AFC West: Tim Dobbins

The Broncos signed their fourth draft pick and their highest pick to date by inking center J.D. Walton on Thursday.

Walton was a third-round pick, the No. 80 player taken overall. The Baylor product has a chance to start on opening day. By signing early, Walton will have every opportunity to earn the starting job. Denver waived fullback Kyle Eckel and rookie defensive lineman Jaron Baston.

The Kansas City Star looks at the Jarrad Page situation. I get the feeling this is going to end with Page leaving Kansas City. But it really doesn’t matter much because it appears the Chiefs are moving on without Page.

The Chiefs’ website believes the team is primed to soon start signing some of their draft picks.

Miami extended the contract of linebacker Tim Dobbins for two years. He was acquired from San Diego in the Ryan Mathews draft-day trade.

AFC West draft analysis

April, 24, 2010
4/24/10
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NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

For much of the offseason, the theme in the AFC West was players who never made it to the division and players who left.

However, the division took control during the draft. The AFC West made news -– and positive strides -- by bringing in talent.

The division's teams brought in some big-league talent this weekend. Headlining the AFC West newcomers are SEC stars Tim Tebow, Eric Berry and Rolando McClain. Add LaDainian Tomlinson’s replacement in San Diego, Ryan Mathews, and a new quarterback in Oakland, Jason Campbell, and the draft weekend provided many thrills for the division.

Forget the departures of Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie and Brandon Marshall and the missed pursuit of Donovan McNabb in Oakland. The AFC West is making noise with key arrivals.

Best move

Oakland’s weekend. Love it. It started with the selection of McClain. What a great pick. When the Raiders took the middle linebacker from Alabama, it was an announcement that they were going to play the weekend straight. They were not interested in reaching for skill-position players anymore. It was nice to see them trying to improve their team by adding quality players at need areas. McClain will be an instant starter and he should soon be a star. The Raiders continued to help the run defense in the second round by selecting Texas defensive tackle Lamarr Houston. The Raiders got future help at tackle in the third and fourth rounds with nice prospects Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell. Oakland took speedy receiver Jacoby Ford in the fourth round. They wrapped up a terrific weekend by trading a fourth-round pick in 2012 for Campbell. These moves won’t necessarily make the Raiders a playoff team in 2010, but they are a great step in the right direction.

Riskiest move

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesThe Denver Broncos will look to build their franchise around Tim Tebow.
Tebow is the riskiest prospect in the entire draft. Denver coach Josh McDaniels put his legacy on the line when he traded three draft picks to the Baltimore Ravens to take Tebow at No. 25. It is now up to make McDaniels to make him an NFL starter. For all his heart and desire, Tebow has to show he can be a true quarterback in the league.

Most surprising move

It was a surprise that San Diego jumped up so high to take Mathews. Because the running back class was so deep, the Chargers were expected to wait out the board. Instead, San Diego gave the Miami Dolphins a lot (the No. 28 and No. 40 picks along with backup linebacker Tim Dobbins) to take the rugged Fresno State star. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith clearly coveted Mathews so he went out and got him. The Chargers think Mathews will be a star and he was well worth the price tag as San Diego moves away from the Tomlinson era.

File it away

Berry is going to be a star. The Chiefs had their dream scenario when both Berry and Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung were available at No. 5. Berry was taken because of his potential to change the defense. Over the past decade, great safety play has been the key to the top defenses in the league. This is a young defense. Expect Berry to be known as one of the best playmaking safeties in the NFL within the next four years.
I wanted to catch up on some draft thoughts while things are relatively calm:

Berry
Berry
Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli stayed to his roots in his selection of Tennessee safety Eric Berry at No. 5.

This was the 11th time in Pioli’s career that he was part of a team that had a top-13 pick. For the eighth time, Pioli's team took a defensive player. For the sixth time, Pioli’s team took a defensive player from the SEC. Last year, in his first year as the Chiefs’ decision-maker, Pioli took LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson at No. 3.

Berry is the fifth safety to be selected in the top five in the past 30 years. The most recent was the late Sean Taylor by Washington in 2004.

