NFL Nation: Billy Volek

Chargers: Backup QB plan

June, 6, 2012
6/06/12
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NFC Backup QBs: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Assessing the San Diego Chargers' backup QB situation if Philip Rivers is injured and misses time.

The Chargers are taking a risk by going with Charlie Whitehurst as Rivers’ backup. Whitehurst spent four seasons with the Chargers and was traded to Seattle two years ago. The Seahawks had designs that Whitehurst (a preseason star in San Diego) could become solid starter. It never happened and he finished 1-3 as a starter in Seattle. When he became available this offseason, San Diego cut longtime backup Billy Volek in a salary-cap move and went with the younger Whitehurst, who is 29. He is comfortable in San Diego and the Chargers like him. Still, I think Volek would have been a better option if Rivers was to go down.

Confidence rating (out of 100) if Rivers out for an extended period: 15.

AFC West free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Denver Broncos

Key additions: QB Peyton Manning, CB Tracy Porter, TE Joel Dreessen, TE Jacob Tamme, S Mike Adams, QB Caleb Hanie, WR Andre Caldwell.

Key losses: DT Brodrick Bunkley, WR, Eddie Royal, TE Daniel Fells, QB Tim Tebow, QB Brady Quinn, TE Dante Rosario.

Did they get better? The Broncos added Manning and that move changes the course of the entire division. Denver is instantly the favorite to win the AFC West again because of this addition. Yes, there are risks as the 36-year-old Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury that required several surgeries. Denver is convinced Manning is fully recovered and has been cleared to play.

If the 2012 Manning is anything like the Manning we last saw, Denver will be in good shape and the offense will be dangerous. The key is on defense. It has improved greatly and the Porter and Adams additions should help, even while losing Bunkley will hurt. Overall, this team made huge strides in the offseason.

What’s next: Denver’s biggest need areas are at defensive tackle (the Broncos may need two), running back, safety, receiver and linebacker. However, much of that need is for depth purposes.

Denver’s only true glaring hole is at defensive tackle. Expect the Broncos to use their No. 25 pick on the position. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team’s second-round pick is used on a running back unless the Broncos like one of the remaining veterans on the market.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key additions: CB Stanford Routt, RT Eric Winston, RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, QB Brady Quinn.

Key losses: CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Demorrio Williams.

Did they get better? Had it not been for the Manning blockbuster, everybody would be taking about what the Chiefs did. I think the Chiefs’ work in free agency was among the best five in the NFL.

Instead of giving quarterback Matt Cassel serious competition, the Chiefs further committed to him by giving him some strong pieces on offense. Hillis will team with Jamaal Charles to make a dangerous running tandem. Winston is one of the league’s better right tackles and Boss and Tony Moeaki will give opposing defenses fits in double tight end sets. This will be a varied offense that will have many weapons. The Chiefs are solid on defense and Routt is a veteran who is comparable to Carr, but more experienced and is less expensive.

What’s next: The Chiefs could use a nose tackle, help at inside linebacker, secondary depth and offensive line depth. They will get a good player with the 11th pick and I think they will try to solidify the middle of the defensive line with someone like Memphis’ Dontari Poe. If the Chiefs can add an impact defender with that pick, it will complete an outstanding offseason.

Oakland Raiders

Key additions: G Mike Brisiel, CB Ron Bartell, CB Shawntae Spencer, CB Pat Lee.

Key losses: LB Kamerion Wimbley, RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, CB Stanford Routt, TE Kevin Boss, DT John Henderson, RB Rock Cartwright, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, CB Chris Johnson.

Did they get better? It’s difficult to argue this team improved. Just look at all the losses. It’s a pure fact of numbers, Oakland lost much more than it brought in. This team has more questions than it did at the end of last season and it has more holes. With limited cap space and the fact Oakland doesn’t pick in the draft until No. 95, the Raiders will have a difficult time adding any more impact players. Depth can be an issue.

