AFC West: Travis Goethel

Running back Peyton Hillis signed with Tampa Bay on Tuesday. The 27-year-old spent last season with the Chiefs, but the new Kansas City regime had no interest in bringing him back. The Chiefs took running back Knile Davis (from Hillis’ alma mater, Arkansas) in the third round as a backup for star Jamaal Charles.

The previous regime brought Hillis to Kansas City on a one-year deal, with the idea of him being a dynamic backup to Charles. Hillis, a former standout in Cleveland, had 309 yards on 85 carries last season.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs suffered a blow on the first day of rookie training camp. The Kansas City Star reported that the team's fifth-round pick, defensive back Sanders Commings, fractured his left collarbone and will likely miss all of camp. He has a chance to help this season, but this is surely a setback. Commings had a strong offseason session.

In other AFC West notes:

The Raiders cut cornerback Coye Francies and linebacker Travis Goethel -- Francies because of a failure to disclose a physical condition. Both were backups last year. Goethel was once considered a promising prospect, but injuries derailed his Raiders career. He will most be remembered in Oakland for a disastrous night as a long-snapper in the opening loss to San Diego last season, after standout Jon Condo was hurt.

Buffalo cut pass-rusher Mark Anderson. He was injured last season. He had 10 sacks for the Patriots in 2011. Oakland needs a pass-rusher badly; perhaps it could show some interest in Anderson.

ESPN.com columnist Jeffri Chadiha thinks the Broncos can handle a four-game NFL suspension of star linebacker Von Miller.
It’s not shocking that Oakland running back Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson are not practicing. They both suffered high-ankle sprains in Week 9 and they missed Week 10. High-ankle sprains are difficult to come back from and they often can take three to four weeks to recover.

Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour is also not practicing because of a hamstring problem that kept him out in Week 10. Starting safeties Tyvon Branch (neck) and Matt Giordano (concussion) are not practicing Wednesday, either. This, of course, can be a problem.

Meanwhile, the Raiders signed linebacker Omar Gaither. He has 40 starts with the Eagles and Panthers. He should be a backup in Oakland. To make room for Gaither, linebacker Travis Goethel was put on injured reserve with a knee injury. The Raiders worked out some other linebackers Tuesday, including veteran Scott McKillop.

Steve Breaston is not active

November, 12, 2012
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Todd Haley will not be able to see one of his favorite players Monday night in Pittsburgh.

Kansas City receiver Steve Breaston is a healthy scratch for Monday night’s game. He was brought to Kansas City last season by Haley when he was the head coach. Breaston played for Haley when he was an assistant in Arizona. Haley was fired by the Chiefs last December and he is now the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. Rookie Devon Wylie is active in Breaston’s place.

Breaston has six catches in new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system. He had 61 catches last season and he’s had, at least, 47 catches a season since catching eight balls as a rookie in Arizona in 2007.

Meanwhile, Kansas City offensive linemen Branden Albert (back) and center Ryan Lilja (neck) are playing Monday night. They were both questionable.

It is raining in Pittsburgh on Monday.

In other AFC West news:

Oakland running back Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson – who both suffered high ankle sprains against Tampa Bay in Week 9 and didn’t play Sunday at Baltimore – are still in walking boots. They will likely not play Sunday against New Orleans barring major improvement.

The NFL released a statement the punt return by Denver’s Trindon Holliday should have been reviewed and should have been ruled a touchback because he flipped the ball out of his hands before he crossed the goal line in Denver’s 36-14 win at Carolina.

Oakland is putting reserve linebacker Travis Goethel on injured reserve because of a season-ending knee injury he suffered Sunday at Baltimore. Bringing back linebacker Vic So'oto is not an option. He signed with Green Bay on Monday. The Raiders cut him Saturday to make room for Aaron Curry of the PUP.

The Chargers expect starting nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin to miss a couple of weeks with a knee injury.

Detroit claimed cornerback Pat Lee, who was cut by the Raiders on Saturday.
SAN DIEGO -- I’m just about to head to Qualcomm Stadium for the Titans-Chargers game, but before I do, here are some quick hits from around the AFC West:

Oakland has its snapper back. Jon Condo will long snap for the Raiders at Miami. He left last week’s home loss to San Diego with a concussion and was replaced by the inexperienced Travis Goethel. He botched three snaps that directly led to nine Chargers’ points in a 22-14 San Diego win.

