NFL Nation: AFC West

Examining the Kansas City Chiefs' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

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.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

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.

WIDE RECEIVER (6)
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.

TIGHT END (3)

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

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

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.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

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

LINEBACKER (9)
Joe Mays will likely go on an injured list but perhaps return later in the year.

CORNERBACK (5)

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.

SAFETY (4)

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

SPECIALISTS (3)

It wouldn't be a surprise if the Chiefs went with either Cairo Santos or Ryan Succop as their kicker.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- ESPN used over seven dozen voters from the network’s many NFL platforms as well as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus to rank the league’s Top 100 players on offense and Top 100 players on defense.

In the rankings, 85 voters turned in ballots on defense, 90 on offense.

  Today, players ranked No. 20 down to 11 are featured. Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas comes in at No. 17, a spot certainly worthy of his status as the unquestioned No. 1 target on the highest-scoring offense in league history. It may even be an undersell of what he really does on the field and where he's headed in Denver's points factory.

And he is also part of a quirky football fact in these pass-happy times. The one where two of the biggest, most athletic, game-busting pass catchers the NFL has to offer – Thomas and Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson – both emerged from the run-based option offense of Georgia Tech.

The Broncos made Thomas the 22nd pick of the 2010 draft while the Lions selected Johnson with the second pick of the 2007 draft.

“I don’t know why that happened,’’ Thomas said. “We felt like we had good players who could compete … We just played in a different kind of offense from some other guys.’’

Thomas has had back-to-back 90-catch, 1,400-yard seasons since being unleashed in earnest in the transition from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning. And in what figures to again be one of the league’s most high-powered offenses, Thomas is poised for another mark-it-down season.

He’s also poised for a rather tidy payday. Thomas is in the final year of his rookie deal -- he has a $3.275 million base salary this season, a $4.7 million cap charge for the Broncos -- and the two sides haven’t yet hammered out the extension they had hoped to before the season starts.

John Elway has said he “most certainly’’ wants to get Thomas dialed in on a new deal. Thomas has been named to two Pro Bowls, and if he remains healthy, he will pile on some more before his career is done.

The Broncos will certainly have to pay for the privilege to keep him.

“We know what we have here as receivers,’’ Thomas said. “We have Peyton at quarterback with a scheme that allows us to make plays if we get ourseleves to the right spot. I’m just worried about this season and doing what I can to help us do what we want to do and get where we want to go. We want to win the last game of the year.’’

Denver Broncos' projected roster

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
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Examining the Denver Broncos' roster:

Quarterbacks (2)
The Broncos carried three here last season and thought enough of Zac Dysert to keep him despite a long list of injuries on defense that eventually saw five starters on injured reserve. It continues to look like two is going to be the number here with Dysert set to get a spot on the practice squad.

Running backs (4)

The Broncos kept five at this spot as recently as 2012, but with tight end Virgil Green's ability to play in a fullback role, four is the most logical total. Thompson continues to show he's a potential keeper. He played just 11 snaps on offense Saturday night against the Houston Texans, as the Broncos took a look at some of the other backs on the roster.

Receivers (5)
Jordan Norwood was going to make this team as the sixth receiver, but he suffered a torn left ACL in practice this past week and will miss the season. After initial cuts bring this total to five, the Broncos will scan the waiver wire for a potential sixth given Welker suffered his third concussion since Nov. 17 in Saturday's game.

Tight ends (3)

The Broncos kept four last season -- they kept three in 2011 and three in 2012 -- but keeping three, with perhaps another on the practice squad continues to be the most likely scenario at this point.

Offensive line (10)

The Broncos have kept nine players at this position for the opening-week roster in all three previous seasons of the John Fox/John Elway regime so this is where a difficult decision awaits if they don't elect to keep 10. Their rotations in preseason suggest, however, 10 just might be the number this time around. Garland has done enough to earn a spot, and Cornick continues to work as Clady's backup at left tackle. Sunday's release of veteran tackle Winston Justice helps pave the way for the above to happen.

Defensive line (9)

The Broncos kept eight on the initial roster here last season and could gain a spot for someplace else if they did it again. With their salary cap concerns -- they're right up against it -- it's still a very likely scenario they keep just eight here and a veteran, like Vickerson, could be released.

Linebackers (7)

There is still room here for a wild card, but this group looks like it's settling in. Marshall is going to play for Trevathan for at least the first three games of the regular season, and he showed in the preseason win over the 49ers he's up to the challenge. Miller continues to make progress in his return from ACL surgery and made his first appearance of the preseason Saturday with nine snaps worth of work against the Texans.

Cornerbacks (6)

Last season, the Broncos kept seven cornerbacks on the opening-night roster, including the injured Champ Bailey, but it's now looking like six here with Bolden lining up at corner much of the time. Bolden is also decidedly in the mix as the team's kickoff returner. Chris Harris Jr. is still on track to play in the regular-season opener.

