NFL Nation: Jamal Williams

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans' shift from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 alignment doesn't come with a plea for patience.

Changing the shape of a defense isn't a multiple-year process in today's NFL, and the Titans don't have to look far for evidence of that.

In 2010, the Houston Texans hired Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator. As he had many times before, he remodeled a 4-3 into his 3-4, installed a new mindset and got new results. The Texans ranked second in defensive yardage and won the AFC South.

In 2012, the Indianapolis Colts hired Chuck Pagano as their head coach. He and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky converted a 4-3 into a 3-4. While they didn't mirror the Texans' statistical success from two years earlier, the defense was good enough for the Colts to win a wild-card spot.

[+] EnlargeWade Phillips
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports"Saying it's going to take time and that stuff, that's to help personnel people and coaches keep their jobs," Wade Phillips said of switching your defensive front. "You've got to win now."
Neither Phillips nor Pagano expected the luxury of a transitional year, in which he could hit pause on expectations. Phillips didn't hesitate to flip things and engineered another big first-year turnaround. Pagano talked about the need to be a hybrid defense in transition. They expected results, and got enough for their teams to go to the playoffs.

Along with the Titans, the Falcons (moving to 3-4) and the Bills (to a 4-3) are changing defensive fronts and philosophies.

Phillips believes fans in any of those markets should be wary of any talk from the brass about the need for patience.

"That's protecting yourself," said Phillips, who lost his job when Houston hired Bill O'Brien and is currently out of the league. "It doesn't matter in this league, they are going to fire you anyway if you don't get it done.

"Saying it's going to take time and that stuff, that's to help personnel people and coaches keep their jobs. You've got to win now. You've got to change things. Usually you're coming in to fix something. "

Perhaps a switch from a straightforward 4-3 to the more old-school, two-gap 3-4 like the Pittsburgh Steelers run would make for a time-consuming changeover. But while 3-4s are on the rise, more are in line with ones Phillips ran as coordinator or coach in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Denver, Buffalo, Atlanta, San Diego, Dallas and Houston. They are schemes with edge setting, pass-rushing outside linebackers who do not require a mammoth nose tackle and don't ask the three down lineman to account for two gaps.

Under Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee, defensive coordinator Ray Horton's 3-4 base front will seek to create confusion about who is rushing and from where. There will be enough two-gapping to make offenses have to look out for it, but it won't be the default or the norm.

What sense would it make for Whisenhunt, Horton and defensive line coach Giff Smith to ask Jurrell Casey, who was the Titans best defense player last season and had 10.5 sacks, work to occupy defenders and allow linebackers behind him to make the plays?

"He's a heck of a player," Smith said. "I told Case when we got here, he'll actually get more one-on-one situations out of our spacing than he would out of a 4-3 spacing. ... Our deal is to get him in as many as we can. I think he puts stress on offensive linemen, he's a difficult guy to block. ...

"It's more of a loaded box where you have to man up. It looks like single coverage on the outside whereas when you're in 4-3 spacing, sometimes your backers cheat back to 5, 5 1/2 yards and they're on the second level and you've only got four guys up front. They can bump, they can chip, they can double (to slow you down). Where in a 3-4 with what Ray is doing and walking guys up, they have to man and they don't have the time to be able to chip and climb."

[+] EnlargeRay Horton
AP Photo/Mark DuncanNew Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton will embrace the players he inherited.
If the Titans have enough good players as they believe they do, then they should be able to get them in positions to maximize their talents.

Whisenhunt said schematically the 2013 Titans ran hundreds of plays in the exact same scheme that will now be their base. Holdover guys "at least have some basis as a starting point," he said.

"The old-school ways of playing the 3-4, schematically that was a difficult defense to play," Whisenhunt said. "Just from a standpoint of the two-gap and having the right guys like Carl Banks and Lawrence Taylor outside.

"It was a different defense than we're running. We're a more aggressive type of defense that is going to give you multiple looks. It's not a 3-4, two-gap defense. But when you say 3-4 defense that's the perception of a lot of people."

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a 4-3 guy who ran the scheme for his 16-plus seasons coaching the Oilers/Titans, said the franchise's switch "is moving a guy here and there, it's not as hard as people speculate."

Both Whisenhunt and Phillips share a philosophy that helps make an altered approach easier: It's more about the players than the scheme.

Phillips points to three different approaches with three different players all aiming for the same result: ownership of one of the A gaps in the middle of the line.

"Ted Washington was 340 pounds in Buffalo, he played nose but we play a one-gap defense," Phillips said. "We played him in the middle of the center and let him take the center and just control his gap. Jamal Williams was a power guy (in San Diego), we offset him and let him basically knock the center back and take the same gap. Then I had Greg Kragen in Denver, another Pro Bowler. He was a smaller guy, so we stunted him to the gap.

"They all played the same position, had the same assignment, but played it differently."

We don't yet know what the responsibilities of certain positions will entail in Horton's defense. But he can have wrinkles that make things easy for certain players.

Derrick Morgan and Akeem Ayers look to be the two primary strong outside linebackers. Morgan's been a 4-3 end and Ayers hasn't fared particularly well in space so far in the NFL. In Phillips' system, the only coverage they'd have been asked to play would have been in the flat.

"It's what the players can do, not what you can think of," Phillips said. "Some people are so scheme-oriented that they block people out and say, ‘Hey, we can't use this guy even though he's a good player.'"

The Titans are being inclusive, not exclusive.

