AFC West: Vincent Brown

Keenan AllenAP Photo/Gregory BullKeenan Allen became the fifth rookie since 2000 to top 1,000 receiving yards (1,046 on 71 catches).
SAN DIEGO -- It’s been an eventful offseason for San Diego Chargers receiver Keenan Allen.

Just check Allen’s Instagram account for all of the quirky details. He spent a day with friends at Disneyland, caught passes from Johnny Manziel while the quarterback trained for the draft here in San Diego, attended good friend Cincinnati receiver Marvin Jones' wedding and sat courtside to watch his favorite NBA star, LeBron James, perform against the Charlotte Hornets back in Allen’s home state of North Carolina -- all in the span of about two months.

“He takes his work serious, and he has a lot of pride in what he does,” Allen said about Manziel. “And I have a lot of respect for what he does. I respect his game.”

Of course, this offseason hasn't just been about Kodak moments for Allen. The Cal product also put in extensive work getting stronger and faster in the weight room and on the practice field, preparing for an encore performance to an impressive rookie season.

Allen is out to show doubters he’s not just a one-hit wonder, and his production during a magical rookie season wasn't a fluke.

“One thing for him that’s going to be key -- and I think he knows this -- is not to relax and think you’re going to just duplicate that year,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. “They’re going to know where No. 13 is, have a plan for him and try to take away the things he does well.”

Rivers said it will be important for Allen to focus on doing the small things well in order to improve in his second season. And Rivers believes his new No. 1 receiver has the right mindset.

Allen said a primary focus has been improving his speed. One reason Allen dropped to the third round in the 2013 draft is that he ran a slow time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. Still recovering from a knee issue that cut short his final season at Cal, Allen was timed at about 4.65 seconds.

Allen believes he is faster now and fully healthy.

“I mean if you run a 4.3 or 4.4, that obviously says that you're fast,” Allen said. “But a 4.6 guy can still make their way into the league. Some of the best receivers in the league ran a 4.5 or 4.6. So now that I'm healthy, I'm pretty sure I'm faster than 4.6.”

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco benefited from doing his homework, evaluating Allen in person and on film, and understanding how he consistently created separation to make big plays.

“His route-running [stood out],” Telesco said, when asked to provide one trait in the evaluation of Allen that would translate to the league. “Not only his quickness getting in and out of breaks, but his feel for it.”

Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich says Allen’s ability to make people miss at his size -- 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds -- makes him special.

“He has great wide receiver qualities,” Reich said. “He’s great off the line of scrimmage against press. He’s got great feet. He’s really good with the ball in his hand. You just ask him to keep building on what he did last year.

“From the fifth game on, he literally was a Pro Bowl-caliber player in his rookie year. He was phenomenal. Now, it’s all about consistency. Can you do it year in, year out?”

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesKeenan Allen took to the air to score a TD in an important December road win against Denver.
Allen could have missed out on the opportunity to shine during his rookie season. Still working his way back from the knee injury, he was mired near the bottom of San Diego’s depth chart behind Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown during training camp.

Struggling to pick up the offense and unfamiliar with how to handle not being the go-to guy, Allen became frustrated with his lack of playing time and contemplated leaving the team to pursue his other love -- music.

Allen had been singing in the church choir since he was a child, and he also taught himself how to play the piano. He and childhood friend Kenae Stokes spent time in the recording studio and produced a song, with a tentative title “Start the Party.”

But fate conspired to provide Allen with that opportunity to play, as Alexander and Floyd suffered season-ending injuries early last season, forcing Allen into a starting role.

“It was serious to the extent that I was talking to my mama -- and not anyone else,” Allen said about his contemplation of moving on from football. “It was just a thought. I just thought I wanted to do something else. She just told me to stick with it.

“Football is my love, my life. And I just kept playing. Unfortunately those injuries happened, and I was able to make my mark.”

Allen thrived as a starter, leading all rookies in 2013 and setting a team record with 1,046 receiving yards and 71 catches during the regular season. He became the fifth rookie since 2000 to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards, and he was just as effective in the postseason, finishing with eight catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns.