Safeties (4)

Watch the rotations in practice as well as the preseason games, and Duke Ihenacho figures into the equation here as the fifth safety, which would put the Broncos at 11 defensive backs -- what they kept last season -- but that would likely cause them to keep one fewer defensive lineman. If a player like Vickerson is released, this is where the roster spot would be used.

Specialists (3)

Three will be the number here, but for the first four weeks of the season, it will be another kicker instead of Prater, who will open the season on reserve/suspended. Prater has been suspended four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Late in the preseason is often when NFL teams consider extending potential free agents offers in an attempt to secure them for the longterm and ending any question of the team’s commitment to the player.

Wisniewski
If the Oakland Raiders are considering making such a move, they need to do so with Stefen Wisniewski.

Wisniewski is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next March. As a second-round pick in 2011, he has developed into one of the Raiders’ most reliable players.

“He’s a good, young, tough player [who] should be extended and should be a building block,” ESPN scout Matt Williamson said. “He’s not an elite center, but he’s well above average.”

He’s the type of player teams keep around. If the Raiders were to let Wisniewski test free agency -- as they did with fellow young starters, Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston this year -- they’d be in danger of another team swooping in on him. That, of course, was what happened with Houston and Veldheer.

Keeping Wisniewski is a very achievable task for Oakland. He will command a solid contract but not a salary-cap killing deal. And, of course, Wisniewski is all Raider. He is the nephew of former Raiders’ superstar offensive lineman and coach Steve Wisniewski. In that 2011 draft, it was all but assumed that Lil Wiz was going to end up as a Raider. It’s only natural he remains one.

Chargers Camp Report: Day 17

August, 14, 2014
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SAN DIEGO -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of San Diego Chargers training camp:

After an hour-long practice, Chargers head coach Mike McCoy was noncommittal on what players will take the field on Friday against the Seahawks, or how much the starters will play. Specifically, McCoy would not divulge if cornerbacks Brandon Flowers or Jason Verrett would be on the field for the first time this preseason. “We’ve got a plan,” McCoy said. “We’re going to talk about it as a staff tonight and tomorrow about exactly how we’re playing players, and how much players are going to play. Some guys we’re going to hold out. So, we’ll go from there.” Flowers fully participated in practice this week after missing the team’s exhibition opener against the Cowboys with a leg injury. He appears on target to play. Verrett still is wearing a red jersey during practice as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery in March to repair a torn labrum. Flowers said he’s healthy, but the decision of whether or not he takes the field against Seattle will be up to the coaching staff.

• Defensive lineman Corey Liuget returned to the field after missing practice the past two days with an ankle injury. Liuget’s availability for Friday’s game is uncertain. Fellow defensive linemen Lawrence Guy (shoulder) and Damik Scafe (unknown) did not practice, along with receiver Vincent Brown (calf) and edge rusher Dwight Freeney (rest). Those four likely will not play against Seattle. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary still is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

• McCoy talked about the importance of Verrett getting some reps in a preseason game before playing in the team’s regular-season opener at Arizona on Sept. 8. Verrett continues to wear a red jersey in practice, which limits how much contact he can participate in as his surgically repaired shoulder heals. At some point McCoy has to let Verrett see what he can do in a live game, but that likely won’t happen this week in Seattle. “You’d love to see him play in a full-speed environment to where he has to make the adjustment on the run,” McCoy said. However, McCoy said he doesn’t know how many live reps it will take to get Verrett up to speed for the regular season. “I can’t put a number on that honestly,” McCoy said. “He’s getting a ton of reps out here in practice. But there’s nothing like real reps in a game.”

• Up next: The Chargers travel to Seattle on Thursday and face the Seahawks on Friday, 10 p.m. ET at CenturyLink Field.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs were initially relieved early in training camp when they learned that an injury to safety Eric Berry was minor and that Berry would miss little practice time.

 But since then:

1. They changed the area of the injury from ankle to heel.

2. They held him from practice for a couple of days afterward and later in the preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.

3. He was mysteriously listed as second team on the latest depth chart issued by the Chiefs.

4. Berry arrived at practice on Tuesday fully dressed and apparently ready to work. But he soon left the field only to return shortly before his teammates were finished, this time without helmet and pads.

So what are we to make of this? Is it time to panic about Berry’s ability to withstand the rigors of a full season?

It’s probably too early for panic. The Chiefs clearly aren’t panicking. They brought in another veteran backup safety in Jonathon Amaya, but if they were concerned about Berry’s long-term welfare, they’d be doing more in their search for help at the position.

But the Chiefs should be at least wondering about Berry. They described his latest absence from practice as an issue with tendonitis and that Berry might need the occasional day off when the injured area gets irritated.