Don’t be surprised if Oakland sends middle linebacker Kirk Morrison packing soon as a result of its terrific selection of Alabama’s Rolando McClain at No. 8. Oakland coach Tom Cable said Morrison is now “depth.” However, he is due to make more than $2 million this year. Unless Morrison takes a big paycut, I could see the team parting ways with him.

I know some San Diego fans were upset that linebacker Tim Dobbins was included in the blockbuster trade that brought running back Ryan Mathews to the Chargers at No. 12. However, Dobbins is a situational player. The Chargers will move on without much trouble. They love inside linebacker Brandon Siler.

Early AFC West notes

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
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  • San Diego linebacker Tim Dobbins has signed his restricted free-agency tender.
  • The Chargers have five unsigned restricted free agents remaining: receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, linebacker Shawne Merriman, tackle Marcus McNeill and defensive end Travis Johnson.
  • Todd McShay's latest mock draft is on ESPN.com. There really aren’t any shocking choices for the AFC West teams. But it’s a solid read. Check it out.
  • The San Diego Union Tribune believes there could be some fireworks involving the Chargers during the draft. The paper maintains that running back Darren Sproles and Merriman could be available through a trade. This speculation is just another reason to get excited about the coming days.
Thirty of the 212 NFL players who would lose their status as unrestricted free agents this offseason if the league and its union can't agree on a new labor contract play in the AFC West. They'd be restricted free agents.

Several big-name players from the division on are the list. There is some time between now and when free agency starts, but if a new deal isn’t made (and it seems unlikely at this point that there will be a new deal) it could greatly impact these players.

Here’s the list:

Denver

Elvis Dumervil LB

Chris Kuper OG

Brandon Marshall WR

Kyle Orton QB

Tony Scheffler TE

Le Kevin Smith DE

Kansas City

Brodie Croyle QB

Derrick Johnson LB

Corey Mays LB

Rudy Niswanger C

Ryan O’Callaghan T

Jarrad Page S

Oakland

Jon Alston LB

Khalif Barnes OT

Ricky Brown LB

Charlie Frye QB

Thomas Howard LB

Kirk Morrison LB

Stanford Routt CB

San Diego

Tim Dobbins LB

Malcolm Floyd WR

Antonio Garay DT

Eric Ghiaciuc C

Marques Harris LB

Vincent Jackson WR

Travis Johnson DT

Marcus McNeill OT

Shawne Merriman LB

Darren Sproles RB

Charlie Whitehurst QB

Tim Heitman/US Presswire
Philip Rivers' eight play, 75-yard touchdown drive changed the momentum against the Cowboys.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This game can be cruel.

The Dallas Cowboys had just lost one of their leaders when DeMarcus Ware was taken off the field on a stretcher with a neck injury. The entire team -- many of whom huddled around Ware while he was being attended to -- was clearly shaken.

But the game had to go on. And the first sequence without Ware was the time when the team needed the superb pass-rusher the most. It was third down and 12 for San Diego from its 47 with the score tied 10-10. Dallas had just taken the momentum away from San Diego with a 99-yard touchdown drive.

The Chargers took advantage. Great teams do, and San Diego is playing at an extremely high level these days.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is working his way into the league MVP chatter, found receiver Vincent Jackson for a 39-yard reception down the San Diego sideline to the Dallas 14. On the next play, Rivers hit tight end Antonio Gates for an easy touchdown pass play to give the Chargers a sudden 17-10 lead.

The Cowboys couldn't recover. San Diego added an insurance field goal right after the two-minute warning on a devastating seven-plus minute drive, sealing an impressive 20-17 win over the Cowboys.

After the game, the Chargers downplayed how the game turned after Ware was hurt. San Diego was clearly being respectful toward Ware and the Cowboys, and many players expressed concern.

“Those particular plays [the two plays after Ware left] were not called for him not being in there,” Rivers said.

Added Jackson: “We just made the plays when we had to. That’s all it was.”

But the bottom line was the Chargers had their opportunity to strike and they did.

