NFL Nation: AFC West

QB snapshot: Peyton Manning

December, 2, 2014
A quick observation of quarterback Peyton Manning and how he played in the Broncos’ 29-16 win in Week 13:

 At first blush, Manning had season lows in completions (17), passing yards (179) and completion percentage (50.0). But the number that was far more important on a frigid, playoff-weather-type night was the 45 carries the Broncos had in the run game and the way it forced the Chiefs’ pass-rushers to dial back some.

Justin Houston and Tamba Hali couldn’t just come after Manning because they had to honor play-action, play with discipline and defend the edge.

And the combination of 45 rushing attempts as compared to Manning’s 34 pass attempts Sunday night is well worth attention. In Manning’s tenure, the Broncos’ commitment to the run game, because of what the scoreboard said or the team’s supreme confidence in its historical gifts in the passing game, has wavered between ornamental at times to cursory in others.

But when they get serious about it and when their defense keeps getting them the ball back to do it, they have a reliable formula. In the Broncos’ 11 losses since Manning was signed in 2012 -- playoffs included -- they have run the ball 20 or fewer times and thrown at least 49 passes in six of those losses, including all three losses this year.

Also, in the too-much-of-a-good-thing department: Throughout his career, Manning is 2-16 (playoffs included) in games where he throws at least 49 passes. So for the Broncos, good "balance" for them and Manning is to keep the quarterback from throwing 49 or more times.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Kansas City Chiefs paid a heavy price for it, but at least they’ll have some time to get their act back together in time for their next game. It’s a big one. The 7-4 Chiefs will face the Denver Broncos on Nov. 30 at Arrowhead Stadium.

 The Chiefs failed to take care of business on the short week, losing Thursday night to the previously winless Oakland Raiders 24-20.

“We have a little time here to regroup and get healthy,’’ quarterback Alex Smith said. “We come back home and then we’ve got another big division game, and we are about to handle this the right way. We’re going to build from it. As weird as that is to say, you only got two choices to be able to handle something like this. We can regroup and get it together. We still got a lot in front of us.”

With respect to eventually winning the AFC West championship, the Chiefs are only a half-game behind the 7-3 Broncos. But the loss to the Raiders is potentially devastating to the Chiefs as far as tiebreakers against the Broncos. The Chiefs would even the season series against Denver by winning next Sunday night, but the Broncos are still likely to finish with a better record in divisional games, which would allow them to win a tiebreaker against the Chiefs.

Much needs to play out before all of that get decided. And perhaps the Broncos will lose on Sunday to the Miami Dolphins and give the Chiefs a gift like the one Kansas City handed out on Thursday.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- My former colleague Sam Mellinger had an interesting column in today's Kansas City Star about Carl Peterson's return to Arrowhead Stadium for his Kansas City Chiefs game since he left as general manager almost six years ago.

Peterson saw Priest Holmes get inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame, the ceremony taking place at halftime of Sunday's win over the New York Jets.

Peterson hadn't been welcomed by the Chiefs after his resignation or ouster, whichever you choose to believe, during Scott Pioli's four seasons as his successor. Then, the Chiefs nonsensically seemed to work overtime to bury their past, including any ties to Peterson.

The attitude toward Peterson and the club's history has changed since John Dorsey replaced Pioli almost two years ago. That being the case, it's time for the Chiefs to put Peterson into their Hall of Fame.

We could argue for some time about many of Peterson's decisions during his 20 years with the Chiefs. I certainly found fault with a lot of them when I covered Peterson and the Chiefs for the newspaper.

But it's beyond argument that Peterson is the father of what we know today as the Arrowhead Stadium experience and what makes going to a Chiefs game such a unique event: the tailgating, the sea of red, the consistently boisterous and intimidating atmosphere that makes Kansas City such a difficult place for opposing teams.

Because of that, I'll submit that other than franchise founder Lamar Hunt, Peterson has been the single most important figure in Chiefs history.

