NFL Nation: Brandon Siler

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- This isn’t a training camp for the leisurely.

Armed with the best roster this franchise has seen in years, the Kansas City Chiefs are moving quickly under new coach Romeo Crennel. For those who visited the Chiefs camp last year, this pace is foreign.

“There are no wasted moments,” said quarterback Matt Cassel.

The final training camp of the Todd Haley era will live in infamy in the Heartland. The Chiefs’ training camp last season was essentially a three-week walk-through exercise. Haley chose to go that route because he wanted to ease the players back into the program after a lost offseason due the lockout. The plan didn’t work as the Chiefs were physically and mentally behind the rest of the league. The Chiefs, who suffered several major injuries early in the season, were clubbed early in the season and it set the tone for a disappointing season.

However, speed is back in vogue as Crennel tries for head-coaching success in the NFL in his second go-around. The tempo change has paid off so far. The Chiefs have looked crisp in practices and they were dominant on both sides of the ball against Arizona in the preseason opener last week.

The idea is to keep the forward tempo moving into the season as the Chiefs try to win the AFC West for the second time in three seasons.

“It’s exciting to see what is happening here,” Cassel said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we are all on the same page and all want to have success together.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The ACL Club: In addition to bringing in several free agents, the Chiefs are getting back three standouts. Safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki all blew out the ACLs in their knee last September. All of the players are back and on pace to be major contributors this season.

“All of those guys look great,” Cassel said. “They’re going to help us a lot.”

2. Dwayne Bowe’s absence: The Pro Bowl receiver did not participate in the offseason workouts and he was not present for the entire training camp in Kansas City. Bowe has not signed his franchise tender. The general consensus is Bowe will report in early September, just before the season. But there are issues. Bowe has had trouble staying in football shape in the past, so coming in late could be a problem. Plus, he has to learn a new offensive system. The Chiefs want Bowe back, but they are moving forward without him. They know he makes them better, but the team likes its roster and won’t wait for anyone.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Romeo Crennel
Denny Medley/US PRESSWIREChiefs coach Romeo Crennel has the respect of his players.
3. Good vibrations: This team is in a good place. The players love playing for Crennel. One of the reasons why Crennel was promoted from interim coach was the players’ respect for him. It has continued now that he is the permanent coach. He is a polar opposite of former coach Todd Haley, who was known as somewhat of loose cannon. Crennel is a calm, steady hand. Players love that he’s organized and up front. There is a lot of trust going on in this club.

“They’ve worked hard and they know the possibilities this team has," Crennel said. “Every team feels good about itself this time of year, but this team’s attitude is in the right place.”

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

This is the best overall roster in the AFC West. It is one of the deepest rosters in the AFC. There is proven talent throughout the roster and the team has the right mix of veteran and young players. Still, the Chiefs are the youngest team in the NFL. They are the only team in the league not to have a player over the age of 30.

“When I was on my visit, I just looked up and down this roster and saw so much talent,” free-agent pickup, tight end Kevin Boss said. “It is just loaded with talent.”

You look at this roster, and there isn’t much not to like.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chiefs will be banged for not being a playoff contender this year until Cassel proves otherwise. The big reason why many people don’t believe in the Chiefs is because they don’t believe in Cassel, even though he has already delivered a division title in Kansas City. Many scouts don’t think he can be a difference maker and because he is the least talented of the four quarterbacks in the AFC West, he will not be able to overcome the other teams in the division. I am of the belief there is enough talent on the roster to help Cassel lead the Chiefs deep into the playoffs. But he must prove it.