San Diego is playing as well as any team in the NFL outside of Indianapolis or New Orleans. It’s unlikely the Colts or the Saints would be thrilled to see San Diego on their schedule these days. It’s a notion that could become a reality for the Colts in the postseason.

San Diego is 10-3 and has won eight straight games. San Diego has won an NFL-record 16 straight games in December, dating back to 2006.

Sunday was a perfect day for San Diego. The Chargers won and Denver, the second-place team in the AFC West, and Cincinnati, the Chargers’ competition for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, both lost. San Diego has a two-game lead on Denver with three games to go in the division and it leads Cincinnati by a game in the chase for the No. 2 seed.

San Diego plays host to Cincinnati next week.

Getting the No. 2 seed would be pivotal for the Chargers. All they’d need to do to get back to the AFC Championship Game for the second time in three years would be to win one home playoff game. The Colts are going to be the No. 1 seed. But San Diego isn’t going to be frightened to play the Colts in January. San Diego has knocked the Colts out of the playoffs the past two seasons.

Other key factors in the Chargers’ win:

San Diego spreads the wealth: Jackson made the play of the game with the 39-yard catch on third and long. You knew it was coming. He’s too productive not to come up big. After a hot start to the season, Jackson was held to eight catches the past three games. But he came alive Sunday with seven catches for 120 yards.

When Jackson’s production had fallen, Rivers relied on Gates. He had 15 catches for 285 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games. Sunday, Gates had four catches for 44 yards.

“That’s how this offense works,” Gates said. “We go to the hot guy. There are so many weapons on this offense everyone is going to get their turn.”

Rivers did another masterful job of engineering the multi-faceted San Diego passing game. He threw for 272 yards on 21-of-32 passing.

San Diego's defense comes up big when it counts: The Cowboys were on the doorstep of tying the score 10-10 early in the second quarter, using the run to drive down the field.

Dallas moved 72 yards in 12 plays (11 of which were runs) to the San Diego 1. Then the door was closed in the Cowboys' face.

The Chargers’ run defense has been vulnerable for much of the season. But it tightened when it had to.

Dallas running back Marion Barber was stopped on three straight plays from the 1 as San Diego forced Dallas to turn the ball over on downs. The Chargers were shocked that Barber, out of the fullback position on fourth down, ran the same play three times in a row. He gained three yards from the four on first down.

"I don't know what they were thinking but after the second time you gotta think, 'Don't run that play no more,''' Chargers linebacker Tim Dobbins said. "I don't know if they watched film or what.

"In our mind, we knew he wasn't blocking. We knew he had to get the ball. He's not getting paid to block. Everybody knows that, everybody in the stands knew that. We knew it was going to be a flip or a dive, one or the other. I don't know what they were thinking.”

While Dallas stumbled when it counted, San Diego made plays when it had to. Just like great teams do in December.

Hardwick won't play Sunday

November, 6, 2009
11/06/09
5:20
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

Nick Hardwick will not play Sunday at the New York Giants, after all.

The San Diego Chargers have declared the standout center out for Sunday’s game. There was some thought that Hardwick could play for the first time since Week 1 when he practiced some with the first team offense this week. He started practicing lightly last week.

Yet, Hardwick didn’t practice Friday. He could have a chance to play Nov. 15 at home against Philadelphia. Hardwick had ankle surgery after being hurt in the season opener at Oakland.

Meanwhile, starting inside linebacker Kevin Burnett is questionable to play Sunday with ankle injury that kept him out of the past two games. He didn’t practice Friday. His backup, Tim Dobbins, is doubtful with a knee injury he suffered last week.

Evening AFC West news and notes

November, 4, 2009
11/04/09
10:05
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

• San Diego center Nick Hardwick worked with the first team some Wednesday. He had been out since Week 1 and he was supposed to be out until December. San Diego coach Norv Turner, talking to reporters Wednesday, made it seem like Hardwick is a long shot to play at New York on Sunday. Perhaps Hardwick will have a better chance of playing Nov. 15 at home against Philadelphia.