Allen proved to have a nose for the end zone, with eight touchdowns. His signature moment was a 19-yard touchdown on a drag route in a big win at Denver during the regular season. He jumped over defensive back Kayvon Webster and ran over safety Mike Adams to get into the end zone for the score.

A running back in high school, Allen had a growth spurt heading into his junior season, growing from 5-9 to 6-2. That growth spurt led to a change of position from running back to receiver. But Allen kept those instincts for running the football.

He should benefit from the return of Floyd. The 6-5, 225-pound receiver has been a surprise addition for the Chargers, returning from a serious neck injury and looking like his old self during offseason work.

The two receivers forged a strong bond, often getting together to play video games at Allen’s house.

“Malcom is definitely a go-to guy,” Allen said. “He’s one of the best athletes on the team. He’s tall. He’s fast. He’s quick. It’s kind of hard for a DB to get position on him because he’s so big. Just the way he goes out there every day, he works hard and makes plays. He’s just a motivational guy for me.”

While he’s ready to show what he can do on the field come September, Allen is not taking anything for granted. He says he has to once again earn his spot among a talented group of receivers.

“Vincent comes out and has a great practice almost every day,” Allen said. “He puts in work, so it’s real hard to compete with that. Not taking anything from Malcom or Eddie, but Vincent really stands out with his routes and stuff like that.

“There’s always competition. Nobody ever has their guaranteed spot, except for maybe Philip and Antonio Gates.”
Drafted as a developmental prospect last season, receiver Keenan Allen topped the San Diego Chargers' list for performance-based pay in 2013.

Allen added $218,153 to his a little over $1 million in total compensation in 2013. Following Allen on the list for the Chargers were safety Jahleel Addae ($196,582), an undrafted rookie free agent considered a long shot to make the final roster last season; offensive lineman Johnnie Troutman ($187,085); cornerback Richard Marshall ($181,694); and receiver Vincent Brown ($160,243).

Check out the full list for every NFL team here.

Established in 2002 as part of the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL's performance-based pay program is a fund created and used as a supplemental form of player compensation based on a comparison of playing time to salary.

Players become eligible to receive a bonus distribution in any regular season in which they play at least one official down.

Each NFL team received $3.46 million to pay out to their players for the 2013 season. Generally, players who benefit the most from the pool of money are those that played extensively but had low salaries relative to their teammates.

Allen played in 898 offensive snaps in 2013.
SAN DIEGO -- Drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft as a development prospect, hometown product Vincent Brown has shown steady growth and durability in his third NFL season.

Brown
The San Diego State product missed all of the 2012 season after suffering a broken ankle in the preseason. And Brown dealt with a nagging hamstring his rookie year that limited his availability.

But Brown has persevered in 2013, learning how to play through the bumps and bruises in the marathon that is an NFL season.

After season-ending injuries to fellow receivers Malcom Floyd (neck) and Danario Alexander (knee), Brown was viewed as the main beneficiary with an increased workload. Although Brown has started every game this season, rookie Keenan Allen has been the more frequent target of Philip Rivers’ passes.

Even with the limited touches, Brown hasn’t complained. And he’s been a willing blocker in the run game.

“When he’s gotten his number called when it’s came up in the progression, he’s answered,” Rivers said. “And he’s done that all year long. He probably hasn’t had as many catches as he anticipated, or even I anticipated. But I think he’s been consistent, and he’s been out there for us every week. This will be his 16th consecutive game, and I think he’s had a solid year.”

Brown has seen the ball come his way more lately. He’s been targeted 14 times over the past four games and has nine receptions for 138 yards in that time. For the season, Brown has 41 catches for 472 yards with a touchdown and just one drop.

“Whenever you can make plays and help out your team, of course that builds your confidence,” Brown said. “Everybody wants to be involved, try and make plays and help this team win.”

Most importantly, Brown is on pace to play a full, 16-game season for the first time.

“It means a lot, especially with the unfortunate things that did happen early in my career,” Brown said. “Missing the whole year last year with my ankle, and the first year with my hamstring, it’s been fun to just be out there and not have to worry about any big-time injuries.”