As expected, Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers will make his season debut after being out since late July with a foot injury.

Also, as expected, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Chargers’ running back Ryan Mathews is not going to play Sunday. He is expected to play next week. He broke his clavicle Aug. 9.

Talk to you soon.

Raiders' injury news

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CSN Bay Area is reporting Stefen Wisniewski is practicing at center with the first team Wednesday. He has been out with a calf injury. Alex Parson took his place. Also, the website is reporting that receiver Denarius Moore (hamstring) is practicing, but long snapper Jon Condo (concussion) is not.

I’d expect Moore to play for the first time this season unless there is a setback. The NFL has strict rules for concussion recovery, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Condo does not play. I’d think the Raiders would bring in a new long snapper if that is the case. I can’t see how Raiders could use linebacker Travis Goethel as a snapper. He had three bad snaps that directly resulted in nine points for the Chargers in a 22-14 San Diego win on Monday night.

UPDATE: The Raiders gave themselves some insurance by signing former San Diego camp snapper Nick Guess to the practice squad. He could be promoted if Condo isn’t ready Sunday at Miami and if Oakland doesn’t opt for a veteran replacement. I, personally, would sign a veteran. Goethal showed that the lack of NFL game experience can be a problem.

In other AFC West notes:

U-T San Diego is reporting that San Diego starting quarterback Quentin Jammer had surgery on a broken hand, but he will play Sunday against Tennessee with a cast on his hand. Still, it could affect Jammer’s play. Backup cornerback Shareece Wright has an ankle injury. The issues could potentially cause San Diego to seek cornerback help.

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has pushed his way up from No. 10 to No. 4 on Mike Sando’s MVP Watch after a successful Broncos’ debut.

Here are our Accuscore preview videos for the AFC West games this week: Oakland at Miami, Tennessee at San Diego, Kansas City at Buffalo and Denver at Atlanta.

A Chiefs’ employee apologized for getting into a twitter tiff with a frustrated fan after the Chiefs lost to the Falcons on Sunday.

Oakland reportedly signed cornerback Coye Francies to the practice squad. He was cut last week. Receiver Brandon Carswell was cut from the Raiders’ practice squad. Carswell was kept on the practice squad over fellow receiver Derek Carrier this month. Carrier just signed with the Eagles’ practice squad. He was a highly touted undrafted free-agent signing in Oakland.

The Raiders also defensive lineman Brandon Bair to the practice squad, and cut linebacker Nathan Stupar and defensive tackle Vaughn Meatoga from the practice squad. Stupar was a seventh-round pick.
The unfortunate nationally televised deconstruction of Travis Goethel put the long-snapper position in the spotlight -- and has caused some NFL coaches to rethink their teams' situation at that position.

Goethel
Goethel, a reserve linebacker, made three bad snaps that directly resulted in nine points for the Chargers in an eventual 22-14 San Diego victory. Goethal took over for Pro Bowl long-snapper Jon Condo after Condo suffered a head injury in the second quarter.

Goethel said Monday night that he hadn’t long-snapped in a game since high school and that he practiced some snaps before the game. Tuesday, after seeing how injury to a long-snapper can dramatically change the outcome of a game, the Chicago Bears had their backup snapper work extensively.

I spoke to former NFL long-snapper and current ESPN college football analyst Trevor Matich about long-snapping and how important practicing the art is.

“There is immense pressure to snapping,” Matich said.

Matich doesn’t know anything about Goethel. But in general terms, he said, snappers, even backups, have to have the ability and mental makeup to do the job.

“A starting snapper has hundreds of snaps a week and the backup should do the same,” Matich said. “They need to be prepared and that is the responsibility of the player and his coaches.”

Matich said once snapping mistakes occur, the situation can snowball.

“A bad snap is mental,” Matich said. “Once they happen, you tell yourself not to mess up. What you are doing is programming yourself to mess up.”