“He took a couple snaps with our offensive group. He did mostly the opponent stuff,” Turner said. “You get into this situation where they’re starting to get close. There’s a possibility, but we’ll see where he’s at tomorrow in terms of if he has any setbacks. I think it would be hard for him to play this week but he might be able to be there in an emergency situation and be available.”

• Linebacker Kevin Burnett (ankle) and Tim Dobbins (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Dobbins was hurt while replacing Burnett. The team hopes Burnett, who missed the past two games, could start Sunday.

• Oakland coach Tom Cable talked to owner Al Davis about physical abuse allegations made against him. Cable expects to remain the team’s coach. The fact that Cable was with the team Wednesday is a good sign for him as the team heads to the bye.

• Center Samson Satele will remain Oakland’s center when the unit is back at full strength after the bye. Satele was acquired from Miami to be the starter but he initially didn’t take control of the position.

• Chiefs coach Todd Haley discusses new receiver Chris Chambers. Center Rudy Niswanger was limited in practice with a knee injury.

Pregame notes from San Diego

November, 1, 2009
11/01/09
3:27
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

San Diego’s Malcolm Floyd is starting for Chris Chambers at receiver. Chambers has been dealing with an ankle injury and he is not having a productive season. He is active Sunday.

San Diego inside linebacker Kevin Burnett is out with an ankle injury for the second straight week. He is being replaced by Tim Dobbins.

San Diego defensive tackle Ian Scott is starting for Ogemdi Nwagbuo, who has been dealing with an ankle injury.

Oakland receiver Chaz Schilens is out because of a setback in his return from a broken foot. He has been out for 10 weeks.

Guard Robert Gallery is inactive. The team was hopeful he could play for the first time since suffering a broken leg in Week 2.

It is 74 degrees with perfect conditions in San Diego.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

It appears Oakland receiver Chaz Schilens will continue to be sidelined with a broken foot.

Schilens has been listed as doubtful to play at San Diego on Oakland’s injury report Friday. He didn’t practice all week. Schilens has been out for 10 weeks. The team hoped to get him back a few weeks ago, but he has suffered setbacks.

Oakland defensive end Greg Ellis did not practice all week with a knee issue. He is listed as questionable. Guard Robert Gallery was limited all week and he is listed as questionable. He hasn’t played since suffering a broken left in Week 2. Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski practiced Friday after sitting out two days with an illness. He is probable. Receiver Louis Murphy is probable. He practiced fully Friday. He was limited by a hip injury Thursday.

For San Diego, linebacker Kevin Burnett is doubtful and he will likely be replaced by Tim Dobbins for the second straight week. Burnett has an ankle injury. San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman practiced fully Friday for the first time this week because of a foot injury. He is listed as probable.

Meanwhile, the Chargers sold enough tickets to avoid a local television blackout Sunday. The team was given an extension by the league until Friday.

Cassel's streak ends (big time)

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
3:37
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

KANSAS CITY -- Tough way for Matt Cassel's streak to end.

In a rainstorm, San Diego linebacker Tim Dobbins intercepted a pass on a deflection. It ended Cassel’s streak of 153 passes without an interception.

It was a cheap way for Cassel’s streak to end.

However, Cassel got his money’s worth two passes later when San Diego defensive back Paul Oliver grabbed a badly overthrown pass by Cassel and returned it deep in Kansas City territory. Then, two passes later, San Diego safety Steve Gregory intercepted Cassel on a bad pass. It seems Dobbins' pick caused Cassel to lose his concentration.

Cassel has completed 9 of 22 passes for 90 yards through three quarters.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

In a radio interview on SIRIUS NFL radio, free agent linebacker Derrick Brooks said he thinks he is no longer in Oakland's plans. The Raiders signed linebacker Morlon Greenwood on Sunday.

"As it's sitting right now, I just got back from Oakland early [Monday] and I see where they decided to go with Morlon Greenwood instead of myself," Brooks said in the interview. "I guess, after seeing me work out, I was told that the role, the immediate need they need to fill was one that they didn't see me doing in terms of being a special teams player, more or less, and a backup. They felt I've got a lot of starter snaps in me so I took that for what it's worth and move forward."