Horton and his staff are embracing what they inherited -- much of which may have been insufficiently coached by the previous staff. They've also added a nice splash of 3-4 help: Linebackers Shaun Phillips, Wesley Woodyard and fifth-rounder Avery Williamson and linemen Al Woods and fourth-rounder DaQuan Jones.

Whisenhunt and Horton aren't looking at Andrew Luck or the top offensive players they will be trying to slow this year and thinking, in another year or two this scheme will be equipped and stocked to get the job done.

"Our expectation is to have success defensively this year," Whisenhunt said. "Will we get better at it in time? I think you get better at anything when you have more reps with it. But it doesn't mean I don't feel like we'll play good defense this year."
SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Garay has been around a while for being a guy who arrived in the NFL at the age of 31.

In a rare story of extremely late NFL development, Garay emerged as one of the better nose tackles in the NFL last season following several non-descript years as a professional.

Garay entered the NFL in 2003 with Cleveland, where he stayed for two years (though he did not play in a game in 2004). He was out of the NFL in 2005 and then played two seasons in Chicago. He was out of the league again in 2008. Last season, seven years after he entered the NFL, Garay started his first game in the league. He ended up starting 15 games last yearat nose tackle and emerged as a Pro Bowl-quality player. He played in 16 games last season. He played in a total of 16 games in five previous NFL seasons.

Garay quietly dominated several games as a replacement for the departed Jamal Williams in 2010. Garay had 48 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He was a force against the run and often collapsed the middle of the field.

Even though he’ll turn 32 this season, Garay feels like he is entering his prime.

“I’ve always been a late bloomer,” Garay said. “A lot of the guys I came in the league with are out now. I still feel like I got a lot of miles left in me.”

He said his time away from the game in 2008 gave him a chance to reflect and he promised himself he’d take full advantage of his next opportunity, which came in San Diego partially because several of his former coaches in Chicago were on the San Diego staff.

“I was hell bent on doing what it takes to being successful,” Garay said. “I feel like I’m just starting out.”

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. doesn’t think Garay’s 2010 season was a fluke. He thinks Garay is a difference maker. Williamson said San Diego should consider moving Garay out to defensive end some to save him from the constant grind of playing nose tackle.

“He has great aggression and he is a leverage player,” Williamson said. “He’s a heck of a player.”

Underrated players: AFC West

June, 10, 2011
6/10/11
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NFC Underrated Players: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at the most underrated players in the division.

Denver Broncos

D.J. Williams, linebacker: Williams was a first-round pick in 2004, and the Broncos paid handsomely to keep him a couple of years ago. He is appreciated in Denver, but this athletic, smart linebacker doesn’t get much national notice. He has never been to a Pro Bowl, yet Williams is a tackle machine. He has had at least 119 tackles in three of the past four seasons. He is versatile and has played virtually every linebacker position possible.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Carr
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelCornerback Brandon Carr has 192 tackles and four interceptions after three seasons in Kansas City.
Kansas City Chiefs

Brandon Carr, cornerback: I chose Carr over stout guard Ryan Lilja and play-making linebacker Derrick Johnson. Carr is younger than Lilja and Johnson, and he may eventually get the recognition he deserves. One of the reasons Carr is overshadowed is that he plays opposite fellow four-year cornerback Brandon Flowers. Flowers was a second-round pick in 2008, and Carr was taken three rounds later. The terrific Flowers has gotten most of the accolades, but Carr is standout as well. He is approaching free agency soon, and he’ll hit the cornerback jackpot by getting paid by either the Chiefs or some other lucky club.

Oakland Raiders

Marcel Reece, fullback: The fullback is becoming extinct in the NFL. Many teams just don’t have a use for this position. The fullback, however, thrives in Oakland, a franchise with a rich tradition of fullback play. The Raiders have scored again with Reece. A college receiver, Reece gives Oakland’s offense a delicious variation. He is a key blocker in one of the NFL’s best running attacks, and he is a receiving weapon in short-yardage situations. Plus, the intelligent Reece has become a leader of the unit. The fullback position is alive and well in Oakland.

San Diego Chargers

Antonio Garay, defensive tackle: Garay had an incredible impact on the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL last season. The Chargers’ defense was long ignited by the ferocious nose tackle play of the massive Jamal Williams. When Williams got hurt in the first game of the 2009 season, ending his career in San Diego, the Chargers were worried that their defensive identity was gone. But Garay, a 31-year-old journeyman, took over in 2010. He instantly became an anchor on the defense and dominated the line of scrimmage. The dominance of the nose tackle has continued in San Diego with Garay.

Talking with John Fox

February, 24, 2011
2/24/11
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Random thoughts from the session with new Denver head coach John Fox:

Fox said the Broncos are totally open with their No. 2 pick. He said the team will take the best available player. Still, defense is expected to be the area Denver pursues with the pick.

Fox said he hasn’t studied Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers enough to compare him to former Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers. That comparison has often been made. The Panthers took Peppers with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2002 draft, Fox’s first draft in Carolina.

Fox said Denver will use parts of both the zone-blocking and traditional power-blocking schemes this season. Denver moved to the power-blocking scheme last year after using the zone-blocking scheme for 15 years.

Fox said he envisions Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers as defensive ends in the 4-3 defense. Fox said D.J. Williams will either be a middle linebacker or weakside linebacker in the 4-3.

Fox said the primary reason he is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 is personnel.

Fox was very complimentary of new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who will be Denver’s sixth defensive coordinator in six seasons. Fox said he can see Allen, who was New Orleans’ secondary coach, becoming a future head coach in the NFL.