So it's time. The Chiefs have a backlog of excellent players waiting their turn to get into the club's Hall of Fame. Trent Green needs to get in. So does Tim Grunhard. I think James Hasty should be there. And, of course, there's Tony Gonzalez.

All of those guys deserve to be in the Chiefs' Hall of Fame. But nobody deserves it as much as Carl Peterson.
SAN DIEGO -- As part of his evolution as a man, Corey Liuget travelled with girlfriend Faven to Ethiopia, Dubai, Costa Rica and the Bahamas during the offseason in an effort to experience new things.

“It was an awesome trip,” Liuget. “All of those places have different cultures, different meanings and the people are great. I never dreamed I would be able to do those things growing up as a kid. And now that I have the finances to do it, why not take the time to do it before my career is over?”

 After travelling the globe during the offseason, Liuget returns to his hometown of Miami for a second straight year to face the Dolphins in a continuation of his evolution as a player.

Last year against the Dolphins, Liuget said he did not meet his lofty expectations as a game-changer on the field. A costly personal foul penalty for roughing the passer on a late hit against Ryan Tannehill in the second quarter negated a fumble recovery for the Chargers, extending a Miami drive near the goal line. The play allowed the Dolphins to score a touchdown in a 20-16 win over the Chargers.

“In my head I felt like I cost us that game in Miami,” Liuget said. “So I’m just looking forward to going back and playing these guys, and coming out victorious this time.”

Liuget seeks redemption for that play when his team travels east to face the Dolphins on Sunday. Liuget said he had more than 80 family and friends in attendance at Sun Life Stadium last year. But that number will shrink to 25 this weekend, as he attempts to limit distractions so he can focus on the game.

Selected No. 18 overall in the 2011 draft out of Illinois, Liuget has missed just one game in four seasons. He suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder early in 2013 that required offseason surgery, but played with the injury the entire year.

Liuget’s 16 sacks since 2011 is the most by a San Diego player over that time frame, and one of the reasons the Chargers picked up the fifth-year option of his rookie contract at a nearly $7 million price tag for 2015.

Liuget’s 164 total tackles since 2011 is among the top 10 for interior defensive linemen. He earned AFC defensive-player-of-the-week honors for his effort in a 22-10 win over Buffalo. Liuget finished with six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and four quarterback hits.

Still, the 24-year-old believes he can play more consistent and make more impact plays on a weekly basis.

“I feel I can do some things better,” Liuget said. “I need to definitely work on a little more technique in getting off of blocks and getting to the quarterback more.”

And the game-changing plays?

“I had a couple of opportunities to make them,” he said. “I missed a couple, but I made some too. But I want to make more now. It’s time to start making more.”

Chargers defensive line coach Don Johnson believes Liuget doesn’t receive enough notoriety for being one of the top interior defensive linemen in the league. Johnson compares Liuget to some of the best athletes every to play defensive tackle, including Warren Sapp, Bryant Young and Tommie Harris.

“He’s a pretty unique individual in terms of his skill set,” Johnson said. “Corey is Corey. He’s a big body that can run fast. For me, what we require of our defensive linemen is to be productive and disruptive. And I think he’s both. If you go back to 2012, I think his production is comparable to some of the upper echelon in the league.”

For evidence of Liuget’s unique athleticism you only have to look back to his high school tape. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Liuget was a mobile, strong-armed quarterback at Hialeah High School in Miami. He ran a 4.6, 40-yard dash and was recruited by some colleges as a tight end. One of Liuget’s favorite players growing up was future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.

It’s the type of athleticism even guys at the top of their game like Dwight Freeney marvel at.

“He’s a rare find as far as his size and speed,” Freeney said. “You don’t see guys that big that are that fast.”

But in order to be in the same conversation as the elite interior defensive linemen in the NFL like J.J. Watt and Ndamukong Suh, Liuget has to consistently play at that level every week.

“The expectations are high for him,” Johnson said. “But he’s really working hard to achieve the goals we’ve set for him.”