“It’s critical for any player,” added San Diego coach Mike McCoy, when asked about Brown’s durability. “It’s a physical game out there. Everyone tries to stay as healthy as possible, and fight through some nicks and bruises. And that’s what we’ve done all year long.”
SAN DIEGO -- A day after his team’s disappointing loss to the Miami Dolphins, San Diego coach Mike McCoy provided some updates on players who suffered injuries against Miami.

McCoy said rookie receiver Keenan Allen, who appeared to suffer a knee injury in the second half, should be available this week. Allen played in 49 of the possible 65 plays on offense for the Chargers.

“He’s fine,” McCoy said. “He’ll be playing, which is great.”

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Kent C. Horner/Getty ImagesChargers receiver Keenan Allen is expected to play in Week 12 after hurting his knee against Miami.
Nick Hardwick missed five plays because of a neck stinger that forced him to miss some practice time last week, but McCoy said his veteran center should practice on Wednesday.

And reserve cornerback Johnny Patrick suffered a concussion and will go through the league’s concussion protocol program this week before being cleared to return to the field. The Chargers said Patrick had a head injury after the game, but did not confirm whether or not he had suffered a concussion.

McCoy wouldn’t say if outside linebacker Melvin Ingram will return to practice this week. San Diego has until Tuesday to decide if Ingram will be allowed to practice with the rest of the team. Ingram began the regular season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in May.

If Ingram begins practicing this week, San Diego has 21 days to add him to the active roster or leave him on the reserve PUP list. So the latest the Chargers can activate Ingram is for the Denver game on Dec. 12, nearly seven months after his surgery.

“We’ll look at obviously the best interest of Melvin and the health of his knee,” McCoy said, when asked what will go into the organization making that decision. “And understand what we want to do moving forward with him. And we have a plan in place. We’ll let you know that as soon as we want to let everybody know.”

McCoy said his team will once again work on tackling after his defense struggled against the Dolphins. McCoy said San Diego had 12 missed tackles that led to 92 bonus yards after contact by Miami.

“I know we’re not always going to the ground, but that’s something we’ve been doing from the very first day we put our pads on,” McCoy said. “So that’s inexcusable. We’ve got to clean that up.”

McCoy also shouldered the blame for not telling the offense to spike the ball at the end of the game, which would have allowed the Chargers to run a few more plays while the team was driving for the winning score.

“We need to spike that,” McCoy said. “That was a mistake we made. And there’s no excuses for that, we just didn’t get it done.”

For the second time in three weeks, McCoy said quarterback Philip Rivers and receiver Vincent Brown were not on the same page, leading to another interception, this time a pick by Miami cornerback Brent Grimes in the opening quarter on Sunday.

“It was a double move,” McCoy said. “It was a slant-and-go, and he jumped inside of the corner when he’s got to go outside.”

Rapid Reaction: San Diego Chargers

November, 3, 2013
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LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 30-24 loss in overtime to the Washington Redskins.

What it means: The Chargers drop back to the .500 mark at 4-4, and are 2-1 against the NFC East.

Stock watch: San Diego’s top signing in free agency, cornerback Derek Cox, appeared to get benched in favor of Johnny Patrick in the third quarter after giving up a long completion to Pierre Garcon. Cox signed a four-year, $20 million deal in the offseason, including $10.25 million in guaranteed money. Cox has struggled to play up to the level of the contract. The Chargers had no answer for Garcon, who finished with seven catches for 172 yards.

Rivers struggles: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers scuffled coming off the bye week. He finished 29-of-46 for 341 yards, one touchdown on a screen pass to Eddie Royal, and two costly interceptions. But both turnovers weren’t all on Rivers. Vincent Brown appeared to break outside on a route that Rivers anticipated he would go inside, leading to an interception by Washington’s E.J. Biggers. In the second half, Keenan Allen was outmuscled for a 50-50 ball by a childhood friend -- cornerback David Amerson -- on an inside route in the fourth quarter.

Special teams show up: San Diego punter Mike Scifres twice had punts downed at the Washington 1-yard line. Lawrence Guy blocked a 25-yard field goal attempt by Kai Forbath, the first field goal blocked by the Chargers in 11 years. Guy also deflected a Robert Griffin III pass that was intercepted in the end zone by defensive tackle Sean Lissemore for San Diego’s first defensive touchdown of the season.