Fox said he is hopeful receiver Demaryius Thomas can return at some point early in the season. Thomas ruptured his Achilles earlier this month. The team expects Eddie Royal to return in May from hip surgery. Fox said he doesn’t expect the two injuries to change Denver’s draft needs at receiver.

Fox would not rule out the return of right tackle Ryan Harris.

Fox said he thinks nose tackle Jamal Williams can transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3. Still, the team will have to decide whether to bring back Williams.

Chargers regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
1/05/11
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 14
Preseason Power Ranking: 8

[+] EnlargeMike Tolbert
hoto by Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesMike Tolbert finished his breakout season with 735 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Biggest surprise: Running back Mike Tolbert and defensive tackle Antonio Garay. Both entered the season as role players. Both ended the season as players the Chargers want to lock up with long-term deals. Tolbert proved to be a terrific running back; he ran over opponents and was a great counter-punch to rookie running back Ryan Mathews. Tolbert is also good as a short-yardage back and lead blocker. Garay, a Chicago castoff, filled the role left by Jamal Williams wonderfully. Many NFL scouts thought he was one of the better nose tackles in the league this season. It looks like San Diego scored big with these little-known talents on each side of the ball.

Biggest disappointment: The season as a whole. There’s no way the Chargers expected this season to unfold the way it did. They finished 9-7 and saw their four-season reign as AFC West champions end. The Chargers finished the season ranked No. 1 in total offense and total defense. Yet, special teams problems and injuries took a toll. The unit seriously hurt the Chargers for the first three quarters of the season, so it’s no surprise that the Football Outsiders ranked San Diego’s special teams last in the NFL. The team fired special teams coach Steve Crosby after the end of the season. The Chargers also were battered, especially at receiver and linebacker. They used 73 players, one off the NFL record. Quarterback Philip Rivers completed passes to 17 players. In the end, the Chargers’ record was a lot worse than what this offense and defense showed they were capable of doing.

Biggest need: The Chargers’ No. 1 ranking on both sides of the ball shows that this is a very talented roster. Assume the Chargers will be healthier next season and this should still be a good team. But it could always use some depth. Expect the Chargers to look for help at safety, linebacker and defensive end. If this team could find a pure pass-rusher in the draft, it would help immensely. The Chargers could also use offensive line depth and perhaps another receiver, especially if they don’t put the franchise tag on free agent Vincent Jackson. San Diego should be well equipped to get what it wants in the draft with extra second- and third-round picks coming. The Chargers will have five picks in the first three rounds, which will give it trading power and the ability to stockpile picks.

Team MVP: Rivers. At 29 years old, the quarterback just gets better. Expect him to get some NFL MVP votes. He is the third player to have a passer rating of 100.0 or more for three straight years, joining Steve Young and Peyton Manning.

The numbers lie: The 2010 Chargers showed that statistics aren’t everything. Since 1970, five previous teams led the NFL in total offense and defense. All five made the playoffs. The Chargers had a plus-119 point differential in 2010, fifth best in the NFL. It was the highest plus-point differential for a non-playoff team since the 1991 San Francisco 49ers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Camp Confidential: Denver Broncos

August, 11, 2010
8/11/10
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 23

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After he watched one key player after another limp to the training room this summer, Josh McDaniels came to a conclusion: The Denver Broncos are going to find a way to get better as a result.

Call it medical motivation.

“Sometimes, when everybody around you thinks the sky is falling because of injuries, it could rally a team,” the second-year Denver coach said. “That’s what we are doing. We are going to be motivated to show we can withstand what has happened to us. We’re not sitting here feeling sorry for ourselves.”

McDaniels swears Denver is having a productive training camp despite being the most injured team in the NFL. The biggest hit was the loss of star linebacker Elvis Dumervil. He is likely out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Other players who have been lost during camp include running backs Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter, receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, safety Brian Dawkins and linebackers D.J. Williams and Jarvis Moss. Don’t forget that left tackle Ryan Clady is out until sometime in September after hurting his knee in the offseason.

Still, McDaniels said it’s not a time of despair, because everyone but Dumervil is expected back in the near future.

“It hurts to lose Elvis, but maybe the other injuries are good that they happened now,” McDaniels said. “We are not worrying about who is not here. We trust our depth and we’re dealing with it.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Jack DempseyTim Tebow got a new haircut on Tuesday, replacing the monk haircut from earlier in the week.
1. How will the Tebow factor affect the team? There is not a rookie in the NFL who is getting the attention that Tim Tebow is receiving. From special Nike shoes to a hideous training-camp haircut to operating in short yardage situations, the Tebow Watch is in full force.

The question is how his work in camp will affect the team on the field. The former Florida star quarterback has operated in short-yardage situations and he will likely be used in the Wildcat formation and in the red zone. That likely means Denver will keep quarterbacks Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn and Tebow on the 45-man roster on game days. In June, McDaniels said he was leaning away from that.

But it is clear that Tebow is being groomed to be active as a rookie. Unless Tebow completely leapfrogs Quinn in training camp and in the preseason, Denver could be using three quarterbacks on game days, which will take away from another position.

2. Can this team forget the final 10 games of 2009? Denver was the most perplexing team in the NFL in 2009. It shocked the league by starting 6-0. However, it suddenly fell apart and lost eight of its final 10 games.

Which team will we see in 2010? McDaniels, of course, won’t guarantee anything, but he believes Denver is heading in the right direction because of a strong training camp.

He said the team is making big strides this year because his program is established after 14 years under Mike Shanahan. McDaniels pointed out how much smoother and productive Denver was in its team scrimmage last weekend compared to last year’s scrimmage.