AFC West

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If Bob Sutton had never become the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, it wasn’t going to be for a lack of trying. When Herm Edwards was head coach of the Chiefs, he unsuccessfully tried to hire Sutton away from the New York Jets.

Andy Reid made it his annual quest when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles to make Sutton a part of his staff.

“Andy Reid tried to get him every single year,’’ Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “He would call and try to get him and I’m like, ‘No I’m not letting you, not letting you have him’ and things like that.

“I never wanted to lose Bob. Obviously, he was my assistant head coach and everything, but it was the best thing for Bob and his career to get an opportunity to be a coordinator, and I knew the kind of coach he is. He’s a great coach and a great person.”

When he joined the Chiefs last year, Reid finally pried Sutton away from the Jets. It’s looking like Sutton was worth the wait.

The Chiefs, in Sutton’s second season as coordinator, are third in the league in total defense and points allowed and first in passing defense. This is happening despite the fact the Chiefs have played almost all of the season without four starters, including a pair of Pro Bowlers, linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Eric Berry.

The Chiefs had a dominant defense for the first half of last season as well. They were on an NFL record pace for sacks and were forcing turnovers in bunches. But the Chiefs ran out of gas in the second half. They allowed a lot of big pass plays, a lot of points and eventually wasted a 28-point third-quarter lead in losing to the Indianapolis Colts 45-44.

What the Chiefs are doing now looks to be sustainable. They’re still sacking the quarterback with frequency, but not at the expense of allowing big plays. They’re a lot more solid defensively, something San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers noted before the Chargers’ game against the Chiefs two weeks ago.

For that, the Chiefs can thank the 63-year-old Sutton, a longtime college assistant and nine-year head coach at Army before he joined the staff of the Jets in 2000. He was an assistant to Ryan and much of what the Chiefs are doing defensively, he adopted from Ryan.

“It’s a lot of what we did in New York and what Rex brought to New York from Baltimore,’’ Sutton said. “I think each system goes off a little bit on its own as you get to a place, a lot of time it’s driven by either what you’re faced with and also what your personnel can do. We always think about this system that it has a lot of flexibility. We can play a lot of different ways, and I think that’s one of the real strengths of the system. You kind of push it over to one side or the other based on your players or the issues that you’re facing from the opponent. But a lot of it honestly is driven from what we did in New York.”

The Chiefs are certainly playing it better now than the 1-7 Jets.

The Film Don't Lie: Chargers

October, 21, 2014
A weekly look at what the San Diego Chargers must fix:

Solving the team’s poor tackling will be an issue the San Diego Chargers have to resolve sooner rather than later since they face an explosive Denver Broncos offense on Thursday night.

The Chargers allowed the Chiefs to rush for 154 total yards in a 23-20 loss over the weekend. Kansas City finished with eight plays of 16-plus yards from scrimmage.

“We had too many missed tackles,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “That’s something we work on every week. It’s a basic fundamental of the game. And we gave up too many yards where we should have stopped them, and they made some plays.”

For the most part, San Diego has been a good tackling team leading up to the Kansas City game, limiting big gains. The Chargers have to solve the team’s tackling issues quickly because they face a Denver offense averaging 8.52 yards per play in the passing game, No. 2 in the NFL behind San Diego (8.53).

In order to fix the poor tackling, San Diego’s defense has to do a better job of playing with leverage and playing "to your help" on the field, according to defensive co-captain and linebacker Jarret Johnson.

“The reason we missed tackles was them creating plays that put us in space, and us not playing to our leverage,” Johnson said. “You don’t know where your leverage is, and you might be overrunning it or taking bad angles on your tackles.

“We have to be more aware of where our help is. These running backs -- especially a running back like Jamaal Charles -- it’s going to be really tough to get him down in the open field by yourself, so you have to play to your help.”

The Film Don't Lie: Chargers

October, 7, 2014
SAN DIEGO -- A weekly look at what the San Diego Chargers must fix.