Washington runs it well: San Diego struggled containing Washington’s running game, led by tailback Alfred Morris. The Redskins finished with 209 rushing yards. Morris led the way, with 121 yards on 25 carries, including a 5-yard touchdown for a score.

What’s next: The Chargers head home to host AFC West rival Denver next Sunday.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It’s not uncommon for first-year coaches to have the type of see-saw season the San Diego Chargers are currently experiencing under Mike McCoy.

At 2-3 after a disappointing 27-17 loss to AFC West division rival Oakland, the Chargers have yet to win or lose two in a row through five games.

In order to develop into a championship-caliber team with sustained success, McCoy understands his team has to do the little things. And that means the Chargers can’t turn the ball over five times and expect to win.

The Chargers can’t have a 37-yard field goal blocked. Good teams don’t fail to recover a fumble defensively deep in their opponents’ territory.

Playoff teams get into the end zone on fourth-and-1 from the other team’s 1-yard line. Good teams don’t fall behind 17-0 to a team they’re favored to beat by five points.

Good teams aren’t lucky; they create their own luck. And if San Diego wants to be considered a good team, then the Chargers need to win the games they are supposed to, like the one they lost to Oakland on Sunday night -- even on the road.

“We’re a good football team,” McCoy said. “You’ve just got to keep playing, and that’s what we’re doing. You’ve just got to keep playing and keep going. Don’t worry about one play -- one score. That’s why you play for 60 minutes.”

Moral victories are for weak-minded people. The NFL is a bottom-line league, and if you have more losses than wins over a few seasons, you likely will not be in the league long.

So even though the Chargers rallied from a 24-3 deficit in the fourth quarter to actually have a chance to tie the game at 24-17 with a little over 10 minutes left, the fact is the Raiders dominated play on both sides of the ball for a majority of the contest.

“I’m not going to make excuses, if that’s what you’re looking for,” San Diego offensive lineman Jeromey Clary said. “We’re all pros here. And we’re expected to perform at a high level.”

The Chargers have experienced leaders on both sides of the ball who know what it takes to win in the NFL, including quarterback Philip Rivers, center Nick Hardwick, tight end Antonio Gates, safety Eric Weddle and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson.

[+] EnlargeMike McCoy
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsThe Chargers have yet to string together consecutive wins under new head coach Mike McCoy.
And they have some emerging young talent, including receivers Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown, defensive tackle Corey Liuget and linebackers Donald Butler and Manti Te'o.

However, this team has yet to develop a consistent blueprint to winning that allows them to reel off a streak of four or five wins in a row.

“No excuses, we got beat tonight,” McCoy said. “We came out, and we were outplayed in all three phases. It was tough to go on the road and turn the ball over the way we did and win a football game on the road against a good team.

“Too many big plays -- but it all starts with just executing the system that’s in place. There was a lack of execution. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we just have to keep working.”

Rivers had a September to remember, but a game to forget opening up the month of October. He threw for over 400 yards for a second straight game, completing 36 of 49 passes for 411 yards and three touchdowns.

But Rivers also had three costly interceptions, after throwing just two interceptions in the first four games.

Like the rest of his teammates, Rivers knows he has to perform consistently at a high level for this team to develop into a consistent winner.

“Certainly as an offense, when you turn it over five times, you’re not going to win usually,” Rivers said. “You very rarely overcome it, and then we found ourselves down 24-17 with 10 minutes left.

“That doesn’t make us feel any better. There was a lot more than just turnovers, but certainly on offense, we’ve got to make sure we don’t turn the ball over.”
OAKLAND -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers27-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

What it means: The Chargers dropped into the AFC West cellar with a loss to the Raiders in the team’s first divisional game. San Diego was the favorite heading into a contest for the first time this season but failed to play with the urgency needed to win on the road.

Blunders and miscues reign: The Chargers turned the ball over five times, and the Raiders converted those miscues into 17 points. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw three interceptions, including one on the opening series, which Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor quickly converted into a 44-yard touchdown pass to Rod Streater. Eddie Royal's muffed punt was recovered by Oakland’s Chimdi Chekwa and converted into a 47-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal in the second quarter. And Charles Woodson scored a touchdown on a 25-yard fumble return when linebacker Kevin Burnett jarred the ball loose from Danny Woodhead on a big hit in the third quarter. The Chargers also had a field goal try blocked. San Diego’s defense failed to contain Pryor, who finished 18-of-23 passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns.