For now, that’s a livable situation. They can get a long look at his backup, undrafted rookie Daniel Sorensen. Sorensen has showed good instincts and ball skills during camp, though he was late getting back and providing help on a 53-yard pass from Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton to A.J. Green.

“He actually played pretty good,’’ coach Andy Reid said of Sorensen. “He had a lot of good snaps. It was good for him to get in there and get that experience. It looks like he’s a solid football player. We need to see more. It looks like he’s a smart kid, solid player, was a good tackler in that game, did well in his coverages.’’

Sorensen may have enough to work with that he could eventually become a solid backup and special teams player. But the Chiefs don’t need him starting this season, particularly if the spot he would be taking is Berry’s.
Examining the Oakland Raiders' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Carr has been impressive, even as he holds onto the ball too long in the pocket at times.

RUNNING BACKS (3)

Legacy George Atkinson III seems a safe bet for the practice squad.

FULLBACKS (2)

Reece has flashed his pass-catching abilities in camp. Olawale has flashed his speed.

RECEIVERS (6)

Does Moore being listed third on the depth chart put him on the roster bubble? Keep an eye on the Butler vs. Juron Criner battle. Mike Davis and Seth Roberts are also practice squad candidates.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
David Ausberry's knee injury makes him a candidate for the injured reserve/designated to return list, meaning the Raiders have an immediate need for bodies at tight end.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

Not much movement here since camp opened. In fact, none at all in this corner.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

This week, seventh-round draft pick Shelby Harris, listed second at a defensive end spot on the depth chart, takes the place of third-year DE Jack Crawford.

LINEBACKERS (6)

With Kaluka Maiava missing most of camp with a strained hamstring, let's replace him with Filimoeatu ... for now.

CORNERBACKS (6)

A new prediction -- DJ Hayden never practices in the preseason and opens the regular season on the PUP list.

SAFETIES (4)
Usama Young has been on the PUP list all camp long.

SPECIALISTS (3)

No questions needed.

Denver Broncos' projected roster

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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Examining the Denver Broncos' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)
The Broncos carried three here last season and thought enough of Dysert to keep him despite a long list of injuries on defense that eventually saw five starters on injured reserve. It could be more difficult to use that third spot on Dysert again. The Broncos would like to, but Dysert did not play in the preseason opener last Thursday night, and it might be a luxury they can’t afford this time around, especially if they want a return specialist.

Running backs (4)

The Broncos kept five at this spot as recently as 2012, but this position still shapes up to be a quality battle. Thompson continues to show he's a potential keeper. He's astute in pass protection, runs with power, catches the ball and has shown more speed than the Broncos may have thought he had when they signed him as an undrafted rookie. Anderson suffered a concussion in the preseason opener and will miss some practice time.

Receivers (5)

This is one of the spots where a roster spot currently being used elsewhere in this projection could go when the formal cuts do come. The Broncos have several undrafted rookie receivers who have shown enough that keeping six here will be consideration. Jordan Norwood, who had a touchdown catch in the preseason opener, and Isaiah Burse continue to work in the return game, primarily as punt returners. Norwood has shown more impact at receiver and will bear watching in the coming weeks.

Tight ends (3)

The Broncos kept four last season -- they kept three in 2011 and three in 2012 -- but keeping three, with perhaps another on the practice squad still looks to be the most likely scenario at this point.

Offensive line (9)

The Broncos have kept nine players at this position for the opening-week roster in all three previous seasons of the John Fox/John Elway regime so this is where a difficult decision awaits if they don't elect to keep 10. Ben Garland has worked with the second-team offense throughout training camp and played there in the preseason opener. But Garland doesn't play center so he's not a swing player in that regard. Despite the fact he deserves a long look to make it, it may take a tough call for the Broncos to do it.

Defensive line (9)

The Broncos kept eight on the initial roster here last season and could gain a spot for someplace else if they did it again. Austin continues to become a bigger part of the rotation, almost with each passing practice and the Broncos like what they have seen from Smith as well. They consistently created pressure up front against the Seahawks in the preseason opener.

Linebackers (7)

There is still room here for a wild card, but this group looks like it's settling in. The Broncos played Barrow and Marshall at the two linebacker spots when they went to the second-team nickel against the Seahawks. McCray has worked with the starters in Miller's strong-side linebacker spot, as the Broncos continue to work Miller back into team drills.

Cornerbacks (5)

Last season, the Broncos kept seven cornerbacks on the opening-night roster, including the injured Champ Bailey, but it's still looking like five here. Carter is getting plenty of work with the second unit in practice and still could be on the bubble, especially if one of the young, bigger defensive backs like Jerome Murphy show some special teams value.