Through five weeks, the San Diego Chargers have had one of the best defenses in the NFL. So we’re probably being a bit nitpicky in identifying a glaring weakness on that side of the ball as the team prepares to face AFC West Division rival Oakland on Sunday.

But even defensive coordinator John Pagano has been frustrated by the way his defense has played in the red zone.

Through Week 5, the Chargers are No. 1 in points allowed per contest (12.6), No. 2 in passing yards allowed per game (195) and No. 3 in overall yards allowed per game (291).

The Chargers also are tied for sixth in the NFL with 12 sacks and have not allowed a point in the fourth quarter in four straight games.

However, the Chargers are tied for 26th in the league in red zone defense, giving up a touchdown 70 percent of the time the opposition is inside the 20-yard line.

Miscommunication has been an issue, as the Chargers have blown assignments in the compact area near the goal line, allowing easy scores.

Tackling also has been a concern, particularly in goal-line situations. The Chargers have to do a better job of rallying to the ball and wrapping up.

Ultimately, San Diego has to play with more urgency and a desire to keep the opposing team from getting touchdowns.

The Film Don't Lie: Chiefs

September, 30, 2014
A weekly look at what the Kansas City Chiefs must fix:

A two-play sequence from Monday night’s game shows a defensive problem for the Kansas City Chiefs and how they can correct it in next week’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Chiefs are playing well against the pass, but their run defense has shown more than a few leaks. They allow 5 yards per opponent's rushing attempt, which ranks 27th in the NFL. They have allowed 15 running plays of 10 yards or more, the fifth-highest total in the league.

The Chiefs can improve by getting more physical with their opponents. Early in the second quarter on Monday night, inside linebacker Josh Mauga missed an attempted tackle on New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen. Vereen went on to gain 5 yards after Mauga had the chance to bring him down.

But on the next play, Mauga arrived with much more muscle. On third-and-2, Mauga wasn’t in on the tackle but blew up the lead block by New England center Bryan Stork. With Stork out of the way, linebacker Justin Houston and nose tackle Dontari Poe were free to tackle Vereen for no gain. Poe had also played off a block, this one by guard Cameron Fleming.

The Patriots punted on the next play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The first impression has been the lasting one thus far for the Denver Broncos.

Their opening first down run of the season went for no gain. The second time they ran the ball on first down, it went for no gain. The fourth time? No gain.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonMontee Ball knows the Broncos need to get more yards on first down.
 And things haven't really picked up since. Now, no one is advocating a return to the league’s 70s show, the old run, run, pass possession. Not with the rules-makers having rolled out the red carpet to throw, not with Peyton Manning at quarterback and impact all over the formation at wide receiver.

But Manning is a man of precision behind center, and he often speaks of the best offenses being “on schedule,’’ and on schedule means “you get first down after first down, string them together, or give yourself a second-and-short, to put yourself in a position to call most anything.’’

And the Broncos, after three games, are not on schedule. Yes, they have scored 31, 24 and 20 points in three games against three teams that won at least 11 games last season, one of which just happens to be the defending Super Bowl champ. But it doesn’t feel right at the moment, and a big part of the reason is the imbalance the Broncos have on first-down plays.

Too often first-and-10 is becoming second-and-long and as the Broncos try to add a little more punch in their run game, they have become lopsided on offense. And usually, the bad news starts with a handoff.

“We have to be better, for sure,’’ said Broncos running back Montee Ball. “There are a lot of things there, but I know I have to be better because we need to be able to run the ball when we need to.’’

At its best, on the “schedule’’ Manning likes to keep, the Broncos offense is a first-down factory. A 75-yard touchdown drive in the Week 2 win over the Kansas City Chiefs had a sequence of four consecutive plays on first down. On the seven-play drive, the Broncos were in a first-and-10 on five of the plays and first-and-goal on the touchdown play.

“When you’re stringing them together, there’s a rhythm,’’ Manning said. “You’re going, moving the ball.’’