“It’s night and day,” McDaniels said. “Everybody knows the system now and that has helped camp.”

[+] EnlargeKnowshon Moreno
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireKnowshon Moreno, the team's leading rusher last season, is out with a hamstring injury.
3. Can the running backs stay healthy? Moreno (hamstring) and Buckhalter (back) are supposed to be ready this month. But seeing the top two running backs go down on the first full day of camp had to be scary for Denver. The team has big plans for Moreno and Buckhalter.

Denver brought in veteran LenDale White to help in camp and perhaps as a short-yardage runner once he serves a four-game NFL suspension. The team is discussing signing former Oakland tailback Justin Fargas, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.

This is still the Moreno and Buckhalter show, but the Broncos have been forced to look at other options. Expect Moreno and Buckhalter to be handled very gingerly for the rest of camp and in the preseason in an attempt to ensure their health for the start of the regular season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

The Broncos are excited about their receivers.

Brandon Lloyd and Matthew Willis have been outstanding. Eddie Royal is playing well in camp and the team hopes he can bounce back from a poor first season under McDaniels. After catching 91 passes as a rookie, Royal had just 37 catches last season.

Add rookies Thomas and Decker and Denver could have a decent receiving crew. That looked shaky after the team sent talented but troubled Brandon Marshall to Miami in April.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

How can it be anything other than the injury to Dumervil? He is arguably Denver’s best player and he just signed a huge, new contract. Denver was looking for him to have a dominant season. Dumervil led the NFL with 17 sacks last season.

Denver will have to find a pass rush elsewhere. A top candidate is 2009 first-round pick Robert Ayers. He struggled as a rookie. But he has been good in camp. Ayers will get every chance to turn it on and help make this bad situation workable.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeKyle Orton
    Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIKyle Orton passed for 3,802 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for the Broncos last season.
    Orton has quietly been a star in camp. He had a strong offseason and is, by far, the most accurate of three quarterbacks. While the future is Tebow’s in Denver, Orton is going to do everything he can to make 2010 special before he hits the free-agency market in 2011.
  • Quinn, the current No. 2 quarterback in Denver, has been inaccurate often. The Broncos still like Quinn, who was acquired from Cleveland in March. However, with Orton being the immediate starter and Tebow being the future starter, he has his work cut out for him to find a spot in Denver.
  • Keep an eye out for fifth-round pick Perrish Cox. He’s been outstanding in camp. “Every day, I look up and Perrish is making another big play,” Royal said. Cox is second at left cornerback behind star Champ Bailey. Cox will likely be the nickel cornerback. He is also dynamic as a return man.
  • While Cox is ascending, second-year cornerback Alphonso Smith is still not progressing. Smith was the No. 37 overall pick in 2009. Denver gave up its first-round pick for Smith in 2010 (which was No. 14). He floundered as a rookie and he is not showing much improvement in camp as Cox is stealing the show.
  • Richard Quinn, a second-round pick in 2009, is blocking very well in camp. He still must improve as a receiver, but Denver should feel comfortable with him in double tight-end sets with starter Daniel Graham.
  • So far, defensive end Ryan McBean is holding off free-agent pickup Jarvis Green. However, the team likes Green and he is very versatile.
  • Denver likes what it sees in former San Diego defensive tackle Jamal Williams in the early stages. With Dumervil out, a lot of Denver’s defensive burst must start from him at nose tackle. That may mean Williams may be on the field more than Denver likes. But he is showing, even at 34 and after missing all but one game in San Diego last year, he could still be a force.
  • Denver knows it won’t all be roses, but it is at terms with rookies J.D. Walton (center) and Zane Beadles (guard) starting. Both players have showed intelligence and toughness in camp. Most importantly, they are big and strong and they are well suited for the power-blocking scheme McDaniels is adopting. Denver is scrapping the zone-blocking scheme used during the Shanahan era. One of the reasons is McDaniels wants a bigger offensive line that can stay fresh throughout the season.
  • D’Anthony Batiste is doing well at left tackle. The Broncos think he will be a valuable backup when Clady returns from a knee injury in September.
  • Inside linebacker Joe Mays, acquired from Philadelphia for running back J.J. Arrington less than two weeks ago, is impressing. He has worked some with the first team. He is likely to be a key backup and a special teamer.
  • Veteran defensive lineman Marcus Thomas is buried on the depth chart. If he doesn’t pick up the rest of camp, he could be a candidate to be cut.
  • Punter Britton Colquitt, the younger brother of Kansas City punter Dustin Colquitt, is doing well and he will likely win the job. He is going unchallenged, but if he falters, Denver could scour the waiver wire. So far, he is showing that may not be necessary.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 10

SAN DIEGO -- Philip Rivers, with the benefit of solid protection, dropped back, scanned the field and let loose with what is very likely the NFL’s prettiest deep ball.

Galloping down the right sideline, Malcom Floyd skied high in double coverage and brought down a spectacular catch, breaking away from coverage and reaching the end zone. A large training camp crowd erupted. It was just another big play from the explosive San Diego Chargers offense during this camp.

The Chargers are not spending the early days of camp worrying about who isn't in attendance and how are they going to survive without them. Instead, the Chargers are acting like a team preparing for a Super Bowl run with the players who are in camp.

“We’re going every day and we’re going hard,” San Diego coach Norv Turner said. "Sure, we’d like everyone here, but they aren’t here and we feel good with what the guys who are here are doing. There is a calmness here.”

The Chargers could be excused if there was a sense of panic at camp. They are practicing without Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson, left tackle Marcus McNeill and linebacker Shawne Merriman, all of whom are holding out. Jackson and McNeill are expected to hold out well into the season. Merriman’s status is less clear.