Goethel’s bad night put snappers in the spotlight, which is never a good thing, Matich said.

“A perfect snapper is a guy who you never know what his name is,” Matich said.

Unfortunately for Goethel, plenty of people are family with his name.

AFC West Stock Watch

September, 12, 2012
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Falling

Oakland backup long-snapper Travis Goethel: Goethel was put in a tough spot, but he will forever live in infamy in the Raider Nation. After Pro Bowl long-snapper Jon Condo left the game with a head injury Monday night, Goethel had three bad snaps in a row in the third quarter that directly resulted in nine points for San Diego in a 22-14 Chargers win. Goethel will likely never snap another ball for the Raiders.

Kansas City defense: The Chiefs allowed Atlanta to score 40 points on Sunday in a 40-24 loss. Granted, the Chiefs were without four defensive starters. But allowing 40 points is simply not giving your offense a chance to win the game. The Chiefs should get healthier soon, but the defense was a big problem to start the season.

Chargers’ red zone offense: The Chargers were given great field position on four Oakland turnovers. Yet, the Chargers couldn’t do much with them. San Diego was 1-for-5 in the red zone. Yes, the Chargers won, but red zone offense is an area this team must improve on.

Rising

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning: Manning didn’t look like he didn’t play in 19 months. He didn’t look like he had four neck surgeries and he didn’t look 36. He looked brilliant in his Denver debut, a 31-19 win over Pittsburgh. He looked like himself. That is great news for Denver and not-so-great news for the rest of the NFL.

Chargers defense: The Chargers focused on improving the defense in the offseason after a second straight playoff-less season. The defensive concentration paid off. San Diego was terrific against the run and against the pass. It dictated the game and was very physical. This unit has real potential.

Denver’s defense: Denver’s defense made great strides in 2011 after being the worst defense in the NFL in 2010. Against Pittsburgh, in the debut of new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, Denver looked better than last season. It sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and it held the Steelers to 75 yards rushing. That combination can win a lot of games.

Moving on: Oakland Raiders

September, 11, 2012
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Here are some areas the Oakland Raiders need to focus on after a 22-14 home loss to San Diego on Monday night:

Recap: The Raiders began the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era with a sloppy home defeat. Backup-long snapper Travis Goethel (regular long-snapper Jon Condo left with a head injury) had three bad snaps that resulted in nine points for the Chargers. But the Raiders also have offensive issues as they lost a key AFC West matchup.

Biggest area to fix: The Raiders need to make more explosive offensive plays. They ran for just 45 yards on 20 carries. And they had just four plays longer than 15 yards. The Raiders will get receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford back at some point and that will help. But Oakland needs to be more explosive.

Biggest area to build on: The Oakland defense was put in some tough situations because of the special-teams miscues. But it did not fold. The Raiders forced the Chargers to settle for five field goals. That is a sign of a tough-minded unit.

What to watch for: The Raiders' defense has a chance to go against Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Sunday. This is a great opportunity for the Raiders to even their record at 1-1. Yes, they have a long trip after a short week, but this is a winnable game.
Phillip RiversEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesPhilip Rivers threw for just 231 yards, but it was enough to beat the Raiders on Monday night.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- A piece of Shane Lechler's helmet rocketed onto the field after the superstar punter smashed it on the sideline. He could no longer control his emotions moments after yet another meltdown by an inexperienced long-snapper forced into duty.

As pieces of Lechler’s helmet exploded into the Oakland air, yet another snapping adventure gone bad sullied an AFC West team on "Monday Night Football."

Parents, you might want to send your kids to long-snapping camp (if they exist). The Oakland Raiders showed a national audience there is a premium at the position. Yes, the start of the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era in Oakland was undone by a series of bad snaps. Crazy, huh?

Yes, but the beneficiary of the horrors feels Travis Goethel's pain. Like Goethel did Monday night, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers fueled a loss on ESPN’s "Monday Night Football" with a snapping issue on Halloween last year.

Monday, though, Rivers stayed far away from the gaffe department and that is a great sign for the San Diego Chargers, who began a crucial season for coach Norv Turner with a 22-14 win at Oakland.