And while Manning’s passing numbers are other-worldly on first down -- 27-of-41 for 349 yards and five touchdown passes -- the Broncos are decidedly lopsided. Take out Manning’s kneel-down plays and the Broncos are rushing for just 2.8 yards per carry on first down.

Overall, they’ve had five first-down run plays go for no gain and seven have gone for negative yardage. In short, Ball and the Broncos offensive front have not been able to consistently make room to run the ball against defenses with more size in the formation in those down and distances.

In the days leading up to the loss to the Seattle Seahawks, offensive coordinator Adam Gase referenced the “negative plays’’ in the run game.

“I think the tackles for losses were a little much for me, and we put ourselves in bad positions with some of those penalties and it’s hard -- you try to stick with it as far as when you’re getting those second-and-20s but you want to try to help the quarterback get back to a third-and-10 or third-and-5 area,’’ Gase said.

In the end, an efficient run game is also the best way to slow down opposing pass rushers, keep them away from Manning and keep play-action passing -- what Manning has called “a big part of the offense.’’ But the Broncos’ blocking schemes up front have left gaps in the run game, especially inside around the guards and center, and Ball hasn’t always been as quick to the hole as he needs to be.

The game video shows, over and over again, defensive linemen attacking the gaps on the interior when the Broncos guards move down the line of scrimmage in the run game.

“We have things to work on, things to get better at,’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox. “We’ve played three games, we all can be better at a lot of things, and we’ll work at it.’’
SAN DIEGO -- Some NFL observers wondered if 2013 was an aberration for San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, as he returned to form after uneven performance in 2011 and 2012.

Well, through three week of the NFL regular season, Rivers has been the same guy. He is No. 6 in the NFL in completion percentage at 68.4 percent after leading the league in completion percentage last year at 69.5 percent.

 He’s tied for seventh in the NFL in passing yards with 778, tied for fifth in touchdown passes with six and is third in the NFL with a 103.3 passer rating.

Rivers has had great protection up front, only having been sacked twice. And he’s done a nice job of taking care of the football, with one interception and no fumbles through two games.

Basically, Rivers has been efficient and effective in his second season operating in head coach Mike McCoy’s offensive system, even with the switch at offensive coordinator, with Frank Reich moving from quarterbacks coach to the guy calling plays on Sundays.

“One thing I’m not going to do is stand back there and hold onto the ball a long time,” Rivers said, when asked about the fast pace that San Diego plays in the passing game. “Bad things happen when you do that. And so the combination of the no-huddle, trying to speed things up and wear teams out, along with our high-percentage passing game, I think it puts our offensive line in better position.”

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, the image below shows Rivers having the best completion percentage in the NFL in the past two weeks. The visual shows his passing distance.

Rivers has completed more than 72 percent of his passes in back-to-back games for the eighth time in his career.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The bad injury news continues to pile up for the Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Andy Reid said offensive lineman Jeff Allen would need elbow surgery and is not likely to return this season.

Also, rookie running back De’Anthony Thomas has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Broncos in Denver because of an injured hamstring.

 Allen started at right tackle in the season-opener against Tennessee. He started training camp as the left guard but switched positions when right tackle Donald Stephenson was suspended for the season’s first four games because of a violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Allen’s spot at right tackle on Sunday will be filled by veteran Ryan Harris, who signed with the Chiefs on the eve of training camp. The starter in Allen’s original spot at left guard, Mike McGlynn, joined the Chiefs in late August after being released by Washington.

If Allen misses the remainder of the regular season, he would be the third starter lost for the year from the Tennessee game. Linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive end Mike DeVito each ruptured an Achilles tendon.

Chiefs lost a lot when they lost Johnson

September, 12, 2014
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Numbers aren’t the best way to measure the impact Derrick Johnson had on the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense or the problem they will have in replacing him for the rest of the season. Johnson, an inside linebacker, ruptured his Achilles tendon in last week’s opener and after having surgery is out for the season.