OBVERSATION DECK

  • The rap on No. 11 overall pick Dontari Poe is that the defensive tackle wasn’t productive at Memphis. The Chiefs didn’t feel that way. They reviewed every college snap he ever played and they were impressed that he played 60 percent of the snaps at 346 pounds. For what it’s worth, Poe’s college statistics and combine measuruables compare favorably to Green Bay’s B.J. Raji. He has become a star after being the No. 9 overall pick in 2009. Poe is two inches taller and nine pounds heavier than Raji, yet he ran a 4.9 40-yard dash at the combine compared to Raji’s 5.23. Poe had nine more tackles and four more quarterback hurries than Raji in college despite the fact Raji played 16 more college games. This is not to suggest Poe is going to be a better NFL player than Raji, but it does take away some of the steam out of the argument that Poe wasn’t a productive college player.
  • [+] EnlargeKansas City's Dontari Poe
    John Rieger/US PRESSWIREThe Chiefs like what they've seen from first-round pick Dontari Poe so far.
    With Bowe holding out, Jon Baldwin has been thriving under the professional guidance of veteran receivers Steve Breaston and Terrance Copper. Some folks in camp think Baldwin is making strides, because he is taking cues from Copper and Breaston.
  • Defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey are plus players for the Chiefs. No, neither is spectacular and they will always get grief for not living up to their draft billing. Dorsey was the No. 5 overall pick in 2008 and Jackson went No. 3 a year later. But both players are excellent run stuffers and are at their top of the game in that area.
  • While the focus is on Poe at nose tackle, Anthony Toribio and 2011 draft choice Jerrell Powe are also in the mix.
  • Inside linebacker Brandon Siler looks good after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury. He could push Jovan Belcher for playing time.
  • While Haley was known for his ranting and raving on the field, new offensive boss Brian Daboll is also fiery. He scoots around the field, barking instruction.
  • His new teammates love running back Peyton Hillis. His toughness and competitiveness have been a talk of camp.
  • Very quietly, left tackle Branden Albert is becoming the player the former Kansas City regime thought they were getting when they took him No. 15 overall in 2008. I expect the Chiefs to try to extend the pending free-agent at some point. He’s been stellar.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if the Brady Quinn-Ricky Stanzi battle to be Cassel’s backup continues all season, but with Quinn winning the job initially. The Chiefs like where they stand with both players.
  • The Chiefs are excited about the potential of tight ends Moeaki and Boss. Expect both to have high profiles in the offense.
  • Second-year pass-rusher Justin Houston has been terrific and the Chiefs are bubbling over at what kind of pass-rush combination Tamba Hali and Houston can become.
  • The team appreciates the flexibility of third-year player Dexter McCluster , who has bounced from receiver to running back to receiver again. McCluster may never have a classically defined role, but he will have a role in this offense.
  • Undrafted rookie receiver Josh Bellamy still has a chance to make the 53-man roster, but in a numbers game, he could be practice-squad bound.
  • So far, so good for new center Rodney Hudson. The second-year player looks comfortable playing with Cassel and vice versa.
  • Camp observers believe kicker Ryan Succop has gotten bigger and stronger, which will help with his field-goal range.
  • The team's fourth-round pick, receiver/returner Devon Wylie, is explosive. He will be given a chance to contribute.
  • Keep an eye on defensive end Ropati Pitoitua. He has outplayed 2011 third-round pick Allen Bailey and he may be a keeper.
  • Brandon Flowers’ foot injury has allowed second-year cornerback Jalil Brown to blossom. I expect Brown to be on the field often in the regular season.

Eric Berry injury is 'a killer'

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
5:05
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As I traveled from San Diego to Denver on Monday, I prepared myself to receive news on Eric Berry’s injury and I was prepared for what I heard.

That’s just the way life is going for the Kansas City Chiefs. In a wicked stream of terrible blows, the Chiefs may have just endured the blow that will be the hardest and most difficult to overcome. Berry is out for the season with a torn ACL he suffered Sunday in a stunning 41-7 home loss to Buffalo for the defending AFC West champions. I know it’s early and anything can happen, but I don’t see how the Chiefs work their way of out this hole to make a strong division title defense.

In just his second season, Berry is the team’s most important defensive player, in a virtual dead heat with champion pass-rusher Tamba Hali. As a rookie, Berry made the Pro Bowl and he established himself as one of the team’s most reliable players. The No. 5 overall pick of the draft was instinctive and he made key plays. Most importantly, he played every snap of the season.

He didn’t make it through the first game this year.

It makes you wonder if this is going to be one of those seasons for the Chiefs, who have endured a stunning spate of injuries. In the preseason finale, fellow 2010 rookie star, tight end Tony Moeaki, blew out his knee and was lost for the season. Add a thumb injury to No. 1 pick, receiver Jonathan Baldwin, that he reportedly injured in a late-camp fight with teammate Thomas Jones and a season-ending Achilles injury suffered after camp by key free-agent pickup Brandon Siler and the Chiefs are up against it.

And that’s not even putting into account how unorganized and unprepared they look on the field.

The show has to march on and the Chiefs have to find a way to move on without Berry. They surely will look at the waiver wire, but it will mean bigger roles for the likes of Kendrick Lewis and Jon McGraw. Berry can’t be replaced, though. He was an elite presence at the back of the defense that gave Kansas City’s defense both creditability and toughness. This is the next Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu we’re talking about.

How can the Chiefs rebound from this blow? Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. doesn’t know if they can.

“Berry -- like Moeaki on defense -- is one of those guys that is a matchup beater,” Williamson said. “He can hang with any type of receiving threat, a (Oakland running back) Darren McFadden or (San Diego tight end) Antonio Gates for example. That is invaluable. Not only is it brutal for this season, but also both these injuries slow down the long term growth of the franchise. It’s a killer.”

Wrap-up: Bills 41, Chiefs 7

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
4:24
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Wow. Let’s wrap-up this 41-7 rout in Kansas City

What it means: One game does not make a season. But, come on folks, the Kansas City Chiefs can’t be feeling good after this one. To allow the Buffalo Bills to come in and ruin opening day like this is stunning, and, frankly, it’s inexcusable. Remember last year’s opener when the Chiefs played with spunk and outworked the Chargers? It started a special season. What will this stinker be the start of? After a poor preseason, the Chiefs played like a team that was unprepared for the regular season on Sunday. It was outworked and outplayed and it was sloppy and ineffective. Add anything else you like. It was just plain bad and the Chiefs.