I understand why this has happened. The new Oakland regime had to get things in order, and sometimes, before a team can make major steps forward as an organization, it may have to take a step back. There is still a lot of talent in Oakland, but it is clear the other three teams made more impactful additions.

What’s next: Oakland will be challenged to find impact players, but it will need to add depth at several places after finding a starting outside linebacker. Oakland needs depth at linebacker, the secondary, offensive line, running back and at quarterback. I think we will see Oakland be patient and add at spots all the way up into the season.

San Diego Chargers

Key additions: WR Robert Meachem, LB Jarret Johnson, WR Eddie Royal, FB Le’Ron McClain, QB Charlie Whitehurst, S Atari Bigby, TE Dante Rosario, LB Demorrio Williams

Key losses: WR Vincent Jackson, RB Mike Tolbert, G Kris Dielman, S Steve Gregory, QB Billy Volek.

Did they get better? I’ve talked to a lot of scouts who believe the Chargers improved. The truth is they lost two good players in Jackson and Tolbert and so did not improve as much as Denver and Kansas City did. But the Chargers did get creative and added a lot of pieces for the price it would have cost to keep Jackson. They also retained key offensive linemen Nick Hardwick and Jared Gaither. Meachem and Royal give quarterback Philip Rivers some interesting weapons.

Johnson will help the defense and he will make it tougher. The Chargers may have gotten a little deeper while losing some star power.

What’s next: The Chargers still haven’t addressed their greatest need outside of keeping its offensive line intact. San Diego will no doubt use its No. 18 pick on the best available pass-rusher to help Johnson is not a great pass-rusher.

Other needs include a big backup running back, offensive line depth and some more depth in all layers of the defense.
Jay Cutler’s former backup is going to Cutler’s former team.

ESPNChicago.com is reporting that the Denver Broncos have signed former Chicago quarterback Caleb Hanie — who played collegiately at Colorado State — to a two-year deal.

Hanie
Hanie, 26, played well in relief of Cutler in the NFC title game in the 2010 season. However, he was dreadful as Cutler’s injury replacement in 2011, going 0-4 as a starter. The Broncos like the mobile, athletic Hanie because they think he is a better fit for their offense than he was for Mike Martz’s in Chicago.

I thought the Broncos would try to sign a more experienced veteran like recent San Diego cut Billy Volek. The Broncos talked to Volek, but were more interested in Hanie.

Hanie will be the man in Denver if Peyton Manning – who missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury – can’t play. The Broncos are convinced Manning will be fine.

Let’s face it: The Broncos will be dire straits if Manning, 36, misses a huge chunk of time, regardless of who is the backup. In Hanie, Denver gets a player it thinks can adjust to its system. Watch for Denver to perhaps add a quarterback in some point in the draft.
Free agency is winding down, but there are still some players available who can help each AFC West team.

Let’s look at a good fit, in my opinion, for each team. This doesn’t necessarily mean any of these players are on the team’s radar, but I think they are a good fit:

Denver

Quarterback Billy Volek, released by San Diego

Why: Denver needs a backup for Peyton Manning. Volek would be perfect. The Broncos have had some talks with Volek, who was cut by the Chargers last week. He has backed up Steve McNair and Philip Rivers. Volek knows what it is like to be an understudy for a star.

Kansas City

Defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, New Orleans free agent

Why: There has been some interest. Franklin is a solid 3-4 nose tackle who can be a solid rotational player for the Chiefs. It is one of the team’s biggest needs and the Chiefs could do worse than Franklin.

Oakland

Running back Brandon Jacobs, released by the New York Giants

Why: I was going to go with Minnesota linebacker Erin Henderson. However, he has just re-signed with the Vikings. Outside linebacker is the Raiders’ greatest need. The Raiders also need a power running back and Jacobs would be the perfect replacement for Michael Bush, who signed with Chicago on Thursday. Because of a lack of money and other needs, the Raiders will likely find a lesser-priced backup. Jacobs would look great in the Silver and Black, though.