Safeties (5)

They've played Bolden at cornerback a lot in camp so he present himself as a swing player who could play both corner and safety. He will also be one of the top options as a kickoff returner. How that impacts the Broncos' final total at defensive back remains to be seen. If they keep him and Carter, that's six players who get regular time at cornerback. So, to also keep Duke Ihenacho (Ihenacho played a team-leading 40 snaps, tied with Roby, in the preseason opener) at safety would push them to 11 defensive backs, which is what they kept last season. But it takes a roster spot from elsewhere.

Specialists (3)

The only question that still remains here, and it's still fairly large one, is at returner, where both the punt return and kickoff return jobs remain open.
Examining the Kansas City Chiefs' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

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 the Chiefs do with Aaron Murray. The Chiefs saw this scenario developing and didn’t draft him to set him free this quickly.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

I’m not including Cyrus Gray here but it wouldn’'t be much of an upset if he made it. He’s a good special-teams player and a dependable runner. He would have no role on offense unless both Charles and Davis are injured.

WIDE RECEIVER (6)

I’m substituting Williams for Frankie Hammond Jr. since my last roster projection. Williams has been around longer and the Chiefs might need his experience. Hemingway and Jenkins have returned to practice after missing last week's game with hamstring injuries. Their presence has most affected Hammond, who no longer is getting much work with the first-team offense.

TIGHT END (3)

This position seems set unless an injury changes their plans.

OFFENSIVE LINE (10)

Allen, a guard, has been playing a lot at tackle, a sign the Chiefs aren't comfortable with their backup options there. So off the bench look for the Chiefs to keep Harris at tackle, Henry and Johnson at guard, Kush at center and Duvernay-Tardif as a developmental prospect.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

There’s no need to keep more linemen, not with Poe playing so many snaps and the Chiefs occasionally using only two linemen, and sometimes one.

LINEBACKER (9)

After Dezman Moses injured his elbow and had surgery, these spots seem to be solidified. I don't have Nico Johnson making the roster but wonder whether the Chiefs are ready to give up on him after drafting him only last year.

CORNERBACK (5)

Smith is finally getting some snaps with the first team after playing well against Cincinnati in last week's game.

SAFETY (4)

I don't feel good about leaving rookie Daniel Sorensen off the roster, but the Chiefs can't afford to keep five players here. So I would expect the Chiefs to place him on their practice squad.

SPECIALISTS (3)

The Chiefs have no fear about going with a rookie, Santos, as their kicker. So he could claim a job over veteran Ryan Succop with a strong preseason.
Examining the San Diego Chargers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Brad Sorensen had a solid outing in San Diego's first preseason game, but I still think the Chargers keep two quarterbacks on the active roster so they can add more depth at other positions.

RUNNING BACKS (4)


Oliver is playing his way onto the 53-man roster, but Kerwynn Williams and Marion Grice remain in the conversation.

RECEIVERS (6)

Javontee Herndon, Tevin Reese and Torrence Allen are practice squad candidates at this point. Brown is still solidly on the roster, but needs to get healthy.

TIGHT ENDS (4)


Nothing changes here, with Johnson also serving as San Diego's fullback.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)


Troutman had a good week of practice and a solid performance in the exhibition game. Troutman could have played himself off of the bubble.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)


Scafe replaces Lawrence Guy, who could be out for an extended period with a shoulder injury. Undrafted rookie free agent Tenny Palepoi also played his way into the conversation of making the 53-man roster with a solid performance in the exhibition game.

LINEBACKERS (10)

No changes here, although Thomas Keiser showed that he can still be an impact player as an edge rusher.

CORNERBACKS (5)


Undrafted rookie free agent Chris Davis could get more of a look here if others continue to struggle.

SAFETIES (4)

The Chargers could use more quality depth here.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Novak appears to have built more leg strength during the offseason.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The punt that rookie De’Anthony Thomas returned 80 yards for a touchdown in the Kansas City Chiefs’ preseason opener last week guarantees him nothing when the regular season begins on Sept. 7 against Tennessee.

 But in the bigger picture, it’s not meaningless that Thomas, returning a punt for the first time in an NFL game, scored a touchdown. That kind of thing can provide benefits for the Chiefs and Thomas on Sept. 7 and beyond.

“It’s very meaningful for him,’’ special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “He’s a rookie. He went in there, and he showed a lot of courage. Those are the things we wanted to see. He showed a lot of courage catching the ball. He took a good hit and still held on to the ball, didn’t go down, kept his balance. Once he’s able to get in the open field you can see how dangerous he is.

“It was good for everybody’s confidence. It’s going to lift us up. Guys will block even harder next time.’’

The Chiefs, in their first season with Toub as their coordinator, established themselves in 2013 as among the league’s best teams in the kicking game. They scored four touchdowns on kick returns and set an NFL record for average kickoff return.