Trending: It all started with the reported Jonathan Baldwin-Thomas Jones fight. Until the reported fight in late August, all was fairly solid for the Chiefs. They started slow, but they were healthy and all was good. Then, the bout occurred and Baldwin hasn’t practiced since with a thumb injury. It started a flurry of bad news for the Chiefs. Free-agent pickup, linebacker Brandon Siler, was soon lost for the year with a torn Achilles. Then, standout tight end Tony Moeaki was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his knee. Then the Chiefs went 0-4 in the preseason and now this horrible performance in the opener.

What’s really scary: Going into this game, no one expected the Bills’ offense to be a juggernaut and no one will likely expect it to be after this game. But the Bills rammed it down the Chiefs’ throats. The Chiefs couldn’t do anything defensively against the pass or the run. Kansas City won 10 games last year because the defense was stout. It was awful Sunday.

What's next: The Chiefs have to go to Detroit and play the improved and dangerous Detroit Lions before playing at San Diego in Week 3. Yes, Todd Haley’s crew must get it in gear, pronto.

Camp Confidential: Chiefs

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
2:18
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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Been looking for post-lockout, smash-mouth NFL action?

Hope you didn’t come to Chiefs camp during the past three weeks.

Kansas City's training camp wasn’t the most excfiting place in the NFL. The Chiefs started very slowly, only going to pads last Sunday. The team’s starters did virtually nothing in a 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay last Friday night. Coach Todd Haley said he may take the same approach this Friday at Baltimore.

It’s a lockout-caused plan by Haley as the Chiefs take the big-picture approach and begin their AFC West title defense.

Haley was concerned about the length of the lockout and he didn’t want to rush his team into action because of the lost time. He wants this team to be fresh for the season. Other teams have crammed in as much physical play as possible. Haley, known for his physical camps in his first two years in Kansas City, is taking a much different approach.

At this point, he said, getting his team conditioned to make up for lost time is more important to him than practicing hard. Haley said he will concentrate on heavy football drills toward the end of the preseason to ensure the team stays as healthy as possible heading into the regular season.

The coach is taking some heat for taking the cautious approach. Many fans are concerned the Chiefs will not be ready when they open the regular season against visiting Buffalo on Sept. 11.

“I’m sticking to my convictions,” Haley said. “This is what is best for this team. I believe we will be ready for the season.”

The Chiefs picked up the intensity in practice this week, but they will not turn their starters loose until the third preseason game. There is even a chance the starters will play in the final preseason game, which routinely doesn’t happen around the league.

“This is the approach coach Haley wants us to take,” Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel. “We are fully behind him.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Work with the quarterback: Cassel’s development is still the No.1 priority for this team and camp time is essential. There is no doubt Cassel progressed last season, but he fell off at the end of the season and now has to get used to working with new quarterback coach Jim Zorn after a one-year stint with Charlie Weis as a his offensive coordinator. Weis now has the same job at the University of Florida. Cassel and Zorn lost valuable time due to the lockout. However, they are said to have built a good relationship and gotten comfortable working together this summer.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Kirby Lee/US PresswireChiefs quarterback Matt Cassel will have plenty of options when distributing the ball this season.
2. Spread the ball around: The Chiefs are spending this camp getting their varied passing-game weapons in order. This can be a dangerous passing offense and this camp is being spent on how to best utilize it. Cassel has many directions to look. It starts with No.1 receiver Dwayne Bowe, but the Chiefs have given him help by drafting Jon Baldwin in the first round and signing slot receiver Steve Breaston, who played for Haley in Arizona and caught 77 passes in 2008 under Haley’s guidance. Add tight end Tony Moeaki and running back/receiver Dexter McCluster and there are a lot of options. Figuring out the best ways to utilize all of them is what camp is for.

3. Figuring what’s best for Charles: It has driven many Kansas City fans crazy that the Chiefs don’t give Jamaal Charles more carries. Thomas Jones had 245 rushing attempts last season while Charles had 230 carries. Jones fell off toward the end of the season, but Charles was spectacular. He had 1,467 rushing yards rushing, which was second in the league. The Chiefs want to increase Charles’ numbers but also want him to stay fresh and healthy, so don’t expect his workload to fly through the roof. To help both Charles and Jones, who will likely get 8-10 carries per game, the Chiefs signed former Baltimore fullback Le'Ron McClain, who runs the ball more than the average fullback. The Chiefs are working all three backs during this camp to figure out the most advantageous carry distribution.

ARE THEY GOING TO JARED?

The Chiefs’ camp got interesting last week when the team picked up former Baltimore left tackle Jared Gaither. Known as an above-average left tackle, Gaither missed all of last season with a back injury. The Raiders considered signing him early in camp, but they passed because of his back.

The Chiefs signed Gaither during camp and he is now practicing with the second team. If his back holds up, there is a strong chance Gaither could move into the starting lineup and send Branden Albert to right tackle. Albert, a first-round pick in 2008, has been a decent-but-not-great left tackle. The Chiefs have long considered making him a right tackle, where many scouts think he’d flourish. If he moves to right tackle, Albert would replace Barry Richardson. If the massive (6-foot-9, 340 pounds) Gaither is healthy and motivated, this could be a significant move for Kansas City.

