting linebacker.

16. Joe Mays, Denver: Same here.

17. Wesley Woodyard, Denver: He will likely start if Williams’ six-game suspension sticks.

18. Brandon Siler, Kansas City: He was injured last year. He will help the Chiefs.

19. Larry English, San Diego: Make-or-break year for former No. 16 overall pick.

20. Travis Goethel, Oakland: If McClain gets suspended, he’ll get a chance.

21. Nate Irving, Denver: The Broncos want to see this 2011 third-round pick push Mays.

22. Miles Burris, Oakland: He likely won’t play much early, but the rookie is a player to keep an eye on.

Raiders score three comp picks

March, 26, 2012
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The Oakland Raiders received three badly needed compensatory draft picks.

While these picks are far from ensuring the team they are going to get contributors, it does help salvage a weak class. Oakland received picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds in next month’s draft. Oakland has the first comp pick in the third (No. 95) and fifth (No. 168) and the second comp pick of the fourth round (129). The comp picks will be added at the end of the third-through-seventh rounds. Comp picks cannot be traded.

The picks more than doubled Oakland’s draft class. Oakland has its own picks in the fifth and sixth rounds. It’s certainly not ideal that Oakland has to wait until the 95th pick to join the draft and having two picks in the first 129 picks is a tough road, but the Raiders’ draft is in better shape than it was going into Monday.

Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year are eligible to receive compensatory draft picks.

In 2011, Oakland lost free agents Nnamdi Asomugha, Robert Gallery, Bruce Gradkowski, Zach Miller and Thomas Howard and signed Kevin Boss and Stephon Heyer. Teams do not get credit for comp pick consideration for cutting players.

San Diego will receive a comp pick in the seventh round (No. 248) even though it did suffer a net loss of compensatory free agents last year. Under the league’s formula, the compensatory free agents lost by San Diego were ranked lower than the ones they signed (by a specified point differential based upon salary and performance). San Diego lost Darren Sproles and Kevin Burnett, while it signed Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy.

In total, 15 teams received a total of 32 picks.
Combine meetings really don’t mean much. Every team meets with several players. It’s just an example of teams doing their due diligence. That’s why the Chiefs talked to quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. They are expected to be the first two players off the board. The Chiefs have little chance of getting either player, but they are still doing their homework.

Yet, it is fairly interesting that Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said two of the five teams that interviewed him at the NFL combine were San Diego and Oakland. He is expected to go in the 15-20 range. The Chargers, who pick at No. 18, have other needs and the Raiders don’t have a pick until the fifth round, although they are expected to get a compensatory pick at the end of the third round.

Cornerback is the Raiders’ greatest need. However, it is unlikely the Raiders will be able to find away to get a first-round pick. Still, Oakland’s new brass is doing its due diligence and talking to first-round talent, anyway. It’s a smart move because you never know what can happen.

Actually, I think Denver is the team in the division that is most likely to draft Kirkpatrick. Cornerback is a big need and if he slips to No. 25, I can see Denver taking him.

In other AFC West news:

San Diego general manager A.J. Smith ended any speculation that the Chargers will part ways with linebacker Takeo Spikes. Smith said the 2011 free-agent acquisition will be a Charger in 2012. Spikes is a leader and he has value to this team.
Though the San Diego Chargers are typically conservative in free agency, expect them to be more aggressive this year as the team knows it has to win now or the A.J. Smith-Norv Turner era is very likely entering its final act.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Chargers are expected to have a ton of room to maneuver under the salary cap, and will likely get more by cutting tackle Marcus McNeill next month. For his salary to be guaranteed for 2012, McNeill must be cleared to play after a neck injury prematurely ended his 2011 season — and he is unlikely to get that medical clearance from team doctors, the paper reports. The Chargers could opt to stay in-house and sign Jared Gaither, whom the Chargers signed after he was cut by Kansas City and played well in McNeill’s absence.

The paper also reports that defensive end Luis Castillo and linebacker Takeo Spikes could be cut or asked to take pay cuts to remain with the team. Guard Kris Dielman, meanwhile, might be leaning toward playing this season. He was considering retirement because of a concussion that ended his 2011 season.

The Chargers are targeting several in-house free agents, including receiver Vincent Jackson, center Nick Hardwick (if he decides to play) and running back Mike Tolbert. San Diego could turn to the open market for a strong safety, a pass-rusher and an offensive lineman, among other positions.

Meanwhile, here is a look at the Raiders’ contact situation; you can see some clear candidates for contract restructuring as the team works to get under the salary cap. The league’s exact salary-cap figures have not been determined.

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