San Diego

Defensive tackle Antonio Garay, San Diego free agent

Why: It may not be sexy for the choice to be an in-house rotational defensive tackle. But Garay is a solid player and I think he is the best available AFC West free agent. If the Chargers don’t re-sign Garay, they will have to replace him. There is still a place for him in San Diego.
The Denver Broncos must feel very good about Peyton Manning's health.

Can you imagine the position of the Broncos, who traded Tim Tebow to the Jets on Wednesday, if Manning has not recovered from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2011 season?

That risk is on the table. But, rest assured, the Broncos have thought about that scenario. Everything they have learned about Manning and everything they have seen from Manning makes the Broncos believe he will healthy for the season.

Sure, he could experience another injury. But every NFL player has that risk.

There’s no doubt, Denver feels great about not having Tebow moving forward.

It traded Tebow to the Jets on Wednesday because it wanted to move away from Tebowmania and it didn’t think Tebow fit in with the new offense that will come with Manning.

Now, the plan is to find a backup for Manning. There are several options, but keep an eye on former San Diego backup Billy Volek. Denver visited with former Chicago backup Caleb Hanie on Wednesday. He would be a candidate to be the No. 3 quarterback.

There has been some talk that the New England Patriots could join the list of teams interested in Denver quarterback Tim Tebow.

Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow in 2010, is now New England’s offensive coordinator. If the Patriots do pursue Tebow, I think Denver should inquire about third-string quarterback Ryan Mallett. The Patriots picked Mallett in the third round last season after he tumbled in the draft.

I’ve been asked about a possible Mallett-Tebow trade often and I think it makes sense for the Broncos. The Broncos will likely look for a veteran to back up Peyton Manning (Billy Volek, anyone?) and for a young quarterback to groom. Like Manning, Mallett is a good, strong-armed quarterback. Like he did in New England last year under Tom Brady, Mallett could learn and grow under Manning.

Manning should be a solid starter for at least the next three years. Mallet would have plenty of time to study the game from perhaps the most detail-oriented and intelligent quarterback of all time.

Mallett is not going to be in the Patriots’ immediate plans, so if they wanted to get in on Tebowmania, he would be a worthwhile price. If the Patriots were to offer Mallett for Tebow, I’d think the Broncos would have to consider it. I don’t see them getting many better offers.
With Peyton Manning coming and Tim Tebow going out, the Broncos still are not settled at the quarterback position.

Who is going to be Manning's backup?

Denver could always opt to keep Tebow, but ESPN has reported the team will try to trade him. They may even release him if they don’t find a trade partner.

The matter of Manning’s backup is significant. Manning passed the Broncos’ physical and he has been cleared to play in 2012 after missing all of last season with a neck injury. But there has to be a backup plan.

There aren’t too many great options out there. The top backup options are Byron Leftwich, Matt Leinart, Charlie Batch Donovan McNabb, Vince Young, Billy Volek, Josh Johnson and Dennis Dixon. Of that group, I think Volek -- who was released by the Chargers last week -- could be the best option. He is a serviceable player in a pinch.

Denver could always draft a quarterback to groom behind Manning. Manning, who turns 36 Saturday, probably has at least three solid seasons remaining in him if his neck holds up.

It might be a little early to draft a quarterback in the early rounds and I think Denver is now out of the Brandon Weeden mix. Denver has closely scouted him, but he will be 29 during the season. There is little chance Denver will take a quarterback who may not be in the position to start until he is well in his 30s.
The San Diego Chargers have benefited from Charlie Whitehurst and now they are bringing him back.

He is expected to be the No. 3 quarterback behind Philip Rivers and Billy Volek. San Diego clearly feels more comfortable having a veteran and known commodity like Whitehurst as a backup than a youngster.

Two years ago, San Diego traded Whitehurst to Seattle in a deal that moved the Chargers up 20 spots in the second round of the 2011 draft. San Diego also received a third-round pick last season. Seattle had hoped Whitehurst was their quarterback of the future. Whitehurst started four games, threw 155 passes and had three touchdowns in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Chargers continue to talk to running back Mike Tolbert, but other teams are in the mix as well.