CHIEFS MAY NEED TO BACK IT UP AT QB

The Chiefs are keeping a close eye on backup quarterbacks Tyler Palko and rookie Ricky Stanzi during camp. The two struggled in the preseason opener last week. If they continue to struggle, Kansas City could potentially consider bringing in a veteran backup such as Jake Delhomme to be the No. 2 quarterback. Still, Stanzi, a fifth-round pick from Iowa, should be a lock to make the team. Palko will have to increase his production to survive the final cuts.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The team loves the addition of nose tackle Kelly Gregg. He has been a leader and he has been working hard in camp. He has been a positive influence on young players, including draft pick Jerrell Powe.

  • The Chiefs are working on increasing their turnover numbers on defense. They had the eighth-fewest takeaways in the NFL last season.
    [+] EnlargeKansas City's Jon Baldwin
    Denny Medley/US PRESSWIREFirst-round draft pick Jon Baldwin, along with new acquisition Steve Breaston, are expected to make an impact this season.

  • Baldwin was hampered by some minor issues. Camp observers said he struggled early in camp getting off the line of scrimmage, but the coaching staff is confident the No. 26 overall pick in the 2011 draft will catch up quickly. Baldwin had a reputation for being difficult in college, but the Chiefs haven’t seen any of indications of that and are more than satisfied with his attitude.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter confirmed that Baldwin is doubtful for the rest of training camp after a locker-room fight with Jones. Baldwin’s incident occurred after the Chiefs’ brass praised his attitude. This event has to be alarming for the team.

  • Veteran backup Jerheme Urban has been running with the first team with Bowe as Baldwin and Breaston get acclimated. Don’t expect that to last. Baldwin and Breaston were brought in to play a lot of snaps.

  • Haley has paired veterans with rookies to help the younger players through camp. The players room together, and Haley often matches up players from opposite sides of the ball to help team continuity.

  • Veteran Andy Studebaker has been working with first team at outside linebacker opposite star pass rusher Tamba Hali. The Chiefs are going to use several players to pressure the quarterback, but Studebaker has a chance to have a key role while rookie Justin Houston learns the team’s system.

  • McCluster has been working mostly out of the backfield as Haley suggested he would in May. Still, expect McCluster to line up at receiver some as well. The Chiefs are looking to create as many matchup problems as they can with McCluster, especially on third downs.

  • Rookie DE Allen Bailey has a chance to contribute right away as a pass rusher. He has been working in that area diligently in camp.

  • Rookie offensive lineman Rodney Hudson has been looking good. The second-round pick could play at guard and at center.

  • The team also likes the progress of second-year guard Jon Asamoah, who has a chance to shine in the aftermath of the release of Brian Waters.

  • Former San Diego inside linebacker Brandon Siler is making a push for major playing time. He is a solid talent who also helps on special teams.

  • Linebacker Cameron Sheffield has played well. And he could be a contributor. He missed all of last season after suffering a neck injury in the preseason.

  • One undrafted free agent to watch is Temple linebacker Amara Kamara. He has caught on to the defensive scheme very quickly.

  • Cornerback Jalil Brown, a fourth-round pick out of Colorado, has been impressive and he has a chance to be contributor in some packages and on special teams.
The Kansas City Chiefs continue to make under-the-radar moves. Yet, the defending AFC West champions continue to improve their team.

The Chiefs’ latest move was signing former Baltimore fullback Le'Ron McClain for a one-year deal. This is an interesting signing.

McClain has value as both as a runner and a blocker, so he isn’t a typical fullback although his weight is usually in the 250 -270 range. He had 920 rushing yards in 2008. His carries went down in the past two seasons.

In Kansas City, he gives bulk behind star Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. Charles is expected to get more carries than Jones this season, so I can see a situation in which Jones and McClain split Jones’ carries from last season. In 2010, Jones had 245 carries and Charles had 230 carries. I could see Charles getting a few more carries than last year, although the Chiefs like to keep him fresh. Jones’ production slipped at the end of the season. With McClain in the mix, it could refresh all three players.

The Chiefs have been selective in free agency. They know they have a good, young roster. Yet, they have cherry picked valuable veterans when they see a good fit. McClain joins receiver Steve Breaston, nose tackle Kelly Gregg and linebacker Brandon Siler as new Chiefs.

Again, there are no headlines stars in the group, but they should make Kansas City a better team.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that linebacker Brandon Siler has reached a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.

A source close to the situation told me that Siler will take a physical with the Chiefs and is expected to sign if he passes. Siler will likely compete for a starting job at inside linebacker. If he doesn’t unseat the solid Jovan Belcher, he will likely be a solid special-teams player.

This is an interesting move. The Chargers didn’t put a premium on Siler, but he can help the Chiefs if he signs.

Meanwhile, the Union-Tribune reports there is a ”slim chance” that the Chargers will bring back receiver Malcom Floyd. His market has been slow to develop.