So, it appears the Brooks-Oakland talks can be put to rest for now. Of course, if Oakland suffers an injury, Brooks (who has also visited New Orleans) could get back into the picture in Oakland.

There are more developments in the Tom Cable-Randy Hanson story. Stay tuned. There will likely be numerous updates to this story.

Kansas City veterans are feeling the wear and tear of new coach Todd Haley's tough training camp.

The Chargers are happy with the play of inside linebackers Kevin Burnett and Tim Dobbins. Both should play a lot, but it looks like Burnett has the edge to start. He has been excellent in camp thus far.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Larry English's NFL preseason debut will have to wait.

San Diego coach Norv Turner announced Friday that the first-round pick will not play Saturday night against visiting Seattle because of a hamstring injury. The injury isn't expected to be overly serious and English is being held out as a precaution. He may be able to play Aug. 22 at Arizona.

Inside linebacker Stephen Cooper also won't play Saturday night because of an ankle injury. Cooper's absence will allow veteran Kevin Burnett (signed this offseason as a free agent from Dallas) and Tim Dobbins to play together. Burnett and Dobbins are fighting to play alongside Cooper in the team's 3-4 defense in the regular season. Burnett may have the inside track on the job.

Meanwhile, Turner wouldn't say whether running back LaDainian Tomlinson will play Saturday, which would mark his first preseason action in four years. Tomlinson said this week there is a 95 percent chance he will play. Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman will likely play some against Seattle. Merriman hasn't played since having knee surgery after Week 1.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Merriman gets most of his preseason snaps Saturday because the Chargers' next two games are on the road and on different playing surfaces than San Diego's natural grass. The Chargers finish the preseason at home, but starters rarely play in the last preseason game.

 
  Robert Benson/US Presswire
  The return of linebacker Shawne Merriman should bolster the San Diego defense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- Philip Rivers admits the San Diego Chargers may have embraced Super Bowl talk in recent years.

The Chargers have been sexy preseason Super Bowl picks the past few years. While they have won three straight AFC West crowns, they haven't been able to get past the AFC Championship Game. Last season, San Diego's year ended in the divisional playoffs after a gallant effort in Pittsburgh.

Camp Confidential: AFC West
• Raiders: Fri., July 31
• Chargers: Tues., Aug. 4
• Broncos: Wed., Aug. 12
• Chiefs:
Thurs., Aug. 20
Training camp index

This year, the Chargers are not really interested in participating in any Super Bowl talk.

"There's nothing to talk about," said Rivers. "We've done all that talking. Now, it's just time to go out week to week and prove it."

This is how linebacker Shawne Merriman puts it: "Nobody is going through their lockers looking for the Super Bowl rings they are going to give us. We're not worried about it. All we are really looking at [is] Week 1. And then, we'll go from there. It's a new attitude. We're just going week to week."

San Diego coach Norv Turner says the attitude is a byproduct of the team knowing that it is good and in its prime. Still, after having to scramble late in the season the past two years to make the postseason, Turner said many on the team are trying not to look ahead.

Fantasy Football: 32 Questions
Tristan H. Cockcroft addresses the issue of whether Darren Sproles will elevate to flex-play status in 2009. Story

"We can play with anybody, they all know that," Turner said. "This year it's just about taking it one step at a time and not getting ahead of ourselves."

Key questions

1. Will Merriman be healthy?

The Chargers were lost on defense much of last season without Merriman. His worth to the defense was dramatically on display when Merriman missed all but one game because of a knee injury.

 
  Stan Liu/US Presswire
  Injuries have slowed LaDainian Tomlinson the past two seasons.

Merriman, who led the NFL with 39.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons, is also good in coverage and is an enforcer who sets the tone for the defense. In defensive coordinator Ron Rivera's system, Merriman should be a terror.

By all accounts, Merriman is ready to play. He will be brought along slowly in camp and in the preseason, but he's expected to be at full-go for the Chargers' opening game Sept. 14 at Oakland. If Merriman can stay healthy, San Diego's defense should be much improved.