[+] EnlargeDante Rosario and Shane Lechler
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesUntil Monday night Shane Lechler had not had a punt blocked since 2006.
The headline of this inartistic game will be Goethel’s three bad snaps that resulted in nine points for the Chargers in the second half. The reserve linebacker -- who instantly goes into the annals of "Monday Night Football" infamy -- was forced into the game because of a head injury suffered by Pro Bowl snapper Jon Condo.

Condo is valued by the Raiders because we never hear his name. I’ve only written the words “Jon Condo” to write about him punching a ticket to Hawaii. Had he stayed in the game, the Chargers surely would not have been given nine free points.

But the underlying story was that the Chargers won. And if they are going to snap a two-year playoff drought, they are going to have to continue to win the way they did at Oakland -- with clean, gutsy play by Rivers and a suffocating, tough defense.

Goethel will surely be vilified by Raider Nation for his snapping woes. But the truth is, the San Diego defense shut down Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer when it needed to. Oakland had just 29 yards of offense in the third quarter as the Chargers pulled away from the Raiders.

Had Palmer and Oakland’s offense not been forced to punt three times in the third quarter, Goethel’s problems wouldn’t have been an issue.

In the end, Rivers was better than Palmer. And the Chargers won the game.

This was an important game for Rivers, who played it without left tackle Jared Gaither, running back Ryan Mathews and promising receiver Vincent Brown. With undrafted rookie Mike Harris protecting his blind side, Rivers (who was sacked just once) was sharp, showing that his often-troublesome 2011 season may be behind him.

Rivers’ numbers weren’t explosive. He completed 24 of 33 passes for 231 yards. Yes, the Chargers were able to punch the ball into the end zone one time and they had to settle for five field goals.

But Rivers did his job. Most importantly, he played a clean game. Even without three crucial pieces of the offense, Rivers never came close to making a mistake.

“He got us in and out of bad plays,” Turner said of his quarterback. “I thought he was disciplined in the red zone.”

That wasn’t always the case last season. Rivers threw 20 interceptions last year and he was picked off four times this preseason. Although he improved in the final six games of last season, Rivers made a crucial mistake in virtually all of the Chargers’ first 10 games.

The grandest of all Rivers’ 2011 mistakes was a botched snap from center with the Chargers preparing to end the game with a chip-shot field goal on Oct. 31 at Kansas City. The Chiefs ended up winning. Had Rivers handled that snap, the Chargers, who finished 8-8 with Denver and Oakland, would have ended up winning the AFC West.

Now, Rivers is in charge of pushing another San Diego playoff march. If he plays the way he did Monday night and keeps the mistakes to a minimum, I wouldn’t bet against him.

The Chargers’ offense will get healthy and a strong defensive showing by the Chargers on Monday has to make Turner, who will surely be fired if he doesn’t lead San Diego to the playoffs, encouraged. This team has talent, and strong play by Rivers and the defense will go a long way.

But all is not lost for the Raiders. The Oakland defense -- which lost starting cornerback Ronald Bartell for at least six weeks with a shoulder blade injury -- looked improved and it showed a strong personality by forcing the Chargers into the five field goals in distressing situations.

The biggest problem, other than the special-teams woes, was Oakland’s offense stalled in key moments. Its only touchdown came in garbage time. According to ESPN Stats & Information, San Diego’s defense stifled Palmer downfield. He was just 3-of-8 for 58 yards on passes that traveled 15 yards or more.

Yes, Palmer was playing without receivers Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore. But the Raiders simply couldn’t get enough offense going and that falls on Palmer, who still has to show the organization he was worth the two premium draft picks the former regime gave up to get him from Cincinnati last October.

Monday, Rivers and the Chargers answered the call, while Palmer and the Raiders didn’t. But in the AFC West, we know everything can change in a snap.

 

OAKLAND -- A look at a hard-fought AFC West game on Monday night:

What it means: In a game of two battered teams, it was the Chargers who started a critical season for coach Norv Turner with a win. Meanwhile, the Raiders were betrayed by special teams and a stalled offense to spoil the debut of the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era.