 Johnson’s gift is his down to down presence. He was as consistent a player as any coach could ask for against both the run and the pass. Johnson was one of the NFL’s best players at his position, and if he had caught more of the game-changing interceptions that he’s dropped -- Johnson’s hands are legendary bad -- more people would know about his skills.

But we’ll try to quantify just how much the Chiefs will miss Johnson. The Tennessee Titans rushed for 26 yards on 10 carries for a 2.6-yard per carry average in last week’s game against the Chiefs before Johnson left the game late in the second quarter.

After his departure, the Titans averaged 4.9 yards per carry with 136 yards on 28 carries.

That’s not a scientific measurement, for sure. It’s a tiny sample size that is also influenced by other factors. Shortly after Johnson left the game, the Chiefs lost another one of their best run defenders, Mike DeVito, also for the season with an identical injury.

But it helps illustrate what the Chiefs are facing here. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton is well aware of what Johnson meant to the Chiefs.

“A lot of times when you have a guy like [Johnson] who has exceptional speed for his position, it isn’t just the plays you make but the plays you prevent,’’ Sutton said. “Sometimes those are runs that went for five [yards] or passes that went for 10, but he’s there and that stops a play from going. That’s the one advantage of speed in relationship to your position.

“So you miss that. You miss his experience.’’

The Chiefs will replace him with James-Michael Johnson, who was claimed off waivers last season from the Cleveland Browns.

Derrick Johnson has been extremely durable. He’s missed just seven games since joining the Chiefs in 2005 and one of those was the final regular-season contest last year when the Chiefs rested Johnson and a few other starters.

The last time Johnson missed a game because of injury was 2009.

So playing without Johnson will be an event for the Chiefs on Sunday in Denver against the Broncos. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has already noticed.

“I played against him for a long time going back to my days in Indianapolis,’’ Manning said. “Special player, and I just hate to see it. I was watching the TV game, and I just hate to see that kind of injury. But obviously anytime you lose a quality player, everybody else has to step up, and I know the Chiefs will do that. But I hate to see what happened to Derrick -- he’s such a great football player -- in the first game of the season.”
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After losing their season-opener in a rather convincing manner, the Kansas City Chiefs are in a position where they could use a lift from the return of their most accomplished wide receiver.

 Dwayne Bowe isn’t waiting until Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos to try to provide that lift. He indicated that process started earlier in the week, shortly after his return for a one-game NFL suspension for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy.

“Just be myself,’’ Bowe said when asked what he wanted to accomplish this week. “Come in jovial, come in picking guys up and letting them know it’s one game at a time, one play at a time. Just play with energy, just play with passion, just play your game. That’s what I’m preaching to everyone in the locker room, and that’s what we’ve got to bring if we’re going to beat the Denver Broncos.’’

That’s all good, but what the Chiefs really need from Bowe is to play on Sunday as he did earlier in his career. One reason the Chiefs floundered on offense against the Tennessee Titans is that their wide receivers caught just eight passes, which is tied for last in the league with the New York Giants.

“Being a playmaker, you want to make plays whenever the ball is being thrown,’’ said Bowe, who watched the game on TV at his home in Kansas City. “It was hard watching. I’ve seen myself making some of the plays that [weren’t] made. If they happen again, I’ll be out there to make those plays.

“I wish I could have been out there to help my team, but things happen and you move forward and you learn from them and you try to let it not happen again.’’

Julius Thomas 'a better player this year'

September, 11, 2014
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In what has been the Summer of Construction, it can be easy to miss everything that has been added to the Denver Broncos complex in recent weeks and months.

 But there are three newly-minted signs in the players’ parking lot that will make it easy to see how things have gone in the game that was just played each week. It was quarterback Peyton Manning who pointed out the primo front-row parking real estate this week, one spot each for the team’s offensive, defensive and special teams player of the week, and the fact tight end Julius Thomas had parked his car in one of them.

“You get a parking spot by the way, player of the week, don’t know if y’all noticed that,’’ Manning said. “ … Right there the first three spots … if you get Broncos player of the week.’’