Offense sputters: San Diego’s offense had been purring through the first quarter of the season heading into Sunday’s contest, but Rivers and the rest of the offense sputtered against the Raiders. The Chargers were shut out in the first half for the first time this season. They finished with more than 400 yards of offense but just 32 rushing yards. The Chargers played most of the contest without their leading rusher, Ryan Mathews, who left the game in the first half with a concussion.

Young receivers play well: Vincent Brown has his best game of the season, finishing with eight receptions for 117 yards, including a long of 51 yards, and rookie Keenan Allen had his second straight productive game, finishing with six catches for 115 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown.

What’s next: The Chargers return home to Qualcomm Stadium to face the Indianapolis Colts next Monday night.

Last week, when starting San Diego receiver Danario Alexander was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his knee, both general manager Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy said the Chargers had enough depth at the position not to worry about finding a veteran receiver.

They have to re-evaluate that plan even after it appears the team dodged a huge problem. Initially, the Chargers thought the team’s other starting receiver, Malcom Floyd, suffered a torn ACL on Monday. However, the team says initial results showed he has a knee strain. Floyd will be further examined.

ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that Floyd will send the MRI results to other specialists, including Dr. James Andrews, to confirm the initial diagnosis of a strained knee. Even if the initial diagnosis is accurate, it is expected that Floyd will not return until the regular-season opener and possibly not until Week 2.

This scare should be a lesson to the Chargers’ brass. They must go find a veteran.

Going into training camp, the Chargers’ receiving crew was considered fairly deep. But the potential problem was nearly every player in the group had big injury histories, including Alexander and Floyd. The other four receivers in the rotation, Vincent Brown (who missed all of last season with an ankle injury), rookie Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem have all been considered fragile in the past.

Thus with these issues already popping, San Diego needs to go find some insurance.

One of the reasons the Chargers didn’t sign a receiver when Alexander was hurt was the team wasn’t thrilled with the available class of veterans. Now, with the need growing, the Chargers may not have the luxury of being choosy. Two veterans initially come to mind -- Brandon Lloyd and Laurent Robinson. Lloyd played for McCoy in Denver and Robinson was in the Chargers’ camp two years ago and has worked with quarterback Philip Rivers.

Neither one of these players would come in as top-of-the-rotation players, but they would add depth to a position that is becoming increasingly vulnerable in San Diego.

Chargers camp notes

August, 7, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Thoughts from the Chargers’ training camp practice Wednesday:

Coach Mike McCoy spoke to his team for an extended period at the conclusion of practice. He has the attention of this team.

McCoy, 41, was asked to reflect on his journey to coaching on the sideline Thursday night against visiting Seattle in his first game as a head coach. He credited several coaches in his life all the way down to his Little League days and his parents’ upbringing.
  • U-T San Diego reports starting receiver Vincent Brown will not play Thursday. It is not surprising. He is coming back from a hamstring injury. It doesn’t appear that running back Danny Woodhead will play, either. He has been out with an undisclosed injury for nearly a week.
  • McCoy backed up general manager’s Tom Telesco’s tact that the Chargers have good depth at receiver even after the season-ending knee injury starter Danario Alexander suffered Tuesday. Alexander’s career has been intercepted by major knee injuries since his college days. McCoy expressed how badly he felt for Alexander. Fellow receiver Robert Meachem called the injury “heartbreaking.”
  • McCoy expressed how little the current depth chart means. He said all it is, at this point, is “a piece of paper.” Lots of jobs still to be won and lost, starting with Thursday’s preseason opener.
SAN DIEGO -- There is no doubt the San Diego Chargers were delivered a rough blow Tuesday when starting receiver Danario Alexander suffered a torn right ACL injury, putting him out for the season.

However, the injury is not forcing the team to do anything rash at the position. San Diego general manager Tom Telesco said Wednesday that he likes the group of receivers the Chargers have.