Ranking the AFC West QB situations

October, 21, 2011
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Philip Rivers/Carson Palmer/Matt CasselUS Presswire/AP PhotoPhilip Rivers, Carson Palmer and Matt Cassel are QBs on solid footing with their respective teams.
There have been major changes at the most important position on the field in the AFC West this week. In Oakland, the Raiders turned the NFL world upside down by spending wildly to get Carson Palmer to replace the injured Jason Campbell. In Denver, the much-awaited Tim Tebow era is about to begin.

Because of the major happenings in the division at quarterback, let’s rank the quarterback situations in the division. Please note we are ranking the overall situations (not just the current standing of each team’s starter), putting both this season and beyond into consideration.

1. San Diego: This one is easy. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is the best player in the AFC West. In my opinion, he is the best player in the NFL who doesn’t own a Super Bowl ring. He will turn 30 in December and is under contract in San Diego through 2015. He is in the second year of a six-year, $90-plus million deal.

The Chargers won’t have to make a decision on Rivers until he is 34. Billy Volek is considered a quality backup if Rivers misses some time. The Chargers may soon need to develop a youngster, but overall this is an extremely solid situation.

2. Oakland: It’s gets very tough here. I could see an argument for any combination of the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos in the final three spots. All three quarterback situations have major questions moving forward.

But I’m going with the Raiders at No. 2 for now. With the high price Oakland sent to Cincinnati for Palmer (a 2012 first-round pick and a conditional 2013 pick that could be a first-rounder), the Raiders are clearly committed to Palmer for the foreseeable future.

The only question is if Palmer can still be productive. His numbers have slipped in the past three seasons and he will soon be 32. He has suffered major knee and elbow injuries in the past. So, he has a lot of miles on him. But Palmer is an accurate, experienced quarterback who can help the Raiders.

Palmer is under contract through 2014. Tuesday's trade means Campbell, who made good strides this season before he got hurt, will likely look to become a starter elsewhere next season as a free agent. This is shocking because just prior to his injury Sunday, it seemed plausible that Oakland would consider giving Campbell a contract extension.

The Raiders also have rookie Terrelle Pryor to develop. He has a long way to go before playing, but the Raiders seem to have a quarterback structure in place. They just need to see it work.

3. Kansas City: This is an interesting situation. The Chiefs triggered the option on his six-year, $40 million deal this year, so they are committed to him. Cassel made great strides in 2010 (his second season in Kansas City), but he struggled in the final two games of last season (including a playoff loss) and the first several games of this season. Yet, Cassel has been terrific in the past 10 quarters.

But there are long-term questions about whether Cassel can be a well-above-average player.

“Cassel is just a stop-gap player,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “Last year might have been his ceiling. I would suggest drafting someone high to groom.”

I think if Cassel, 29, continues to play well this season, the Chiefs will feel good about sticking with him. However, if he stumbles and the injury-ravaged Chiefs end up with a top-10 pick, they could consider taking someone such as Oklahoma’s Landry Jones in the first round. Still, I doubt the Chiefs will make a play for a new starting quarterback in the offseason.

The Chiefs drafted developmental quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the fifth round this season. He will continue to be developed and could be a player the Chiefs turn to in the future. There are questions about the Chiefs at the position, but the cupboard is far from bare.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyTim Tebow threw for one touchdown and ran for another in limited action against the Chargers.
4. Denver: In a division with many questions at the position, the biggest questions are in Denver. There is a chance Denver could move above Oakland by next summer or it could stay on the bottom of the division.

If Tebow plays well in the final 11 games of the season and convinces the Broncos’ brass he is their quarterback of the future, the Broncos will be set. If Tebow is awful and Denver gets a chance to draft Stanford’s Andrew Luck (that would require having the No. 1 pick or trading a load to get him), Jones or USC's Matt Barkley, the Broncos could be set for the future.