And with three touchdown receptions in the Broncos’ regular-season opener, Thomas certainly earned not only the team’s player-of-the-week honor, but he was the league’s AFC Player of the Week. But what Thomas may also be is another shining example of why draft classes can’t, and shouldn’t, always be judged quickly and why a player’s makeup will often be as important as the scouting trinity of height, weight and speed.

Because after two NFL seasons, Thomas, a guy who is now one of the league's most difficult matchups for any defensive coordinator, had all of one catch, a five-yarder against Cincinnati on Sept. 18, 2011 when he suffered an ankle injury. And for the remainder of that season and the season that followed Thomas was a fourth-round draft with potential the Broncos simply hoped to eventually see healthy.

Then they saw last year’s 65-catch, 12-touchdown season. Then they saw Sunday night’s opener when Thomas had three touchdowns in the season's first 30 minutes.

“I think he’ll be a better player this year than he was last year,’’ Manning said.

And beyond Thomas’ obvious physical attributes for his job -- the ex-Portland State basketball player is fluid in is movements, has soft hands and top-tier body control to go with rare speed for a player his size -- it was his approach during his one-catch period that always caught the eye on the Broncos’ decision-makers.

And that includes Manning after he signed in 2012. Because of the collective bargaining agreement, Manning wanted to gather some of the offensive players before the Broncos’ official offseason workouts began. Thomas was one of the team's few first- or second-year players to find his way to, and faithfully attend those workouts.

“But Julius was one of the guys, he and [Eric] Decker, that I was throwing with,’’ Manning said. “And I remember … 6-4 tight end, those guys just don’t come around very often, that can really run, just seems like next, you know, he had a previous injury that kind of flared up again … [I] definitely had a great early appreciation of his talent and his ability.’’

Thomas never lost confidence in himself. “I always believed, had the confidence, if I kept working through it, good things would happen. My approach has always been to be as good as I can be over my career, not just one year here, one year there, so always looking down the road to make sure I’m doing things that keep me successful in the long haul.’’

Thomas is in the last year of his original rookie deal, and the Broncos have had discussions about a new one for him, as well as wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. And the price goes up a bit every time Julius Thomas befuddles another linebacker or safety for another touchdown.

But it will be easy for executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway to see how it’s all going. He can simply count the touchdown on gameday and then, after Elways pull into his spot the next morning, he can see where Julius Thomas is parked as well.

Kansas City Chiefs' projected roster

August, 29, 2014
Examining the Kansas City Chiefs' roster:


At this point, it would be a surprise only if Smith isn’t the starter, Daniel isn’t the No. 2 quarterback, and the Chiefs don’t keep Bray on their active roster. So the question is what they do with Aaron Murray. The Chiefs saw this scenario developing and didn’t draft him to set him free this quickly.


With an unsettled offensive line and injuries at wide receiver, the Chiefs will need not only big production from Charles but significant help on offense from both Thomas and Davis.

Dwayne Bowe is suspended for the season's first game so I've left him off this list. Hemingway has been out for most of the preseason with injuries, and Williams and Jenkins left the Green Bay game early, Williams with an injured shoulder and Jenkins with a concussion. So the Chiefs may have to keep Mark Harrison or Fred Williams or acquire a receiver.


Harris had an awful game against the Packers. He still probably makes the roster.


I've left Donald Stephenson off this list because of his suspension. The decision on McGlynn or Ricky Henry as a backup guard could go either way.


I don't see how the Chiefs can keep Mike Catapano after he missed all of the preseason and most of training camp.

Joe Mays will likely go on an injured list but perhaps return later in the year.


As Gaines showed against the Packers, he is a developmental player. The Chiefs might have kept DeMarcus Van Dyke, but he suffered a high ankle sprain in Green Bay.


Berry's injury could force the Chiefs to keep a veteran backup. Neither Bronson nor Sorensen has played in a regular-season NFL game.


It wouldn't be a surprise if the Chiefs went with either Cairo Santos or Ryan Succop as their kicker.