The Broncos are visiting with former No. 8 overall pick Jamaal Anderson. Denver general manager Brian Xanders was with the Falcons when they took the defensive lineman in 2007.

I still wouldn’t be surprised if the Chargers make a run at San Francisco’s Manny Lawson. They have added former 49ers Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy. New San Diego defensive coordinator Greg Manusky came over from San Francisco.

The Rams kept defensive tackle Danny Muir. He was connected to the Broncos.

The Union-Tribune reports former Charger linebacker Antwan Applewhite has agreed to terms with the 49ers. He was cut last week.
The San Diego Chargers lost one of their free-agent targets when inside linebacker Kevin Burnett signed with Miami. Burnett's deal was for four years and $21 million with nearly $10 million in guaranteed money.

While Burnett did have a nice season, there was no way the Chargers were going to pay him that much.

The Chargers could potentially re-sign Brandon Siler. Fellow free agent Stephen Cooper is not expected back. San Diego could also look at former Green Bay linebacker Nick Barnett, but they probably wouldn’t overspend for him.

The Chargers did sign Takeo Spikes, who will start at an inside linebacker position. By re-signing several of their own free agents and grabbing the likes of Sproles, Bob Sanders and Travis LaBoy, the Chargers spent a lot of cash and just couldn’t fit in Burnett financially.

Meanwhile, the Chargers’ lone unsigned draft pick is first-round pick Corey Liuget. The Chargers re-signed a key backup.
Credit the San Diego Chargers for striking first in the AFC West when it comes to adding a big name from outside their organization.

They also get a very big neck.

[+] EnlargeSpikes
Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesTakeo Spikes is heading to the San Diego Chargers.
San Diego agreed to terms with former San Francisco inside linebacker Takeo Spikes on Tuesday. He reunites with former San Francisco defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who is now San Diego’s defensive coordinator.

Spikes highlights a busy first day for the Chargers, who clearly are bent on returning to the playoffs after they saw their four-year AFC West championship run end in 2010. In addition to agreeing to terms with Spikes, San Diego agreed to bring back right tackle Jeromey Clary and tight end Randy McMichael. They agreed to terms with free-agent safety Bob Sanders prior to the lookout.

Spikes and Sanders bring terrific leadership to a defense that was No. 1 in the NFL last season. San Diego usually stays away from big-name free agents but they jumped at the chance to add Spikes on Tuesday.

“I think defensively you want to be as strong as you can be down the middle and with Spikes and then Sanders, you’ve got two strong personalities that bring a real aggressive presence to the defense,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said in a statement released by the team.

The Chargers said the team called Spikes at 7 a.m. PT Tuesday. It was the first minute teams could reach out to players.

“He is an outstanding player. Takeo will bring his physical, aggressive style to our defense,” general manager A.J. Smith said. “I love his competitiveness and instincts. I believe he will be an immediate contributor. To me, this is another Randall Godfrey type move for the Chargers.”

Spikes, 34, gives San Diego some clarity at inside linebacker. Stephen Cooper, Brandon Siler and Kevin Burnett are free agents. The team wants Burnett back. There was talk the Chargers would be interested in Green Bay’s Nick Barnett, who is expected to be set free soon. But the Spikes’ signing shows where the team’s priority was.

“It’s going to be great playing for Coach Manusky again,” Spikes said in a statement. “One of the intangibles that I bring is my leadership. Even though everybody is from different places across America, to me I feel like the great ones bring everybody together and believe in the same common goal, and that’s to win a championship. That’s why I’m in San Diego.”

The 14-year veteran had 109 tackles for the 49ers last season. Spikes, known for his strikingly large neck, will give San Diego a needed nasty demeanor. The Chargers were pushed around some on defense the past couple of season. Spikes and healthy Sanders should change that.

I could see the Chargers having some interest in another San Francisco defender, Manny Lawson, if the price is right. He is a solid outside linebacker.

Now, the Chargers need to lock up safety Eric Weddle and the free agency will be a strong one. Weddle will get interest elsewhere, though. Still, the Chargers view him as a priority.
NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Unrestricted FAs

A look at the free-agent priorities for each AFC West team:

Denver Broncos

1.Trade Kyle Orton or name him the starter: The Broncos need to make a decision at quarterback quickly. There will be some teams in need of a veteran quarterback and the Broncos will surely field calls about Orton. If they get a decent offer in return (second or third-round pick) I could see Denver trading him and going with second-year quarterback Tim Tebow. If Orton is not traded early in the new league year, we’d have to assume Denver is going to give him the opportunity to hold off Tebow.

2. Sign a defensive tackle: The Broncos have long had a major hole at this position. It needs to upgrade its defense, which was ranked 32nd in the NFL last season. It begins at this position, which Denver bypassed in the draft. Potential free-agent targets include Seattle’s Brandon Mebane and San Francisco’s Aubrayo Franklin,although he is a better fit for 3-4 teams.

3. Sign a running back: New Denver coach John Fox recently said signing a running back is the team’s top free-agent priority. I think the above-mentioned projects are more pressing, but there’s no doubt Denver needs help at the position. It needs a veteran to pair with third-year running back Knowshon Moreno. We could see the Broncos trying to reunite Fox with former Carolina back DeAngelo Williams.