Denver has to see how Tebow does before figuring out which way it is going at quarterback. It is the team’s biggest issue heading into the 2012 offseason, especially considering the other two quarterbacks on the roster -- former starter Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn -- are free agents.

Report: Chargers lose two prospects

September, 4, 2011
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This has to sting the San Diego Chargers a bit.

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that two undrafted rookies the Chargers cut were claimed. Quarterback Scott Tolzien was claimed by San Francisco and center/guard Colin Baxter was claimed by the New York Jets.

It’s not overly common for undrafted free agents to be claimed right after not making the 53-man roster. Tolzien and Baxter both had good summers.

The Chargers liked Tolzien a lot. The paper reported that the Chargers saw him as a potential future backup to Philip Rivers. Now, San Diego just has Rivers and backup Billy Volek in the program. That is all it needs, but it would have been nice for the team to develop Tolzien. Now that the gamble to try to stash Tolzien on the practice squad didn’t work, the Chargers could look to add a young quarterback to the practice squad.

Baxter made a push to the make San Diego’s 53-man roster. The Chargers liked him for his versatility.

While it hurts the Chargers to lose two prospects, this could be, in the big picture, a positive sign. The fact that the Chargers didn’t find room on the 53-man roster for two talented players like this might be an indication of how deep the roster is.

Meanwhile, Carolina reportedly claimed defensive back Stevie Brown, who was cut by the Raiders. The 2010 draft pick was not eligible for the practice squad, so Oakland knew it was saying goodbye to Brown when it cut him.
Random thoughts on San Diego’s 34-31 win at Arizona on Saturday night:

For the first time in the preseason, the Chargers’ starters struggled. The first two preseason games were a lark. Saturday night, the Chargers were punched in the face a few times.

The San Diego defense, which played without Antonio Garay, Shaun Phillips and Larry English, was hit hard at times. It gave up an 80-yard pass play for a touchdown. Arizona starting quarterback Kevin Kolb threw for 205 yards and Arizona starting running back Beanie Wells had 63 yards rushing.

The Cardinals took a 17-3 lead with starters from both teams in the game. The Cardinals led 24-17 at the half.

San Diego’s offense struggled early. Quarterback Philip Rivers, who was nearly flawless in the first two games, threw an interception that was returned 34 yards for a score by rookie Patrick Peterson. The San Diego first-team offense did improve as the game went on. Rivers ended up throwing for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-28 passing. Starting receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd both came up with some big plays.

Rivers said after the game that it was good for San Diego to experience some difficulty in the preseason after the easy start. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I don’t put much stock in the preseason. It’s all about getting situational experience. This game will benefit the Chargers.

Rookie Ryan Mathews showed his explosiveness with a 48-yard run. He finished with 69 yards on 10 carries.

Young inside linebacker Donald Butler continued his strong summer with five tackles.

Defensive lineman Vaughn Martin had a sack. He had two sacks last week.

Backup quarterback Billy Volek showed his worth by taking his team on the game-winning 90-yard drive. While the Chargers don’t want to think about playing without Rivers, they know they have one of the NFL’s best backups in Volek.

Philip Rivers unplugged

August, 9, 2011
8/09/11
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SAN DIEGO -- I had a chance to catch up with San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers on Tuesday and we discussed several topics.

Rivers
Rivers
Here is a sampling:

Rivers is excited about the prospect of playing with starting receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates. Last year, the three played to together for a total of one quarter of a game. Jackson held out much of the season and Gates and Floyd were hurt late in the season. In 2009, those three players combined for 192 catches for 3,100 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns catches.

That is a lot of missed opportunities for Rivers. However, he still passed for a career-high 4,710 passing yards in 2010.

Rivers said he is thrilled to have his top receivers back, but the good part about last season was that several other players showed they can contribute to the offense, including receiver Patrick Crayton and tight end Randy McMichael.

Add veteran free-agent pickup Laurent Robinson and rookie receiver Vincent Brown, and Rivers likes what he sees.