2. Does LaDainian Tomlinson have anything left?

Tomlinson nearly didn't return this season but the two sides agreed on a restructured contract.

Tomlinson has some things going against him. He just turned 30, which, frankly, is quite old for an NFL running back. He has dealt with injuries toward the end of the past two seasons and he had his least productive season of his eight-year NFL career in 2008.

Can he still produce at a high level? The Chargers believe if Tomlinson can stay healthy he should be fine. The San Diego offensive line is healthy going into this season, which wasn't the case last season, and there's reserve Darren Sproles to ease Tomlinson's load.

3. Can San Diego start fast?

This was a big question last season and the Chargers couldn't figure it out, so it remains. Look, San Diego is significantly better than its competition in the AFC West. If it can start fast, it can run away from the rest of the division.

Rivers admitted that fighting back from a bad start has worn out the Chargers the past two years. In 2007, San Diego was 5-5 before finishing 11-5. Last season, San Diego became the only team in NFL history to start 4-8 and make the playoffs. The Chargers hope their late-season heroics will be supplemented by better early-season play.

Market watch

This is an interesting time in San Diego. The Chargers have a veteran roster, but they are also mixing in some youngsters. The Chargers feel good about their rookie class. There are several rookies who are expected to make immediate contributions.

 
  Jody Gomez/US Presswire
  Larry English is expected to play a large role in the Chargers' defense.

San Diego came to this realization after the rookies performed so well in the offseason. If they continue to make progress during the rest of camp, San Diego could have as many as three rookie starters.

Top pick Larry English will essentially be a starter, although he may not be in every base package. Yet, the pass-rusher from Northern Illinois will be a major part of the defense. Third-round pick Louis Vasquez, is in a fight for a starting job at guard, and sixth-round pick Kevin Ellison has a chance to start at safety as well. Defensive lineman Vaughn Martin (fourth round) and power running back Gartrell Johnson (fourth round) also have a chance to make an impact as the Chargers slowly infuse their roster with younger talent.

Newcomer to watch

The Chargers have rarely been big players in free agency under general manager A.J. Smith. He'd prefer to build through the draft and he has done a fine job of it. But there is a free agent of note this season: linebacker Kevin Burnett.

The former Dallas role player has a chance to start at one of the Chargers' two inside linebacker spots in the 3-4 defense. Burnett is very strong in pass coverage and the Chargers believe he will improve a pass defense that was susceptible last season. Burnett has to beat out veteran Tim Dobbins, but the Chargers believe Burnett will be an impact player.

Observation deck

Veteran defensive tackle Jamal Williams is performing well in camp and is healthy. The Chargers expect him to be dominant this season. ... The Chargers are expecting good things from cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer. Jammer was good last season, but Cromartie struggled. He was dealing with a hip injury. He has been strong so far. ... San Diego is very comfortable with having defensive end  Jacques Cesaire start in place of Igor Olshansky, who signed with Dallas in the offseason. Cesaire is experienced and Olshansky didn't have a good season last year, so San Diego doesn't think there is a downgrade. ... San Diego is excited about using outside linebacker Shaun Phillips as a roamer in packages where both Merriman and English are on the field. ... Second-year fullback Jacob Hester got stronger in the offseason and looks primed to make strides.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Once the San Diego Chargers signed inside linebacker Kevin Burnett this offseason, Matt Wilhelm's days with the team appeared numbered.

Wilhelm's time in San Diego expired Friday.

The Chargers released him, days before training camp. Wilhelm was a part-time starter last season after starting 14 games in 2007. He had 68 tackles last season. Wilhelm had 247 tackles in six seasons in San Diego. He became a whipping boy of sorts for fans in San Diego last season as the Chargers suffered on defense.

The timing of the release means he can get a jump on catching on elsewhere before training camp starts.

Burnett, who is very good in pass coverage, and veteran Tim Dobbins will compete for a starting job. Both are expected to play in Ron Rivera's defensive system.

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