The attitude in San Diego is not one of a season that is about to be lost. Training camp is being used as a time to get everyone ready for a long run.

“I’m not going to say we don’t miss those guys, because we do,” Rivers said. “I miss throwing the ball to Vincent and I miss standing on the sidelines jawing with Marcus. Those are important guys. But at the same time, we are moving forward. We feel very comfortable with the guys who are here. We’re getting a lot done.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDavis
Robert Benson/US PresswireBuster Davis is getting increased time on the field with Vincent Jackson holding out.
1. Do the Chargers have enough depth to prepare effectively without their veteran holdouts? It is only the first week, but there appears to be little doubt San Diego will leave training camp feeling good about the positions where players are holding out.

The key is San Diego’s tremendous depth. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith may get some grief for not giving in and signing the holdout veterans, but he also has his team in position to survive the losses. San Diego is deep at many key positions. Smith has been careful to mix proven veteran talent with intriguing young prospects.

Last year, the Chargers lost defensive tackle Jamal Williams for the entire season and center Nick Hardwick for virtually the entire regular season in Week 1. The Chargers plugged in people and went 13-3 in the regular season.

“We’ve been through this before in a lot of ways,” Turner said. “We feel good with the young players here.”

Jackson is being replaced by Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis, both of whom are having terrific camps. McNeill is being replaced by Brandyn Dombrowski. He was a valuable injury replacement at guard and right tackle last season. There is also veteran Tra Thomas, who can help as well. Merriman is being replaced by 2009 first-round pick Larry English, who was drafted to replace Merriman in case he departed through free agency. English appears to have made great strides this offseason after a lackluster rookie season.

2. Will Ryan Mathews be up for the challenge of replacing a legend? This is a landmark time in Chargers history. The team is moving away from the LaDainian Tomlinson era. He was cut in February after nine seasons in San Diego. Tomlinson had a Hall of Fame career, but he faltered the past two seasons.

While Tomlinson is still a respected figure in San Diego, it is clear that the Chargers are relieved to move on and help ignite the run game, which ranked No. 31 in the NFL last season.

It’s Mathews’ job in training camp to make the team feel comfortable that he is up to the task of bringing balance back to San Diego’s offense. Mathews was the No. 12 overall pick and people in the organization have been raving about him.

“He does not seem affected by having to replace LaDainian,” Rivers said. “He’s very humble and very confident. It doesn’t seem too big for him. We expect a very productive training camp from him.”

[+] EnlargeAntoine Cason
Rich Kane/Icon SMIAntoine Cason is hoping to make people forget about Antonio Cromartie.
3. Is Antoine Cason the answer at right cornerback? While Antonio Cromartie is far from the legacy player Tomlinson was, he is a high-profile departure. He was traded to the Jets on the first day of the trading season. He is being replaced by Cason, San Diego’s first-round pick in 2008.

The Chargers are excited about the change. Cromartie had 10 interceptions in 2007, but he had a total of five in the next two seasons. Cromartie made many mental mistakes, he was poor against the run and he had some off-field concerns.

The Chargers believe they will be in better shape with Cason, who has been lauded for his intelligence and preparation. Cromartie may be a big name, but the Chargers believe Cason will continue to prove in camp that Cromartie isn’t a big loss.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

You would think that the Chargers would be nervous about not having Jackson, McNeill and Merriman in camp. It doesn’t seem like they miss them at all. Practices have been crisp and dynamic. Players are very confident and replacements for each absent player don’t appear to be intimidated at all. The Chargers will surely miss these guys on the field if it gets to that point, but there is no wallowing in the early stages of camp. This team means business.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Merriman needs to be in camp. He is holding out because he wants assurances that the Chargers won’t trade him. He has been upset that he was the subject of trade talk during the past year. The Chargers won’t give him those assurances, but Smith has said he has no current plans to deal Merriman. Merriman really has no leverage here. We all know he’s going to play this year. This is a huge season for the rest of his career. He has to prove he can be a dominant pass-rusher again as he enters the final year of his contract. He is just wasting time by not being at camp.

OBSERVATION DECK
[+] EnlargeSiler
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThe Chargers have high expectations for linebacker Brandon Siler.

  • Quietly, many in San Diego think the offensive line is ready for a big season. The unit may be motivated by critical comments made by Tomlinson. Among his many excuses for his dramatic lack of production last season was the offensive line play. The line isn’t saying anything about it, but the word is this group is very inspired.
  • The Chargers are excited about inside linebacker Brandon Siler. He came on strong last season and should have a big role on the defense this season.
  • Look out for linebacker Antwan Applewhite. He was hurt last year, but the Chargers think he could be a secret weapon. He is a special-teams ace and could play a role as a pass-rusher. He is a fierce player.
  • Turner is excited to have veteran tight end Randy McMichael. The two were together in Miami in 2002-03 and Turner thinks the veteran can help. Known as a good receiver, McMichael is an underrated blocker, Turner said. The Chargers are also high on backup tight end Kris Wilson.
  • Undrafted rookie receiver Jeremy Williams from Tulane has had a good early camp and is the favorite to be the No. 5 receiver.
  • While losing Rivers would be devastating, the Chargers have one of the best backups in the NFL in Billy Volek. The guy is a pro and has looked sharp.
  • Expect big fullback Mike Tolbert to give San Diego a boost in the short-yardage game. The 5-foot-9, 243-pound Tolbert is a load.
  • The Chargers were thrilled with the play of right guard Louis Vasquez last season as a rookie. The word is Vasquez is continuing to make strides and the Chargers think they have a real find.

