With the draft in the rearview mirror, what is the most pressing issue on each AFC West team’s agenda?
Denver Broncos: The Broncos had a good free-agency period and they had a good draft. They made a good team better. There is no doubt this team thinks it is ready to make a serious run in 2013. So now it’s time to find some chemistry. Quarterback Peyton Manning, entering his second season with the team, recently talked about the importance of getting on the same page with his receivers. Manning said it often takes four years to totally be in sync with the players on the other end of his passes. Manning not only has to continue to strengthen his connection with incumbent receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker but also with a new weapon, Wes Welker, one of the free-agent prizes in the NFL this offseason. The group worked together on its own last month and is in the midst of the Broncos’ offseason program. Manning had great success with Thomas and Decker last season, and I’m sure he will work well with Welker, too. The passing game will be the key to whether Denver can be a Super Bowl team, so building a special chemistry is the team’s most pressing issue as Denver inches toward the 2013 season.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have to get the Branden Albert situation settled. They talked to the Miami Dolphins about a deal for several weeks prior to the draft. It was never completed. Neither has closed the door on a trade, but the odds are good that Albert will stay in Kansas City -- although it's not totally out of the question that some other team gets into the picture. I think the Chiefs need to get Albert prepared to play in Kansas City. He wants a long-term deal, and if he doesn’t get one, he might pout. He has stayed away from voluntary workouts but said he will be with the team when mandatory sessions start. The team would still like to give Albert an extension after taking Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher with the No. 1 overall pick. Albert must realize that if he has a good season in Kansas City, it will increase his value in free agency next year if a long-term deal is not signed. This situation could be awkward, but both the Chiefs and Albert need each other for at least a year -- and they must all do it with a smile.
Oakland Raiders: It’s time for the Raiders to figure out their defense, where they might have as many as nine new starters -- a mind-blowing reality. It seems only defensive lineman Lamarr Houston and safety Tyvon Branch are safe. Second-year linebacker Miles Burris will have a role, but he will have to fight for a starting slot. Oakland must use upcoming organized team activities to build chemistry and explore which players are suited to which roles. Oakland could stay in a 4-3 base but also should utilize multiple looks and will likely see some 3-4 hybrid looks. Head coach Dennis Allen and his staff have to see these players on the field to figure out the right sets for the right players. Oakland is essentially starting with a blank canvas on defense -- exciting, unusual and scary all at once.
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers have a potentially strong group of young receivers. The once-weak area can become a strength not only for the immediate future, but for the long term. It’s time the Chargers figure out an attack utilizing Vincent Brown, Danario Alexander and rookie Keenan Allen, who could quickly become the centerpiece. Allen, a California product, was expected to be a top-30 pick, but a manageable knee issue dropped him all the way to the third round, where San Diego took him 76th overall. Former Indianapolis Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian said Allen could have a Reggie Wayne-like impact. Brown had a strong rookie season in 2011 and a great training camp before a broken ankle in the preseason ended his 2012 campaign. He is now completely healthy. Alexander starred after the Chargers signed him off the street during last season. These three players can be major toys for quarterback Philip Rivers. Figuring out how to get the most out of this trio must be a primary goal for new coach Mike McCoy, who proved in Carolina and Denver that he can have successful passing games.