Raiders may need a snapper: Oakland long snapper Jon Condo left in the first half with a head injury. Reserve linebacker Travis Goethel took over and delivered three bad snaps in the second half. It changed the game's momentum and resulted in three field goals for the Chargers as they ran away with the game. If Condo has to miss an extensive amount of time, perhaps Oakland will look to sign former Denver snapper Lonie Paxton. He was cut this month. Clearly, the Raiders could do worse than the 12-year veteran.

McFadden is Palmer’s favorite target: With receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford injured, Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer relied heavily on screen passes to running back Darren McFadden. He had 13 catches for 86 yards. It was a career high and a Raiders’ record for a running back. McFadden, who missed the final nine games of last season, struggled on the ground, though. He had just 32 yards on 15 carries.

Oakland’s third-down defense does well: Oakland’s defense tightened when it had to and held San Diego to five field goals and one touchdown. Rivers made his plays, but Oakland can build on this defensive performance.

Oakland’s offense stalls in third quarter: Oakland had just 29 yards of offense in the third quarter and was unable to gain any momentum. Had the Raiders' offense been successful, the Goethel gaffes would have never happened. San Diego’s defense was mostly terrific, especially in the second half. The Chargers should be very excited.

Raiders' penalties: The Raiders were penalized six times for 35 yards. That is encouraging for a team that set an NFL record for penalties and penalty yardage last year.

Chargers' third-down defense iffy: The Chargers’ third-down defense was worst in the NFL last season. While Oakland converted on only 5 of 15 third-downs, they made a few big plays on the ones they hit. The Chargers need to do better.

What’s next: San Diego opens its home slate against 0-1 Tennessee and Oakland travels all the way to Miami on a short week to face the 0-1 Dolphins.
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.

AFC West links: Poe sees pass-rush reps

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Denver Broncos

Though players see a variety of benefits in Denver's ongoing organized team activities, better chemistry is atop the list, Mike Adams and Von Miller tell the Broncos' official site.

The Broncos are better off without quarterback Tim Tebow and the distractions that followed him, writes Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. "Through no real fault of his own, Tebow turned Broncos County against itself, the endless bickering as inescapable as being trapped between Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh at a cocktail party."

Kansas City Chiefs

First-round draft pick Dontari Poe saw lots of time during pass-rush drills during Thursday's practice session; in earlier run-focused drills, Adam Teicher reports, Poe had been backing up Amon Gordon at nose tackle.

Rookie guard Jeff Allen, the Chiefs' second-round pick, was wearing a walking boot and did not participate in OTAs after suffering an ankle injury.

Oakland Raiders

The rookies found their heads spinning a bit as the team wrapped up its second week of OTAs, the Raiders' official site reports.

After missing all of last season with a knee injury, Travis Goethel is healthy and ready to move from weakside to middle linebacker should legal issues take Rolando McClain off the field, he tells Paul Gutierrez.

San Diego Chargers

After nine seasons in Baltimore, "I kind of feel like a rookie again," linebacker Jarret Johnson tells the Chargers' official site as he settles into a new defense.

The Chargers have relied heavily on Shaun Phillips as a pass-rusher for the past several seasons, but the veteran linebacker is excited about the reinforcements brought in this offseason, writes Scott Bair of the North County Times. "We had depth at linebacker my first few years, and it was a main reason why we were successful," Phillips said. "Over the last few seasons, it's been tough to weather the injuries we've had. But the additions we've made have been great. Each guy has a set of skills we can utilize. Together, we can be a strong unit."

Could Briggs be the next Seymour?

September, 2, 2011
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It was two years ago this weekend that the Oakland Raiders rocked the NFL by coming out of nowhere and trading for star defensive lineman Richard Seymour.

Could it happen again?

Chicago weakside linebacker Lance Briggs wants to be traded. The Raiders have been considering addressing weakside linebacker (Quentin Groves is the current starter) all summer, especially with the season-ending injury suffered by second-year linebacker Travis Goethel. Oakland owner Al Davis could be tempted to make a run at Briggs, a Sacramento native.

Seymour, who was 29 at the time of his trade, was acquired -- for a No. 1 pick in 2011 -- partly because Oakland’s defense was horrible in the 2009 preseason. Oakland’s defense has struggled this summer. Davis wants to win now and I could see him considering making a run at Briggs. He’d be another player on a talented unit.