Top free agents: Tackle Ryan Harris and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas.

Kansas City Chiefs

1. Sign a nose tackle: The Chiefs have a few needs and more than $30 million in salary-cap money to play with. They can get to work. The team could use a stout anchor for the 3-4 defense. The Chiefs tried to sign Shaun Rogers prior to the lockout and they want a veteran. Franklin could be the answer.

2. Sign an offensive tackle: If the Chiefs get an upgrade at tackle, they should have a very strong line. They could sign a right tackle (a position they considered in the draft) or they can sign a left tackle and move Branden Albert to right tackle. Possible names to consider include Matt Light (who has New England ties to Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli and quarterback Matt Cassel) or New Orleans' Jermon Bushrod or a right tackle like Tyson Clabo or San Diego’s Jeromey Clary.

3. Sign a receiver: The Chiefs are a dangerous offensive team. But they could use a slot receiver to do along with No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe and first-round pick Jon Baldwin. A name to keep an eye on is the Cardinals’ Steve Breaston. He played for Kansas City coach Todd Haley in Arizona.

Top free agent: Center Casey Wiegmann.

Oakland Raiders

1. Re-sign tight end Zach Miller: Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is the best free agent in the NFL. But it will be difficult for Oakland to keep him. The Raiders must do what it takes to sign Miller. He is one of the game’s best young tight ends and he is arguably the team’s most important offensive player. He is the team’s most reliable receiving target. The Raiders love Miller and tried to sign him to a long-term deal prior to the lockout. Signing him before he hits the market will be and should be the team’s top priority.

2. Sign a couple offensive linemen: The Raiders’ offensive line is in flux. It has some interesting young players, but it needs to find a way to add some veterans somewhere -- despite the team’s salary-cap limitations.

3. Figure out secondary: If Asomugha and safety Michael Huff leave, the Raiders will need to get their youngsters up to speed quickly or try to find a veteran experience. I think we’ll see a mixture of both if Asomugha and Huff both leave as expected.

Top free agents: Asomugha, Huff, Miller and guard Robert Gallery.

San Diego Chargers

1. Re-sign safety Eric Weddle: The safety is a playmaker who will be very popular on the open market. The Chargers don't want him to get there. The Chargers have the salary-cap room to keep their top in-house options, and Weddle is at the top of the list. There is no reason for the Chargers to lose him and I think this key part of the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense will remain with the Chargers.

2. Figure out receiver situation: Top receiver Vincent Jackson will be franchised. No. 2 receiver Malcom Floyd is unrestricted and he could get a big offer elsewhere. Backup Legedu Naanee is also expected to leave. The Chargers could use a veteran receiver. I doubt they will spend big money on the top names available, but they could look for a bargain or swing a trade for a veteran like Carolina’s Steve Smith.

3. Figure out inside linebacker situation: The Chargers could lose inside linebackers Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett and Brandon Siler. They would like to keep Burnett. Still, I could see the Chargers trying to find another inside linebacker to compete to star. They could also look for an edge rusher at outside linebacker.

Top free agents: Floyd, Weddle, Clary, Burnett, quarterback Billy Volek, receiver Legedu Naanee, linebacker Stephen Cooper, linebacker Brandon Siler and running back Darren Sproles.
SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers just announced their inactive players for Sunday’s game against Jacksonville.

Inside linebacker Stephen Cooper is out with a knee injury. He will be replaced by Brandon Siler.

Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman is active after being out three-plus weeks with an Achilles injury. However, second-year player Larry English is starting. Merriman has had limited practice time since ending his holdout in mid-August. He was injured shortly after his holdout ended.

Here are the complete inactive lists for both teams:

San Diego
Jacksonville

Best in the AFC West

May, 7, 2010
5/07/10
12:01
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Rivers/Asomugha/Dumervil US PresswirePhilip Rivers, Nnamdi Asomugha and Elvis Dumervil all rank among the best at their position.
Now that most of the signing, releasing and trading and all of the drafting is complete in the AFC West, we now have a better feel for the talent in the division.

Once again, there has been major change. Let's catch up with an early projection for our preseason all-AFC West team.

We have a few ground rules: Rookies are eligible. We’re using a 3-4 defense because three teams in the division use the 3-4 as its base and Oakland will use the 3-4 more this year. We took some liberties at some positions. For example, we aren’t taking a fullback but we are using the two best running backs.

Without further ado, here is our all-AFC West team as it stands now:

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Philip Rivers, San Diego

Why: It wasn’t even close. Rivers is a premier player in the NFL. He’s the best player in the division, and, at 28, is getting better.

Running backs

Jamaal Charles, Kansas City

Thomas Jones, Kansas City

[+] EnlargeThomas Jones
Don McPeak/US PresswireThomas Jones rushed for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Jets last season.
Why: The Chiefs have the two best running backs in the division. It’s a strong division for running backs, but the Chiefs have something special. This is the strength of the team. Charles is a third-year game-breaker and Jones, who will be 32 this summer, is a savvy veteran who ran for more than 1,400 yards last season. This is a powerful combination.