Best Chargers Team Ever: 2006

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
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Notable players: QB Philip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, K Nate Kaeding, LB Shawne Merriman, DT Jamal Williams, C Nick Hardwick, FB Lorenzo Neal, ST Kassim Osgood, TE Antonio Gates, LT Marcus McNeill, CB Quentin Jammer.

[+] EnlargeLaDainian Tomlinson
AP Photo/Denis PoroyLeague MVP LaDainian Tomlinson led a Chargers team that was a favorite to win the Super Bowl.
Analysis: Unlike the other three teams in the AFC West, the memory of San Diego’s greatest team doesn’t bring back happy thoughts for Chargers fans.

The memories are tough and raw. Oh, what could have been.

San Diego has never won a Super Bowl. This team was its best chance. The 2006 San Diego Chargers were loaded.

Then they went out and blew it in the playoffs.

I was in San Diego for the team’s AFC divisional playoff game against New England and the town was buzzing all weekend. The Chargers were an NFL-best 14-2 and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. San Diego was unbeaten at home in the regular season. Marty Schottenheimer’s team was expected to go to, and probably win, the Super Bowl.

Then came the fourth quarter of the New England game. The Patriots stunned San Diego by scoring 11 points in a little more than seven minutes to knock off the Chargers, 24-21.

The dream season was over and the Chargers were never the same again. Schottenheimer, who didn’t get along with general manager A.J. Smith anyway, was sent packing and was replaced by Norv Turner.

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson was the NFL MVP after an incredible season in which he ran for 1,815 yards and scored an NFL-record 28 rushing touchdowns. Philip Rivers took over for the departed Drew Brees after sitting for two years and played well right away. The defense was suffocating and opportunistic.

The 2006 Chargers were good enough to win a Super Bowl. They just couldn’t get it done.

Most impressive win: A 23-13 victory over visiting Pittsburgh. The Chargers bounced back from a tough loss in Baltimore to handle the defending Super Bowl champions in Week 5. They made a statement in that game.

Rocky times: The Chargers had some off-field issues in 2006. Linebacker Steve Foley was shot after a confrontation with an off-duty police officer days before the start of the season, creating a major distraction. Shaun Phillips stepped in and played very well in Foley’s absence.

Safety Terrence Kiel was arrested at the team’s facility during the season for possession of controlled substances. Kiel, who didn’t play for San Diego after 2006, was killed in an auto accident in July 2008.

Honorable mention:

1963: The Chargers won the AFL title after an 11-3 season. They were dominant, fielding the best offense and defense in the league.

1980: They lost to the AFC championship game to Oakland. This was an offensive juggernaut (418 points, 26.1 ppg).

1994: This team has a special place in San Diego fans’ hearts. It’s the only time the Chargers made the Super Bowl.

Broncos minicamp observations

June, 11, 2010
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Notes and thoughts from the first day of Denver’s mandatory minicamp:

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiTim Tebow had a rough day at camp on Friday, but coach Josh McDaniels still praised his progress.
First-round pick Tim Tebow struggled some. He threw two interceptions and was off target at times. Denver coach Josh McDaniels still praised Tebow’s progress in learning the system. However, Tebow showed it could be a lengthy process.

Meanwhile, McDaniels said he hasn’t made up his mind yet, but he is leaning toward keeping two quarterbacks active on the game-day 45-man roster because having more would “put us behind the eight ball at other spots.”

McDaniels said he hasn’t decided who his two quarterbacks would be if he goes that route. Currently, Kyle Orton is the starter, Brady Quinn is the backup and Tebow is third string. Even though Tebow has a long way to go, it would be a surprise if he is a game-day inactive.

Star linebacker Elvis Dumervil downplayed whether he will sign his restricted free-agency tender by Tuesday. Dumervil attended the minicamp, but didn’t do team drills.

“It is what it is,” Dumervil said repeatedly. “We’ll see what happens … Time will tell.”

McDaniels also downplayed it. He said the team sent a letter saying it would reduce Dumervil’s offer if he doesn’t sign his tender by Tuesday. McDaniels said the letter is a formality and he expects the situation to resolve itself.

Denver's other first-round pick, receiver Demaryius Thomas, had an up-and-down day. He made some nice grabs and ran some nice routes. But he also dropped some passes and struggled in some routes. McDaniels deemed it a “typical day” for a rookie. The Broncos expect Thomas, taken at No. 22, to contribute right away.

Linebacker Robert Ayers, a first-round pick in 2009, didn’t do much at all. McDaniels said it was a coaching decision. Ayers needs to bounce back from a weak rookie season.

Tight end Richard Quinn, a second-round pick in 2009, has dropped several balls in practice and he has been slow to develop.

Rookie offensive lineman Zane Beadles worked at left guard after working at tackle earlier in the offseason.

McDaniels praised the conditioning and leadership of veteran defensive tackle Jamal Williams, who signed with Denver after starring in San Diego for several years. McDaniels said he expects a big contribution from Williams.

McDaniels said linebacker Darrell Reid’s rehabilitation from knee surgery could extend into training camp.

Best in the AFC West

May, 7, 2010
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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.
The Chargers got their nose tackle, after all. After bypassing the need for the first four rounds, San Diego traded up to address the position.

They took North Carolina nose tackle Cam Thomas at No. 146. San Diego traded their No. 159 pick and a fifth-round pick in next year's draft to take Thomas.