Financially, making it work might be tight. Briggs, 30, wants more cash. But we know financial restraints haven’t gotten in Davis’ way in the past when he wanted to do something.

ESPN.com NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert doesn’t think Chicago will trade Briggs, so this deal won’t be easy if the Raiders are, indeed, interested.

No shockers among Oakland's cuts

August, 30, 2011
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The Oakland Raiders have cut their roster down to 80 players. There are no surprises although safety Josh Bullocks was a veteran addition to the team. Here are Oakland’s cuts: Fullback Bryson Kelly, wide receivers Steve Goulet and Damola Adeniji, offensive linemen Ben Lamaak and Lou Eliades, defensive tackle Derrick Hill and Bullocks. Linebacker Travis Goethel and offensive lineman Alan Pelc were officially placed on injured reserve as expected.

The Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs have already made their cuts and the San Diego Chargers have made several. The deadline is Tuesday afternoon.

In other AFC West nuggets Tuesday afternoon:

New Kansas City tackle Jared Gaither is working to knock the rust off after missing all of last season with a back injury.

New Denver running back Willis McGahee talks about his ability near the goal line in a radio interview with a Denver station.

In an attempt to drum up ticket sales, the Dolphins are hoping to cash in on Tim Tebows return to Florida in October. Hey, aren’t the Dolphins dissatisfied with their quarterback situation and isn’t Tebow buried in Denver? Hey, we have an idea.

Meanwhile, as Tebow's status in Denver drops, so are the sales of his jersey. The former No.1 jersey seller in the league is now 10th.

New Orleans defensive end Alex Brown announced he has been cut. Denver could use more veterans on the defensive line and new Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was on the Saints’ staff last season.

The Chiefs cut kicker Todd Carter and put backup tackle Ryan O'Callaghan on the injured reserve.

Oakland cornerback Chris Johnson has returned to practice after missing a couple of weeks. He will likely start Week 1 at Denver and his return should help Oakland. The Raider have had shaky preseason play at the position.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting former New England safety James Sanders will visit Kansas City if he doesn’t sign with Atlanta during his current visit there. Sanders played for Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli in New England. Sanders would be part of the Chiefs’ rotation at safety.

Late-summer AFC West checkpoint

August, 26, 2011
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This unusual NFL season is about to start in two weeks. A lot has happened in the month since the lockout has been lifted. With the signing period and training camps over, let’s take a checkpoint look at each AFC West team:

Denver

Key pickups: Running back Willis McGahee, defensive tackle Ty Warren (he could be out for the year with a triceps injury), defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, defensive end Derrick Harvey, tight end Daniel Fells.

Key losses: Offensive tackle Ryan Harris.

Story of camp: There has been quarterback news nearly at a daily clip. The fallout is this: Kyle Orton is the starter, Brady Quinn looks like he has the edge to be the backup and second-year quarterback Tim Tebow is currently the third-stringer after a less-than-spectacular training camp. Don’t expect Denver to trade or cut Tebow. He should be in Denver this year, but perhaps being nothing more than a special-package player. Give credit to both Orton (who was nearly dealt to Miami in the days right after the lockout ended) and to Quinn. Both have played well during the tumultuous time at the position.

Keep an eye on: Denver’s defense. The Broncos took a hit with Warren’s injury. He was the team’s big-ticket pickup and he was signed to give stability at the team’s weakest area. But the Broncos seem to have made some strides on defense this summer. The unit, which was No. 32 in the NFL last year, seems more aggressive and it has some playmakers. Pass-rushers Elvis Dumervil (back from missing all of last season with a pectoral injury) and No. 2 overall pick Von Miller look like they could give this unit life. It's clear new head coach John Fox has already positively impacted this unit.

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: "Denver may be better than people realize. I don’t love the offense, but it will be OK. Defensively, I think they will be much better. I think the front office had a promising offseason as they rebuild.”

Kansas City

Key pickups: Receiver Steve Breaston, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, fullback Le'Ron McClain, offensive tackle Jared Gaither, linebacker Brandon Siler (he is out for season with a torn Achilles).