Already, they’re serving notice that won’t change. Thomas is replacing Dexter McCluster, who made the Pro Bowl last year as a punt returner but moved to the Titans as a free agent.

The Chiefs will use Knile Davis as their main kickoff return specialist. But another rookie, Albert Wilson, had a 65-yard kickoff return in last week’s game.

The immediate success of two rookie kick returners makes it look like the Chiefs can plug anyone into those spots and fare well. That’s an oversimplification, but it is true that Toub seems to have the magic touch with returners.

Before joining the Chiefs, he coached special teams for the Chicago Bears for nine seasons. The Bears scored 22 touchdowns on kick returns in that time, and they weren’t all the work of Devin Hester -- but six different players.

There’s no question that in Kansas City, Thomas and Davis are talented kick returners. That’s particularly true for Thomas, who can make the first defender miss and showed his world-class speed on last week’s touchdown.

But with Toub as their coach, the Chiefs might have a good return specialist no matter who they put back there to shag the kicks.

No nerves for Carr in NFL debut

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
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What, Derek Carr worry?

 The Oakland Raiders’ future franchise quarterback has been around the NFL since he was a pre-teen, going over game film with his older brother David, the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft. So yeah, even if the rookie was making his NFL debut in the Raiders’ exhibition opener Friday night in Minnesota, the younger Carr insisted there was no anxiety.

“It was everything I thought it would be,” Carr said after the Raiders’ 10-6 loss, in which he releieved starter Matt Schaub in Oakland’s fourth series. “It was a lot of fun.

“Oh no, there weren’t any nerves. The nerves stopped a long time ago.”

Carr, the Raiders’ second-round pick, played five series. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 74 yards and was picked off once. His roll-out pass to the left was thrown a bit too hard off the tip of fullback Jamize Olawale’s outstretched fingertips and into the arms of safety Kurt Coleman. Carr’s passer rating was 47.4, compared to the 56.2 authored by Minnesota rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who was taken four picks ahead of Carr and also relieved his team’s starter.

“I just try to challenge myself a lot, too,” Carr said. “I want to continue to get better at those little things. Those things matter. The quicker you can get in and out of the huddle, the more time you have on the clock to see what’s going on.

“Like I said, I have a lot to work on, but from that aspect, I liked what we did, and I just got to keep growing and getting better at it.”

And in case you were wondering if the Raiders had any designs on getting Carr some reps with the first-team offense in any of the three remaining exhibition games, coach Dennis Allen had a sobering answer.

“Yeah, it’s not really part of the plan right now,” Allen said. “We’ll obviously evaluate everything as we move along, but the plan is to work Matt Schaub as the starting quarterback, and I think he’s done a good job in doing that.”
SAN DIEGO -- Everything at Chargers Park is a little more efficient in the second season of coach Mike McCoy’s tenure with the San Diego Chargers.

Players have a better understanding of expectations, from the daily practice schedule to the type of precision and high-intensity effort expected in drill work from the demanding McCoy.

Players also know something else: The style and culture he created works. Last season, McCoy told veteran players that if they bought into his philosophy they could be consistent winners in Year 1 of his program. McCoy led the Chargers to a surprising playoff run.

With a couple of newcomers on both sides of the ball added to an already talented roster -- led by one of the best quarterbacks in football in Philip Rivers -- the Chargers believe they can compete with the Denver Broncos for an AFC West crown.

Of course, San Diego has to get through a month of preseason work with its core players healthy while building on the continuity and chemistry established during the backstretch of last season, when the Chargers won four straight to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

“We’ve just got to keep moving and keep grinding,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’re striving to be great.”

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. For the most part, the Chargers have not suffered any significant injuries through the first two weeks of camp. The team’s projected starting right guard, Jeromey Clary, is on the active physically unable to perform list recovering from offseason shoulder and hip surgeries. Clary hopes to return for the team’s regular-season opener at Arizona, but he could begin the season on the reserve PUP list and miss the first six weeks. On the flip side, edge rusher Dwight Freeney has looked explosive and healthy returning from a torn quad that cut short his 2013 season, and he should provide a boost to a team that struggled getting after the quarterback last season.

[+] EnlargeDwight Freeney
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Chargers hope Dwight Freeney can help boost the team's sack total in 2014.
2. Defensively, the Chargers appear much faster than last season, particularly in the secondary. The return of a healthy Manti Te'o (foot) and Melvin Ingram (knee) helped improve the overall speed and athleticism at the second level of the defense, along with the addition of outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, a second-round pick. In the secondary, the Chargers are more athletic with the addition of first-round selection Jason Verrett, the signing of veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers and the return of last year’s fifth-round pick Steve Williams, who missed all of his rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle.