“It hurts a lot because Danario worked so hard, he’s a good player and a good kid. We thought he had a chance to be a bona-fide playmaker this season,” Telesco said. “But we feel pretty good about the position. Fortunately, that is one of the positions where we have some depth.”

The projected starters will likely be Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown. Other key players will be rookie Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem. If the group can stay healthy, the Chargers should be fine there, although they will miss Alexander’s size and big-play ability. However, all five of these players have injury history, so there is some concern.

Still, Telesco is confident the group will be fine. Plus, Telesco said the open market at any position at this time of year is not great. He’s right. Players are unemployed in August for a reason.

When pass-rusher Melvin Ingram went down with the same injury as Alexander in May, the team rushed to sign Dwight Freeney. It appears no such deal will happen as a result of Alexander’s injury.

Meanwhile, the team was shocked to hear Alexander was hurt so severely. He showed no immediate signs of suffering a significant injury after it occurred.
The San Diego Chargers are two days away from their first preseason and they have already lost two key players for the season due to a torn ACL in their knees.

In a non-contact drill in May, pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, a 2012 first-round pick, was lost for the season. Tuesday, after a freak contact play with cornerback Shareece Wright, Danario Alexander suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. Initially, the team did not think it was serious.

But Alexander is now out for the year.

A serious injury was the Chargers’ greatest worry about Alexander. He turns 25 Wednesday, but this is his sixth major knee injury dating back to his college days. Injury concerns were the reason why the Chargers didn’t give Alexander a long-term deal in the offseason. He was a restricted free agent.

Now, sadly, we all have to wonder if Alexander will ever enjoy the health to go along with his immense ability. Last year, Alexander showed how he can make an impact if healthy.

Alexander signed off the street and made an instant impact in San Diego. He had 37 catches, 7 touchdown catches and averaged 17.8 yards per catch last season. Alexander had a strong camp and was expected to be a key part of San Diego’s offense. Quarterback Philip Rivers raved about Alexander to me today before the extent of his injury was known.

Alexander earned the respect of the San Diego locker room for coming back from injuries and making such a quick impact last year. I spoke to one prominent San Diego player who said he was almost in tears because he feels so bad for Alexander.

However, the Chargers won’t have much time to dwell on the injury. They will have to march on without Alexander.

When Ingram was hurt, the Chargers had little depth at pass-rusher and had to go out and pay for Dwight Freeney. I don’t think that will be this case at receiver.

I am sure the Chargers will consider adding a player, and the best available receiver is Brandon Lloyd. He played for new San Diego head coach Mike McCoy in Denver.

But the Chargers have a deep group that includes Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown, rookie Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem. Like Alexander, most of these players have had some trouble staying healthy. If the group can stay healthy, they should be solid, although Alexander’s big-play ability will be missed.
The Tyler Bray-Ricky Stanzi battle to be the No. 3 quarterback in Kansas City is far from over.

The final determination will be made based on performance in the four preseason games. However, we clearly have an early favorite: the rookie Bray.

The Kansas City Star reported that Bray will play before Stanzi late in Friday’s preseason opener in New Orleans. Bray will play in the third quarter and Stanzi will work the final quarter.

It is significant because it means the Kansas City brass thinks Bray, an erratic, but strong-armed undrafted free agent from Tennessee, has done enough to play ahead of Stanzi, a third-year player with little experience.

There were early reports that new Kansas City coach Andy Reid was higher on Stanzi because he grasped Reid’s system so well. However, I think Bray will win this job barring a complete meltdown in the preseason because of this: He has the potential to start someday. Stanzi likely does not. Thus, there is little chance Bray will be exposed for other teams if the Chiefs like him coming out of camp.

In other AFC West notes:

San Diego receiver Vincent Brown is back practicing after missing a week with a hamstring injury. Brown is expected to be a vital part of the Chargers’ offense after missing all of last season with a broken ankle.

San Diego running back Danny Woodhead is missing his third straight day of practice.