He is huge. He is 6-foot-4, 328 pounds. He is a massive run stopper, who was expected to go as high as the second round. Thomas should immediately step into the rotation. The Chargers missed the presence of a massive nose tackle last year when Jamal Williams (who was released this offseason and who has since signed with Denver) was injured.

Nose tackle was considered one of San Diego’s greatest draft needs along with running back. San Diego filled that hole when it traded up to No. 12 to take Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 17, 2010
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NFC Needs Revisited: 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: Biggest needs revisited.

Denver: The Broncos have added three potential starting defensive linemen and a backup quarterback (at least for the time being) in Brady Quinn. Those two positions are probably out of the question for Denver in the early rounds. The Broncos do have plenty of needs, though. The Broncos will be looking for an inside linebacker after the release of starter Andra Davis. Alabama’s Rolando McClain has to be considered a possibility at No. 11. Denver is also looking for help on the offensive line at guard and at center. The Broncos will surely take a young interior offensive linemen early. With Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall’s future in flux, Denver has to be on the hunt for a receiver. This is a position the Broncos could address early.

Kansas City: The Chiefs have been aggressive in free agency. But because the Chiefs have to improve in many areas, there is plenty to target in the draft. Kansas City has been targeting several veteran offensive linemen, but I think it will try to draft an offensive lineman in the first round or with one of its two second-round picks. The Chiefs still have a big need at safety. If he is available, Tennessee’s Eric Berry has to be a real possibility with the No. 5 pick. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kansas City looked at a linebacker in the first three rounds, either. Even though veteran receiver Chris Chambers has re-signed, look for the Chiefs to try to get younger at the position, perhaps in the second round. The team’s need for a running back was filled with veteran Thomas Jones in free agency.

Oakland: The Raiders have been shedding veterans much more than they have been bringing in players so far in free agency. The need wish list still starts at tackle. The Raiders have long had a dearth there. There probably will be several solid choices at tackle with the No. 8 overall pick. Oakland has to consider this a priority position. The Raiders could also use a young quarterback in the early-to-middle rounds. With running back Justin Fargas cut, the Raiders also could use another running back, but it won’t be a high-round priority. With veteran Gerard Warren cut, Oakland will need a defensive tackle, probably in the early rounds. Linebacker is also an area Oakland may try to address early.

San Diego: The Chargers have as many draft needs as they’ve had in several years. The Chargers have seen several veterans leave through free agency, trade or release. The team has a lot of depth, but reinforcements are needed at several areas. The two main areas of need remain running back and nose tackle. San Diego will address these areas early. It just depends how early. The Chargers could potentially take two running backs early. It is a deep running back class, so San Diego will have options. San Diego really needs a nose tackle now that veteran Jamal Williams has been released and signed by Denver. Because nose tackles are more difficult to find than running backs, the Chargers may address this area first. San Diego could use help at tight end in the middle rounds and perhaps even a third-string quarterback. Linebacker and cornerback could also be addressed in the late rounds.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Thomas Jones and Brandon MarshallUS Presswire/Icon SMI/US PresswireLaDainian Tomlinson is out in San Diego, Thomas Jones has a new home in Kansas City and Brandon Marshall's future in Denver remains uncertain.
We’re a week into free agency. Here is a look at the key aspects of the offseason for each team in the division so far and what’s ahead:

Denver

Big news: Brandon Marshall. The Broncos set the stage for Marshall’s departure by putting the first-round tender on him. It didn’t take long for Marshall to attract interest. Seattle set up a visit to bring in Marshall on the first day of free agency. The Marshall situation could drag on, especially if other teams show interest. But the fact that Marshall was in another team’s building over the weekend is big news.

Surprise: The new-look defensive line. Last year, in his first as Denver’s coach, Josh McDaniels remade the Broncos’ defensive line. He is doing it again in his second year. The Broncos have signed defensive linemen Justin Bannan, Jarvis Green and Jamal Williams. All three of these players are expected to play major roles.

Best decision: Giving Elvis Dumervil the high tender. Dumervil, 26, represents the future for Denver. He led the NFL with 17 sacks last season. Had Denver not put the high tender of a first- and third-round pick on Dumervil, he would be popular in free agency. With the high tender, Dumervil probably is staying put.

Worst decision: Not being flexible on Marshall’s compensation. It has been reported that the Broncos will keep Marshall if they don’t get a first-round pick in return for him. Perhaps this is posturing. But unless other teams start pursuing him, I don’t see Seattle giving up a first-round pick. Yet, the Seahawks could offer other creative compensation. Ultimately, the Broncos want to part ways with Marshall, but this high price tag could prevent that from happening.

What’s needed: Continue to get bigger. The Broncos added size to the defensive front. Now, they have to do so on the offensive line. Denver is moving away from the zone-blocking scheme to a more traditional power-blocking attack. The Broncos need a left guard and a center.

Kansas City

Big news: Thomas Jones signing. Next to the trade for quarterback Matt Cassel last year, this is the biggest move of the Scot Pioli era to date. The addition of Jones shows Kansas City is willing to spend and it wants to get better. The veteran running back will help this offense.

Surprise: How aggressive the Chiefs planned to be. Last year, the Chiefs were criticized for not being active. This year has been a different story. They were planning to pursue San Diego’s Darren Sproles had he hit the open market, and they tried to trade for receiver Anquan Boldin. Before signing Jones, Kansas City also was considering fellow running backs Justin Fargas and Willie Parker. It is clear the Chiefs are determined to get better.

Best decision: Re-signing Chris Chambers. Adding Jones and keeping Chambers will help Kansas City’s offense evolve in the first year under new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Chambers was Cassel’s favorite target when he was claimed off waivers by San Diego in November. A full season of playing with Chambers should help Cassel.