“We have a lot of weapons,” Rivers said. “I have so many different guys who I can I can count on. It’s really going to be exciting.”

Meanwhile, Rivers complimented second-year running back Ryan Mathews for his development in camp. Mathews has been maligned for not showing up to camp in prime shape and he has continued to deal with nagging injuries. He will likely not play Thursday against Seattle as a precaution because of a minor leg injury.

However, Rivers said Mathews is making strides in all aspects of the game, including pass protection. Rivers said he believes Mathews will only improve as he takes more repetitions.

Rivers admits it didn’t break his heart to see star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha leave Oakland and the AFC West to sign with Philadelphia. However, Rivers said he is impressed by Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, who will likely replace Asomugha.

“Nnamdi is great, but Routt and Johnson can cover,” Rivers said. “Oakland had us covered as well as anyone in (Oakland’s 28-13 win at San Diego in December) … Those guys can play.”

Rivers has been impressed by rookie free-agent quarterback Scott Tolzien. Rivers said he knew the first day he saw Tolzien that Tolzien is more than camp fodder.

“He’s a pro,” Rivers said. “You can tell the kid can handle himself.”

If the Wisconsin product has a good preseason perhaps San Diego will add him on the active roster behind Rivers and Billy Volek.
It must be backup quarterback day in the AFC West.

Shortly after the Chargers re-signed Billy Volek, Oakland signed former Buffalo starter Trent Edwards.

It’s an interesting signing for the Raiders. He will compete with Kyle Boller, a favorite of Oakland coach Hue Jackson. I’d give the edge to Edwards. He has talent and perhaps he will benefit from being around Jackson and new Oakland offensive coordinator Al Saunders.

Edwards, 27, ended last season with the Jaguars. The Bay Area native and Stanford product has started 33 NFL games. Edwards was once a promising prospect, so giving him a chance to earn a job can’t hurt Oakland.

It was reported last week that the Raiders were looking for competition for starter Jason Campbell and Edwards was mentioned. It is a bit of a stretch to say Edward is currently competing with Campbell. Jackson has been clear Campbell is his man. I guess it is conceivable if Campbell -- who finished strong in 2010 -- starts slow again, the Raiders could consider their options.

But, right now, I think it clear Edwards’ current best chance to make a mark in Oakland is as a backup.
Usually, a transaction involving a backup quarterback is not a big deal.

Yet, the fact that the San Diego Chargers have re-signed backup quarterback Billy Volek for two years is noteworthy.

Volek is arguably the best backup quarterback in the NFL. There were rumblings after last season that Volek would leave for a starting job. That made the Chargers nervous because they know how valuable of an asset he is playing behind starter Philip Rivers.

Yet, Volek never got an opportunity to start elsewhere, so he re-upped with the Chargers on Saturday. While Volek would like the chance to start, I think he realizes he is in a good situation in San Diego and he has a good working relationship with Rivers.

Volek showed in the 2007 playoffs, when Rivers was hurt at Indianapolis, that he can come in and help win a big game. If Rivers, who is extremely durable, goes go down, the Chargers are in good shape.

Not every NFL team has a great backup. That’s why this is a significant re-signing.
Well, we can forget the notion of Terrelle Pryor becoming an Oakland Raider this season.

ESPN’s John Clayton is reporting that the former Ohio State quarterback is ineligible for the supplemental draft. There was heavy speculation that the Raiders could be interested in Pryor.

My thoughts on the development? No great loss for the Raiders. He is a project who will take time to develop. Whether he joins an NFL team this year or next, it will still take him time to develop into a player worthy of playing time.

In other AFC West updates:

The Chargers have re-signed quarterback Billy Volek. I will have some thoughts on that in an upcoming post.

Star San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is on the physically unable to perform list. It is nothing major. The team is bringing him back slowly from an injury-filled 2010 season. There aren’t any major concerns art this point.

The Chargers have an update on their stadium efforts.

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