San Diego defensive back Marcus Gilchrist also may have trouble playing Thursday night against Seattle because of a hamstring issue.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each AFC West team as training camps get underway:

Denver: Running back, Montee Ball vs. Ronnie Hillman: Hillman is starting training camp as the No. 1 running back. But he will be hard-pressed to keep the job. The plan is for Ball, a second-round pick from Wisconsin, to quickly get ready to take over as the No. 1 back. Denver spent a lot of time grooming him in the offseason, but Ball will have to show he can handle the job in training camp. And he'll need to handle every aspect of being a starting tailback, including picking up blocking schemes. But that goes for Hillman, too. He played some last season and played well in the playoffs. But he is considered more of a change-of-pace guy. So while Hillman gets first crack, I think we will see Ball emerge and Hillman as a backup.Knowshon Moreno will be in the mix early as well, but Denver is going to focus on the youngsters.

Kansas City: Tight end, Tony Moeaki vs. Travis Kelce: The Chiefs’ top tight end this season might be free-agent pickup Anthony Fasano. But the second tight end will get a lot work. Moeaki has a lot of ability, but he has had trouble staying healthy. Kelce is a third-round pick. The new regime really likes him, and he has a chance to get a ton of playing time early. So this will be a solid camp battle. If Moeaki stays healthy, I can see him holding off Kelce, at least, for the short term.

Oakland: Receiver/returner Josh Cribbs vs. Jacoby Ford: I’m not sure this will be an either/or scenario. I think the Raiders would be fine with keeping both players if possible. But Oakland does have several young, intriguing receivers. If the Raiders feel there are some receivers (such as undrafted free agent Conner Vernon) they can’t keep off the 53-man roster, Oakland might only have room for Cribbs or Ford. Not both. Ford has had trouble staying healthy. When healthy, he is a dynamic return man and is better than Cribbs as a receiver. Cribbs is still strong as a returner but is also coming off an injury. It could come down to who is the healthier of the two.

San Diego: Top receivers. The Chargers’ receiving group looks promising, but it is currently difficult to project exactly what the rotation will be. It could shake out in training camp. The top four receivers will likely be Danario Alexander, Vincent Brown, Malcom Floyd and rookie Keenan Allen. I think we will see Brown and Alexander as the top receivers once the season starts. Floyd has been a starter, but he might be best as a No. 3 or No. 4 working as a deep threat. Allen will play, but only if he's ready. Alexander was terrific in the second half of last season after he was signed off the street. If he can show he wasn’t a flash in the pan, he could be dynamic. Brown is the key. He looks like he can be a top-notch possession receiver. He showed promise as a rookie but missed all of last season with an ankle injury. Now he's healthy and ready to go. He could be the most productive receiver on this unit.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What are the three key camp issues facing each AFC West team?

DENVER BRONCOS

Offense: The Wes Welker Factor
Peyton Manning has a new toy. But with the wealth of options in this offense, it seems unlikely Welker will match his production from his days with Tom Brady. Manning will love exploiting the mismatches Welker creates from the slot. Welker’s experience in New England's up-tempo offense should pay off as Denver transitions to a similar pace. It is difficult to find weaknesses in the Broncos’ offense right now.

Defense: Pass-rush issue
Elvis Dumervil is now playing for Baltimore. Von Miller is one of the league’s premier defensive players and pass-rushers, but more is needed. Where will it come from? Derek Wolfe showed some flashes as an inside pass-rusher during his rookie season and on passing downs. Robert Ayers should also be effective when moved inside. Will the edge player opposite Miller -- Ayers on early downs and Shaun Phillips, most likely, on passing downs -- be able to produce? The wild card here is rookie Quanterus Smith.

Wild card: Pass coverage in the middle
Denver had a lot of problems last season covering opposing tight ends in the middle of the field. On paper, it doesn’t look as though the problem has been addressed. Denver’s safety play is average at best, but the middle linebacker spot manned by Joe Mays is the real issue. Look for opposing offenses to keep Denver in base defensive personnel and attack the middle of the field.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Offense: The Alex Smith Factor
Smith needs plenty of resources to be successful. But if he just makes fewer mistakes at the position than Matt Cassel did a year ago -- something that seems highly likely -- then Kansas City will be much more competitive. Smith also has underrated running skills, and the Chiefs should orchestrate plenty of designed quarterback movement and runs.