Key losses: Defensive linemen Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith

Story of camp: The defending AFC West champions had a nice, quiet, productive camp -- until the final days of it. The Chiefs built great momentum after adding several key veterans to an already-impressive roster. The only controversy was whether or not coach Todd Haley was taking a chance by taking camp slowly as a precaution because of missed time during the offseason due to the lockout. Then, the bombshell hit. It was reported that first-round pick Jon Baldwin and veteran running Thomas Jones had a locker room fight. Baldwin hurt his hand as a result and he is expected to miss the rest of the preseason. The Chiefs aren’t talking about it, but it is a strike against Baldwin, who had character concerns at Pitt. The Chiefs took Baldwin to help them win right away. This event isn’t a devastating blow, but it has to raise concerns.

Keep an eye on: Of all of the Chiefs’ moves, the signing of Gaither may be the most intriguing -- and the most promising if he can stay healthy. Before he missed all of last season with a back injury, Gaither was considered one of the better young left tackles in the NFL. Assuming he can play, Gaither could play either left tackle or right tackle. If he plays left tackle, Branden Albert would move to right tackle. He could further solidify a good line.

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: “I think Kansas City is the second-best team in the division. Give the Chiefs credit. They have surrounded Matt Cassel with every possible weapon to help make him successful. They are also solid on defense. I just don’t think they are as good as the Chargers.”

Oakland

Key pickups: Tight end Kevin Boss, quarterback Trent Edwards, quarterback Terrelle Pryor

Key losses: Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, tight end Zach Miller, guard Robert Gallery

Story of camp: The Raiders lost some big names and they added some big names as they began the Hue Jackson era. However, a late-round pick from Tennessee stole the show in camp. It has been all about receiver Denarius Moore. He made headlines virtually every day in camp with one spectacular catch after another. Most importantly, he has played well in preseason games and he looks polished. Expect the Raiders to give this kid a chance to contribute right away once the regular season starts.

Keep an eye on: The Raiders’ health has been an issue all camp. Several players have missed serious time. Thus far, though, it doesn’t look like many key players will miss time in the regular season other than receiver Louis Murphy, who had surgery on an undisclosed injury, and young linebacker Travis Goethel is likely out for the year with a knee injury. The team said he won’t play at Denver on Sept. 12, but it hasn’t said how long he will be out. Other players such as Boss, receiver Chaz Schilens and cornerback Chris Johnson all could be back for the opener, which is part of an ESPN “Monday Night Football” doubleheader. Thus far, most of the injuries have been nagging and fairly minor. But sometimes the injury bug hits a team and doesn’t stop all season. For now, this is mostly a preseason nuisance.

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: "There are things I like. I love the front seven. I love Darren McFadden. But Jason Campbell is an average quarterback on a good day and the offensive line is in flux. Overall, inconsistencies make this the third best team in the division.”

San Diego

Key pickups: Linebacker Takeo Spikes, safety Bob Sanders, pass-rusher Travis LaBoy

Key losses: Running back Darren Sproles, linebacker Kevin Burnett, receiver Legedu Naanee.

Story of camp: I didn't sense this team scrambling to make up for lost time following the lockout. For the most part, the key components of this team are in place and several players worked out together locally during the length of the lockout. The Chargers had seemingly a zillion free agents and they kept the players they wanted. So, it has been a smooth camp in San Diego as continuity has been the key.

Keep an eye on: A lot has been made of the arrival of Spikes and Sanders to the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. But don’t discount impact of No. 18 overall pick Corey Liuget. The Illinois product has been outstanding. He has taken over the preseason games at times. He is an explosive defensive end who quickly gets into the backfield. The game doesn’t seem too big for Liuget. Expect him to be an instant starter and have a chance to be a premier player early in his career.

Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson's view: “I think San Diego is clearly the class of the division. I don’t think people are paying enough attention to this team. I love the offense. Philip Rivers is good as it gets. He has great weapons. Defensively, this team has added playmakers at every level. If the special teams can improve even marginally, they are going to win a lot more games. This could be the year. I think they are a sleeper team that could win it all.”

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