3. Rivers has more playmakers at his disposal, making San Diego’s offense even more potent in 2014. The unexpected return of Malcom Floyd from a serious neck injury gives the Chargers a receiver who can stretch the field vertically opposite Keenan Allen. Floyd has flashed sure hands and playmaking ability in training camp. The addition of Donald Brown should provide a boost to the run game, easing the workload of Ryan Mathews. Also, tight end Ladarius Green appears to have taken another step in his development after showing the ability to create big plays last season.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. While San Diego has not suffered any significant injuries, two of the team’s top three corners (Verrett and Flowers) are not expected to play Thursday against Dallas. Verrett has been wearing a red jersey in practice, a sign that he is not fully recovered from March surgery to repair a torn labrum. And Flowers is resting an undisclosed injury, although he played last season for Kansas City with a balky knee most of the year. If those injuries continue to linger, it will affect what the Chargers can do defensively during the regular season.

2. Along with defensive back, the Chargers also have some concerns with depth and experience along the offensive line. Rookie Chris Watt is the projected starting right guard with Clary out. Although the third-round selection out of Notre Dame has looked solid in training camp, Watt still has not played a meaningful snap in a regular-season game. The Chargers also have question marks behind left tackle King Dunlap and right tackle D.J. Fluker. Mike Harris was solid when called upon last season, starting in two games at left tackle. However, he finished the 2013 season on injured reserve with an ankle injury and has yet to test the issue in a game.

[+] Enlarge Ryan Mathews
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRyan Mathews rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards last season.
3. The Chargers' projected starter at nose tackle is Sean Lissemore, a versatile performer who played 208 snaps last season. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, Lissemore is not a typical run-stuffing nose tackle in a 3-4 defensive front. Lissemore’s backup is Kwame Geathers, who played all of 27 snaps as a rookie last season. Both are expected to anchor a San Diego defense that gave up an average of 4.6 rushing yards per attempt last season, 27th in the NFL. Run-first teams Seattle and Buffalo are among the Chargers' September opponents, so the middle of the defense will be tested early.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • A point of emphasis for the Chargers during training camp has been creating more turnovers. San Diego finished with just 17 turnovers in 2013, third worst in the NFL. However, the Chargers forced six turnovers during the postseason, second only to the Seattle Seahawks. Weddle has two interceptions for touchdowns during training camp, and middle linebacker Donald Butler returned an interception for a score during a controlled scrimmage at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers are focused not only on creating more turnovers but also taking them back for touchdowns.
  • At an average of 6-6 and 322 pounds, San Diego has one of the beefiest offensive lines in the NFL. So it’s no wonder the Chargers were so effective clearing rushing lanes for Mathews last season. Mathews finished with a career-high 1,255 rushing yards last season. The goal for the offensive line is to create a similar mindset so the team can run against anyone in 2014. “Last year we started off coming out every day and being consistent and working together,” guard Chad Rinehart said. “We need to get back to that point. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like we’re there right now. But each day we’ve shown a little bit of improvement going into the season.”
  • Don’t expect much change from a scheme standpoint in San Diego’s offense with Frank Reich taking over as offensive coordinator. Reich worked as the team’s quarterbacks coach under Ken Whisenhunt, who left to become the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. Reich and Rivers have a good relationship. Reich will lean on the veteran quarterback even more to run the no-huddle offense and call plays at the line of scrimmage. But the team’s core philosophy of running the ball and leaning on the short passing game remains the same.
  • While Green will be featured more in the offense, veteran Antonio Gates will remain the most targeted tight end on San Diego’s roster. Gates has been the most targeted receiver for the Chargers two of the last three seasons. While NFL observers believe he has lost a step, the 34-year-old Gates can still beat one-on-one coverage in the middle of the field, particularly in the red zone.
  • One player to watch for during preseason play is undrafted rookie free-agent cornerback Chris Davis. The star of the Iron Bowl for Auburn last season with his return of a missed field goal for the winning score against Alabama, Davis has made handful of interceptions and pass breakups during camp. At 5-10 and 201 pounds, Davis is built more like a running back, but he has shown an ability to play physically and keep up with speedy receivers on vertical routes.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Quarterback Alex Smith recently spent some time looking at video from last year’s Kansas City Chiefs training camp, and even he was surprised by the differences one year made.

"We’re in a different place," Smith said. "We actually even went back and looked at a little bit of the film from last year. It’s funny to look back watching and compare where we are because it isn’t very close."

Everything was new last year for the Chiefs, from Andy Reid and the rest of the coaching staff to Smith. This year the emphasis is on continuity and familiarity, and the Chiefs are counting on that to carry them further than they went last season, when they won 11 games and earned a wild-card playoff berth.

The Chiefs are doing many of the same things they did last season but are trying to do them better. That’s particularly true on defense, where after a strong start the Chiefs collapsed down the stretch and in the postseason.

But they also had one of the NFL’s top passing games over the season’s last several games, and that’s where Smith’s aim has been throughout camp.