Worst decision: Not trading for Boldin. A receiving crew of Chambers, Boldin and Dwayne Bowe would have been formidable. The Chiefs have two second-round picks next month. It might have been worth it to trade one to get Boldin and really open up the offense.

What’s needed: Keep spending. The Chiefs are on the right track. But they need more talent throughout the team. They need to add more pieces, perhaps on the offensive line and in the defensive back eight.

Oakland

Big news: No big spending. For the second year in a row, the Raiders are watching free agency as bystanders. Two years ago, the Raiders spent wildly. It didn’t work, and most of their 2008 free-agency class has been cut. The Raiders are sitting on the sideline in this uncapped year. You would think Al Davis would make a splash or two, but he has been very quiet.

Surprise: The release of Greg Ellis. The defensive end was cut after one season with the team. Ellis had seven sacks last year, but he dealt with injuries. Still, he may have a year or two left. Yet, the Raiders decided to go with youth at the position. Perhaps that is a good sign of things to come. Of course, they gave another 30-year-old defensive end, Richard Seymour, the franchise tag after giving up a 2011 first-round pick for him. You never know the thought process in Oakland.

Best decision: The release of Javon Walker. This move was a long time coming. Walker was one of the worst free-agent decisions in NFL history. Oakland gave him a six-year, $55 million deal with $16 million in guaranteed money in 2008. He had 15 catches in two seasons in Oakland. He never helped.

Worst decision: Giving Stanford Routt the high tender. The backup cornerback was given the high tender of a first- and third-round pick. Routt is not a starter and is a marginal backup. Even if Oakland put the first-round tender on Routt, he wouldn’t have attracted interested. The move simply cost the Raiders money and served no purpose.

What’s needed: The Raiders have to spend some. It’s admirable that Oakland has learned its lesson from its horrible spending spree of two years ago. But the Raiders need help. This isn’t a playoff- quality roster. The team needs help in several areas. The Raiders don’t have to spend huge, but they do need some new players.

San Diego

Big news: The team is losing numbers. The Chargers cut former stars LaDainian Tomlinson and Jamal Williams. Then they traded cornerback Antonio Cromartie and lost free agents Kassim Osgood and Brandon Manumaleuna. The Chargers have not added any players of note. San Diego prides itself on its depth and none of these players are irreplaceable, but the Chargers could miss some of them.

Surprise: The Chargers gave the high tender to running back Darren Sproles. San Diego was expected to let the change-of-pace running back/return star test the market, but Sproles was tendered at the deadline. Good thing for San Diego, because Sproles probably would have been signed within 48 hours on the open market.

Best decision: Trading Antonio Cromartie. The team grew tired of the cornerback, who struggled at times on the field and had some off-field issues. Cromartie was sent to the Jets for a 2011 third-round pick that could turn into a second-round pick, depending on playing time. It was a good value for a player San Diego couldn’t wait to part ways with.

Worst decision: Not re-signing Jamal Williams. Only because it allowed Denver to sign him. Williams probably doesn’t have much left. But if he does, the Chargers will regret seeing Williams play well for a rival.

What’s needed: A running back. The Chargers are taking a calculated risk. They are not impressed with the free-agent class, so they are waiting for the draft. It is a deep draft. The Chargers clearly feel they can get a primary back then. Still, it is a tad scary waiting for an unknown rookie to be the primary back.
The Broncos have been busy revamping their defensive line with the signing of Jarvis Green and Justin Bannan, who will likely start at the end positions, and Jamal Williams, who will play nose tackle.

The group is an improvement from last season. Still, the new players are making Denver a very old defense.

A lot will happen in free agency and in the draft, but there is a chance Denver will have nine defensive starters over the age of 30. Six of Denver’s starters last season __ Champ Bailey (31), Brian Dawkins (36), Andra Davis (31), Andre Goodman (31), Mario Haggan (30) and Renaldo Hill (31) – will be 30 or older by the start of the 2010 season. Bannan will be 31 next month, Williams will be 34 next month and Green is 31.

The only current key Denver defenders are linebackers Elvis Dumervil (26) and D.J. Williams (27). Apparently, Denver believes this unit is built to win now. It better be because this group won’t be around together for long.
We enlisted the help of Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to breakdown the two big additions in the AFC West on Tuesday. Kansas City signed running back Thomas Jones and Denver signed former San Diego defensive tackle Jamal Williams.

Williamson on Jones: “I love it. He is not an elite player, but he still has something left. I’ve been saying the Jets will regret letting him go. He is going to help the Chiefs. He really will help young running back Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs don’t have a great line and they aren’t going to win the Super Bowl this year, so it doesn’t make sense to give Charles the ball 25 times. Now, he can be given the ball 15 times and extend his career and Jones can help carry the load. This move will also help Charles watch Jones and learn how to become a pro. Jones is a good blocker who understands the passing game. He will help Matt Cassel. This is a great move.”

Williamson on Williams: “This is hard to comment on if you’re not a doctor. I’m just not sure how much he has left. He dealt with the triceps injury and he had knee injuries before that. Before he was lost for the season last year, I wasn’t really impressed. But who knows how much he was hurting. I wouldn’t be surprised if come training camp his body broke down and he had to retire. But if he does have something left, it is a very limited amount. I do like what Denver did at end with Jarvis Green and Justin Bannan. I really like Bannan. He is versatile and he can help any team. Even if Williams is banged up, the front three of Green, Bannan and Williams is better than what the Broncos had last year.”

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