Receivers

Vincent Jackson, San Diego

Malcom Floyd, San Diego

Why: With Brandon Marshall traded to Miami, Jackson is by far the best receiver in the division. He is big and fast and has great hands. He's a rising star. I had a difficult time deciding on my second receiver. The division has several intriguing receivers including Dwayne Bowe, Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy and Eddie Royal. But all of these other players are big question marks heading into the season. Floyd seems like the safest bet.

Tight end

Antonio Gates, San Diego

Why: This was another easy one. Gates is at the top of his game. He is coming off a season in which he had 79 catches and a career-high 1,157 yards. Gates turns 30 next month, but he is one of the best tight ends in the league.

Left tackle

Ryan Clady, Denver

Why: Clady is one of the best left tackles in the NFL as he enters his third season. Of course, it will be interesting to see how he bounces back from a partially torn patella tendon injury that required surgery. He was injured while playing basketball. The Broncos hope Clady can return by the start of the season.

Left guard

Kris Dielman, San Diego

Why: A strong, steady force. A quiet player who is one of the best in the business.

Center

Nick Hardwick, San Diego

Why: Hardwick had battled injuries, but he remains at the top of his game. He needs to stay healthy. The Chargers’ offense misses him when he is out. He is a stout anchor.

Right guard

Chris Kuper, Denver

Why: Kuper is an underrated player. He is a mauler who will help make Denver’s transition from a zone-blocking scheme to a more traditional unit easier.

Right tackle

Ryan Harris, Denver

Why: The Broncos’ offense went south when Harris suffered a toe injury last year. He’s big and athletic. He and Clady make great bookend tackles.

DEFENSE

Defensive end

Richard Seymour, Oakland

Why: Seymour can still be a top player. He is versatile and plays with a mean streak. When he’s on, he’s a terror.

Nose tackle

Jamal Williams, Denver

Why: This was a tough one, because there are few established nose tackles in the division. There is talk that Glenn Dorsey may play the position in Kansas City, but we’ll have to see how that works. Although Williams is declining and he missed all but one game last season, the first-year Bronco and former Charger All-Pro has to be considered the best nose tackle in the division at this point

Defensive end

Luis Castillo, San Diego

Why: Castillo is a good, steady player. He doesn’t get a lot of numbers. But he is a solid player.

Outside linebacker

Elvis Dumervil, Denver

Why: Dumervil is just scratching the surface of his ability. He led the NFL with 17 sacks last season. He’s a star.

Shawne Merriman, San Diego

Why: People get on Merriman because his sack numbers have dropped. But he is always around the play. Expect him to have a strong year in 2010 as he continues to improve from a 2008 knee injury.

Inside linebacker

D.J. Williams, Denver

Why: Williams is a very good player. He is smart and athletic. He makes a defense better.

Rolando McClain, Oakland

Why: I’m taking a shot here. I could go with San Diego’s Stephen Cooper or even young, exciting Charger Brandon Siler. But I just have a feeling McClain is going to be an instant star. He has all the intangibles. He had Oakland’s playbook sent to him the morning after he was drafted. I think he is going to be special.

Cornerback

Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland

Why: Best in the biz. Period.

Champ Bailey, Denver

Why: Hall of Famer. Period.

Safety

Brian Dawkins, Denver

Why: I was impressed with how well Dawkins played last year, his first in the division. Dawkins may be 36, but he is still a big-league playmaker.

Eric Berry, Kansas City

Why: Like McClain, I’m taking a flier here. But I expect Berry, the No.5 draft pick in the draft, to make an instant impact. The Chiefs are going to unleash him right away.

Special teams:

Punter

Shane Lechler, Oakland

Why: This was a tough call. San Diego’s Mike Scifres is an unbelievable punter just like Lechler. But a slight edge goes to Lechler because he is just so powerful.

Kicker

Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland

Why: Another tough, tough call. I gave Janikowski a slight edge over San Diego’s Nate Kaeding. Truthfully, I gave Janikowski the edge because Kaeding struggled in his last game. Janikowski seems to be getting better.

Returner

Darren Sproles, San Diego

Why: Not a tough call at all. Sproles is magic in the open field. He can return a kick for a touchdown any time he touches the ball.
I wanted to catch up on some draft thoughts while things are relatively calm:

Berry
Berry
Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli stayed to his roots in his selection of Tennessee safety Eric Berry at No. 5.

This was the 11th time in Pioli’s career that he was part of a team that had a top-13 pick. For the eighth time, Pioli's team took a defensive player. For the sixth time, Pioli’s team took a defensive player from the SEC. Last year, in his first year as the Chiefs’ decision-maker, Pioli took LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson at No. 3.

Berry is the fifth safety to be selected in the top five in the past 30 years. The most recent was the late Sean Taylor by Washington in 2004.