Defense: Interior pass rush
The Chiefs were among the worst defenses in the NFL last season at creating pressure on the quarterback between the tackles. Although the team made drastic changes across the roster, this area was not addressed. Unless Dontari Poe steps up in his second season -- and pass rush isn’t really his game -- little should change for Kansas City.

Wild card: Secondary receivers
The Chiefs are very light at wide receiver outside of Dwayne Bowe. They have three strong tight ends and could employ plenty of multiple-tight end sets. Jamaal Charles should see plenty of passes thrown his way, but another outside threat needs to step up. Donnie Avery has the speed to open up room for others, but his hands are highly inconsistent. Jon Baldwin and Dexter McCluster have yet to find their place in this league. Keep an eye on Devon Wylie.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Offense: Man-blocking scheme
For some unknown reason, the Raiders switched in 2012 from a predominantly man-blocking scheme, in which Darren McFadden thrived, to a zone-blocking scheme. That was a failed experiment, especially for McFadden, who is entering the final year of his contract. Switching back could allow him to be the foundation of Oakland’s offense.

Defense: No pass rush
I fear the Raiders will be among the worst defenses in the NFL next season at rushing the passer. Lamarr Houston is a very talented player, capable of greatness, but he isn’t a typical edge pass-rushing defensive end. Andre Carter has had success in this area, but his best days are behind him. I like the additions of Pat Sims and Vance Walker at defensive tackle, but both are run-stuffers. Opposing quarterbacks are going to have a lot of unobstructed time in the pocket this season. Calling Jadeveon Clowney ...

Wild card: Building blocks
The Raiders are not going to win the Super Bowl. Instead, they must determine which players are their building blocks. I was impressed by the way the front office, despite many limitations, addressed the team's needs during the offseason. But many of their signings were only one-year deals. Which players do they want to bring back? Many players on Oakland’s roster are auditioning this season.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Offense: Pass protection
Philip Rivers needs to be protected, which San Diego hasn’t been able to do lately. Although the Chargers used a first-round pick on D.J. Fluker, who is a much better run-blocker than pass-blocker, I don’t see noticeable upgrades on the offensive line. I also don’t see much upside or potential star power in the group. Changing the scheme could help by getting the ball out of Rivers’ hands quicker, but he could be headed for another punishing season.

Defense: Time to step up
The Chargers have several promising young defensive players who could be ready to break out. Eric Weddle is among the league’s best safeties, and Corey Liuget has already established himself as a real force on San Diego’s defensive line. Kendall Reyes might not be far behind Liuget and should become more of a household name this season. Manti Te’o could have an instant impact in his rookie season and pair with Donald Butler to be one of the better inside linebacker tandems in the league.

Wild card: Receiver situation
Antonio Gates isn’t what he once was, but he still makes plays and Rivers trusts him. The Chargers have many other receiving options now: Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd, Keenan Allen, Vincent Brown, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, John Phillips, Ladarius Green, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown. How will that sort out? My favorites are Allen, Vincent Brown and Green. Getting these young weapons plenty of reps could pay off in the long term for San Diego.

Next magnificent Seven

July, 7, 2013
7/07/13
8:00
AM ET
On Saturday we ranked our top 40 players in the AFC West. Now, let's look at seven players who I think have a strong chance to break the elite list in 2014. Four of them are rookies. Here they are in alphabetical order.

Montee Ball, running back, Denver Broncos: The second-round pick looks like he will be a featured back immediately. The Broncos are beyond excited about him.

Vincent Brown, receiver, San Diego Chargers: He showed flashes as a rookie two years ago but missed all of last season with a broken ankle. The Chargers expect big things from him.

Eric Fisher, tackle, Kansas City Chiefs: The No. 1 overall pick should be a fixture for the Chiefs for many years.

Chris Harris, cornerback, Denver: One of the best young nickel cornerbacks in the NFL. A real comer.

D.J. Hayden, cornerback, Oakland Raiders: If the No. 12 overall pick can stay healthy, I expect an immediate impact.

Dontari Poe, nose tackle, Kansas City: He came on as a rookie and he has big skills. I expect we’ll hear his name a lot in 2013.

Manti Te'o, linebacker, San Diego: Rookie inside linebacker seems to be a perfect fit for the Chargers. I expect instant success.

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