"That’s the goal we’re getting at," he said. "That is part of the focus."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
Jay Biggerstaff/Getty ImagesJamaal Charles comes off a season in which he averaged 5 yards per carry and had 19 total touchdowns.
1. The Chiefs had a pair of potential holdouts from training camp, but both running back Jamaal Charles and linebacker Justin Houston have been on the field from the first practice. A holdout by either player would have been bad enough, but not having both would have been devastating to the Chiefs. Charles is their offensive engine and Houston arguably is their most valuable defensive player. Charles received the contract extension he desired, while Houston reported for camp without a new deal. Judging from their play in camp, Charles and Houston look poised for big seasons.

2. The Chiefs might not provide more relief to Charles than they did last year, when he had a big workload. But they should be able to thrive if they choose to give him more rest. Rookie De'Anthony Thomas has shown big-play ability at training camp. Thomas is fast, and the Chiefs can use him in a variety of ways in search of favorable matchups. At 174 pounds, Thomas will be limited in how much he can play, but the Chiefs also have Knile Davis. He looked lost at training camp last season as a rookie but appears far more prepared to contribute this season.

3. In outside linebackers Houston, Tamba Hali and first-round draft pick Dee Ford, the Chiefs have the makings of a dynamic pass rush. The Chiefs midway through last season were on pace to set an NFL record for sacks, but their production fell off greatly over the second half without Houston, who missed the final five games with a dislocated elbow. The combination of Houston and Hali is difficult for opponents to deal with, and now the Chiefs have added Ford to the mix. In camp he flashed the qualities of a great pass-rusher, including a quick first step, a variety of moves and the ability to finish.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The Chiefs allowed an alarming 63 pass plays of 20 or more yards last season and another six in their playoff game. Since then, they released one starting cornerback and demoted another from their lineup. Under different circumstances, that might not be such a bad thing, but the replacements are players the Chiefs picked up off waivers last season. One is Marcus Cooper, who played well as the third cornerback the first half of the season but played so poorly over the second half that he had to be benched. The other is journeyman Ron Parker, who had been released eight times before joining the Chiefs.

[+] EnlargeEric Fisher
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliEric Fisher needs to show the promise of a top overall pick in his second season after an underwhelming rookie year.
2. Four of the five starters on the offensive line were selected by the Chiefs in first three rounds of the draft, so they have some talent. But inexperience is an issue. Those four players have a total of 73 career NFL starts, and the fifth starter, guard Zach Fulton, is a rookie. Eric Fisher, the first overall pick in the draft last year, had a rocky rookie season and has moved to left tackle, where he will protect Smith’s blind side. Fisher still projects to a solid NFL player, but it could be some time before he gets there.

3. The Chiefs quietly finished last season with one of the league’s best passing games but could struggle to pick up where they left off. There was no indication at camp the Chiefs will get more from starting wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery. The best receivers at camp were two developmental players, Frankie Hammond Jr. and undrafted rookie Albert Wilson. Both could wind up playing, but they are untested, so it’s unwise to expect much from either player. Tight ends Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano have looked good in training camp but are unreliable from an injury standpoint. Kelce missed all of last season and Fasano half of the season with injuries.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Chiefs will lean heavily on rookies. They have expectations for Ford, Fulton and Thomas and hopes for Wilson. In addition, Cairo Santos is a strong candidate to win the place-kicking job.
  • The Chiefs don’t have an obvious candidate to provide adequate relief for nose tackle Dontari Poe, so they again need him to play an inordinate number of snaps for a big man. Teams generally rotate players the size of Poe, who is listed at 346 pounds, but he rarely came out of the lineup last year. The Chiefs are better with Poe on the field against the pass and the run.
  • The Chiefs should be good again on special teams. They scored four touchdowns on kick returns last season and should match or exceed that number this year. Thomas, who is fast and can make the first defender miss, has the skills to be a great punt returner.
  • Results from preseason games could change this, but during camp neither of the developmental quarterbacks, Tyler Bray and rookie Aaron Murray, looked advanced enough to be the main backup to Smith. The Chiefs would be smart to hang on to veteran Chase Daniel.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos opened training camp with a team that was good enough to have played in the Super Bowl six months before and as one of the league’s most active teams in free agency, a rare combination as they try to repair the damage from February’s 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Broncos wanted a little more nastiness on defense, more athleticism across the board and to keep their edge after back-to-back 13-3 seasons that have ended in postseason disappointment.

They wanted what John Elway calls “the right mentality."

So far in this training camp they have shown they should certainly be in the Super Bowl discussion if they simply keep the train on the tracks in the months to come.

“We will get what we work for," coach John Fox said.

Without many starting jobs open, or even roster spots for that matter, the camp has been about getting the new faces acclimated and smoothing any rough edges before things get going for real.