Don’t be surprised if Oakland sends middle linebacker Kirk Morrison packing soon as a result of its terrific selection of Alabama’s Rolando McClain at No. 8. Oakland coach Tom Cable said Morrison is now “depth.” However, he is due to make more than $2 million this year. Unless Morrison takes a big paycut, I could see the team parting ways with him.

I know some San Diego fans were upset that linebacker Tim Dobbins was included in the blockbuster trade that brought running back Ryan Mathews to the Chargers at No. 12. However, Dobbins is a situational player. The Chargers will move on without much trouble. They love inside linebacker Brandon Siler.

Draft Watch: AFC West

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
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NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Denver Broncos

Denver’s drafting has improved in recent years after it struggled mightily in the first several years of the 2000s. Denver’s draft fortune turned around some in 2006. The team had three picks in the fourth round. Two of the picks were receiver Brandon Marshall and defensive end Elvis Dumervil. They are two of the best players in their positions in the NFL. Starting guard Chris Kuper was taken in the fifth-round that year. However, there have been some poor picks in Denver in recent years. In 2007, Denver traded up to take defensive end Jarvis Moss at No. 17. He has been terrible in both the 4-3 and the 3-4 defenses under two regimes in Denver. He has started one game in three NFL seasons and has only 3.5 career sacks. He could soon be cut. After taking Moss, Denver took defensive end Tim Crowder in the second round in 2007. He was cut last year.

Kansas City Chiefs

The focus of a look-back at Kansas City’s recent draft picks has to be the slow starts of its past three No. 1 picks. In 2009, Kansas City used the No. 4 overall pick on defensive lineman Tyson Jackson. In 2008, Kansas City, which had two first-round picks as a result of the Jared Allen trade with Minnesota, took defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey at No. 5 and tackle Branden Albert at No. 15. None of the three players made the impact expected from players taken at those draft slots. All three have time to develop, but there is some concern there. Kansas City has gotten some production from late-round picks recently. In 2009, the Chiefs took kicker Ryan Succop with the final pick of the draft. He was Kansas City’s best rookie last season. He has a big leg and is reliable. He could be around for several years. In 2008, Kansas City took cornerback Brandon Carr in the fifth round. He has started every NFL game of his career and he and 2008 second-round pick Brandon Flowers are bright spots on Kansas City’s defense.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders have had their share of both busts and gems in recent years. But the busts have been devastating to the program. The bust talk in Oakland starts with quarterback JaMarcus Russell. The No. 1 overall pick in 2007 has been awful and now he has to fight to try to regain his starting job. The Raiders’ next two top picks -- running back Darren McFadden (No. 4 in 2008) and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (No. 7 in 2009) --- have also resembled busts in the early stages of their careers. McFadden has had one good game and he has been injury prone. He has been nothing like the explosive star he was at Arkansas. It’s early, but McFadden has to show something soon. Heyward-Bey came into the league with major questions about his NFL readiness and hands. Those questions remain after he had only nine catches in 11 starts. Oakland has done decently in the latter rounds recently. Running back Michael Bush was taken in the fourth round in 2007 and he may be the team’s best running back. Receiver Chaz Schilens was a seventh-rounder in 2008. He has potential to be a solid No. 1 receiver. Linebacker Trevor Scott was taken a round ahead of Schilens and he has nice pass-rushing skills. Safety Tyvon Branch was taken in the fourth round in 2008 and he had a fine season in 2009. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and receiver Louis Murphy were taken in the fourth round last year. They both were solid contributors as rookies. Oakland has some good young talent, it’s just not the young talent it is paying a lot of money to that is producing.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers’ recent draft classes have been neither wonderful nor horrible. The team has gotten some good production out of the classes and it hasn’t struck out much. The only top pick not to do much is 2007 No. 1 pick Craig Davis. Nicknamed “Buster,” Davis looks like he may be a bust. The No. 30 overall pick just can’t stay healthy. The team has done well with finding some late-round gems. Starting right tackle Jeromey Clary was a sixth-rounder in 2006. Linebacker Brandon Siler was a seventh-rounder in 2007. He has a chance to be a difference-maker. Receiver Legedu Naanee was a fifth-round pick in 2007 and he is a solid part of the offense. Safety Kevin Ellison, a sixth-round pick last season, looks like he could be a long-time starter.

Halftime notes from Dallas

December, 13, 2009
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Chargers lead the Cowboys, 10-3:

  • San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers survived a rare mistake when Dallas couldn’t capitalize on an interception at the Chargers’ 27 late in the first half. Dallas missed a field goal.
  • The Cowboys are running the ball on the Chargers and their battered defensive line. But the Chargers came up huge in the second quarter with a goal-line stand.
  • Rivers is targeting No. 2 receiver Malcolm Floyd often. He has two catches for 31 yards, but he was the intended receiver on a big pass interference play on San Diego's touchdown drive.
  • San Diego tight end Antonio Gates has one catch for 7 yards after catching 15 passes for 285 yards in the past two games.
  • San Diego linebacker Brandon Siler continued his hot play with a sack of Tony Romo.
  • If the Chargers win, they will be in great shape. Both Denver and Cincinnati lost, so the Chargers will be in line for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

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