“I think we all understand what they’ve got going here and why they brought some of us in," said safety T.J. Ward, a free-agent signee. “We all know it’s time to get to work and get ready."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM


1. It’s clear already the offense is going to score plenty -- again. Peyton Manning, who needs just 18 touchdown passes to set the league career record, has looked as sharp as ever and may actually have more options to throw to than he did in last year's record-setting 606-point performance. Orlando Franklin’s move inside to guard means the Broncos should pass protect better in the middle of the formation, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders should have a career year in this offense, especially given his versatility to play all over the formation. The Broncos also didn’t sit on the laurels of last season’s record-setting effort as Manning and offensive coordinator Adam Gase were each aggressive and honest, with plenty of attention to detail when looking at what could be better.

[+] EnlargeWare
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDeMarcus Ware has made his presence felt since signing with the Broncos.
2. In cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and Ward, the Broncos got exactly what they wanted in free agency. Ware has commanded respect with his no-nonsense, quiet work ethic and leadership from his first day in the building. Talib is the physical corner who can match up anywhere in the formation the Broncos need him, and Ward is a guy defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will move all over the field. The Talib-Demaryius Thomas battles have created some of the highlights of practice. Ware has mentored, in some way, virtually all of the pass-rushers, especially linebacker Von Miller.

3. Continuity helps. The team’s playcallers on offense and defense -- Gase and Del Rio -- are back. Last season, as Gase raced to put in some changes to the offense when Mike McCoy moved on to become the Chargers' coach, the Broncos were working through the new stuff. This year, Gase has tweaked the offense in spots, but there looks to be a greater comfort level across the board. The groups have played fairly cleanly in practice, with only a smattering of penalties and a minimum of repeats as they have worked through things.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Until they square up in a game that counts, there is at least some question if a slightly revamped offensive line is going to make it happen in the run game. The Broncos don’t want to be some outdated, 50-50 run-pass affair, but they do want to be able to pound the ball to close out games and keep the heat off Manning when needed. Thus far, in limited full-contact work, it’s been a spotty effort with flashes of potential. It will be a key piece in keeping opposing defenses honest and giving the Broncos some other options in the scoring zone.

2. Somebody, anybody, has to step up in the return game. As camp has rolled on, the Broncos have simply mishandled too many kickoffs and punts. They would prefer to not have to use starters if they don’t have to, and wide receiver Andre Caldwell and defensive back Omar Bolden have been the most consistent in kickoff returns so far. At punt return, however, things are still open with Wes Welker, who suffered two concussions last season, currently listed at the top of the team’s depth chart. Because of the concussion risk, Welker is not the player the Broncos want catching punts beyond any deep-in-their-own-territory fair catches. So it is a chance for a young player such as wide receiver Jordan Norwood or rookie Isaiah Burse.

3. The blue ball is in play -- a football with a blue covering -- to emphasize ball security after the team led the league in lost fumbles last season. The Broncos also dropped their fair share of passes in 2013, including a seven-drop game against the New England Patriots and a six-drop game against the Tennessee Titans. It has been a front-burner issue all through camp, but they have still put the ball on the ground on occasion in workouts, especially on special teams. It will bear watching as they move through the preseason and into the regular season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • With the additions of Sanders and rookie Cody Latimer to an offense that already includes Demaryius Thomas, Welker and Julius Thomas, the Broncos feature an array of pass-catchers who can all play, with equal comfort, on the outside or in the slot. It gives them plenty of size to create some matchup problems against more aggressive defenses. Even the most aggressive defensive backs are going to have a difficult time manhandling them all as the Broncos have spent plenty of time considering how to consistently get their pass-catchers the free release they need off the line.
  • Manning, and his receivers have said as much, has shown a little more pop in his arm through offseason workouts and camp and has pushed the ball down the field with ease.
  • Of the team’s draft class, cornerback Bradley Roby is, at minimum, going to play in the nickel and dime, Latimer will be in the rotation on offense, and Lamin Barrow figures to get special-teams work and could work his way into some of the specialty packages on defense.
  • In recent seasons, the Broncos have consistently had a late free-agent signing, a veteran who signs a one-year deal, come in and contribute in a big way. This year it looks like that guy is going to be defensive tackle Marvin Austin. He had back surgery in the past year, and the former second-round pick by the Giants has caught the Broncos’ eye.
  • It’s early with plenty of road to be traveled, but the most improved players from a year ago look to be running back Ronnie Hillman and guard Ben Garland, who was switched from defensive tackle in the offseason and is pushing hard for one of the final roster spots allotted for the offensive line. Hillman has shown the big-play potential the offense needs at the position, especially as it looks to improve its impact on runs between the tackles against the bevy of nickel and dime formations used to stop the Broncos' passing game.

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