NFL Nation: Joe D'Alessandris

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A look at the top under-the-radar move made by each AFC West team thus far this offseason:

Denver: defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. The Broncos have made some big-ticket moves, including the signings of receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and guard Louis Vasquez. But landing Knighton should not be overlooked. He fills a big need. He is a massive hole-plugger who should make a good defense even better. He was a favorite of former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio, now Denver’s defensive coordinator. Knighton will be used correctly and should instantly be comfortable in Denver’s system. A run-stuffer was one of Denver’s greatest needs after last season. The position is now a strength.

Kansas City: defensive end Mike DeVito. DeVito wasn’t a big name to the average fan, but he is a favorite of NFL scouts. He was expected to be a hot commodity in free agency and the Chiefs made an immediate, winning run at him. DeVito reunites with former Jets assistant coach Bob Sutton, now Kansas City’s defensive coordinator. DeVito is a strong run defender and a relentless player overall. He is versatile and can rotate with 2012 first-round pick Dontari Poe. This could make Poe, who played well at the end of last season, even better. Strong move.

Oakland: defensive tackle Pat Sims. The football people I’ve spoken with believe Sims has among the best upside of the players the Raiders have brought in this offseason -- affordable, young, fringe-starter types who will be asked to take the next step in Oakland. Sims has a chance to stand out. If he can stay healthy and prove he can handle the rigors of being a full-time starter -- he was mostly a rotational player in Cincinnati -- Sims has a chance to be among Oakland’s better players. He is highly skilled, and he can be disruptive.

San Diego: guard Chad Rinehart. Scouts really like this signing. Yes, the Chargers’ offensive line still has question marks and yes, seeing Vasquez go to Denver hurts. But if he can stay healthy, Rinehart has a chance to step in at guard and provide a strong, stable presence. Many scouts thought he was one of the best bargain players available in free agency. He has a chance to develop into a strong starter. He played for new San Diego offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris in Buffalo. D'Alessandris pushed for Rinehart, and there is probably good reason he did so.
The Chargers signed former Buffalo guard Chad Rinehart.

He is a favorite of scouts. He has started 14 games in the past two years and will likely get a chance to start. The Chargers have two openings at guard with Louis Vasquez leaving for Denver and Tyronne Green being a free agent.

The Chargers signed tackle King Dunlap on Tuesday. He may get a chance start on the right side. The Chargers have holes on the offensive line, but they are, at least, creating competition.

Rinehart played for new San Diego offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris in Buffalo. The Chargers had interest in Buffalo star guard Andy Levitre, but he signed a high-dollar deal with the Titans. Clearly, D’Alessandris thinks Rinehart, a much cheaper option, can help.

Meanwhile, CBS Sports reports the Eagles are looking at San Diego pass-rusher Antwan Barnes.

Also, San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason is visiting the Cardinals.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?

Denver Broncos: Glover Quin, S, Texans: Sure, I could see the Broncos making a big splash at a high-profile position like receiver in the form of someone like Mike Wallace or Wes Welker. I wanted to focus on a position that may not get as much thought in Denver, but where the team is interested in getting better. The Broncos are interested in adding to the secondary. A player like Quin would be a great fit. The team likes Rahim Moore (despite his playoff gaffe against the Ravens) and they have high hopes for Quinton Carter. But Quin can come in and help these guys and provide an upgrade from Mike Adams. Getting a tough player in the back of a strong defense would only help Denver.

Kansas City Chiefs: Sean Smith, CB, Dolphins: The Chiefs are an interesting team. Despite being 2-14 in 2012, they don’t have a ton of screaming needs. Getting a quality cornerback to team with Brandon Flowers may be just the thing this defense needs. The Chiefs tried it with Stanford Routt last season (to replace top dollar Dallas free-agent signee Brandon Carr), but it didn’t work. Yes, the Chiefs could use the No. 1 pick on Alabama's Dee Milliner and I still think a trade for Darrelle Revis would be worth exploring. But adding a tall, athletic corner like Smith could be the ticket as well. He won’t be cheap, but he has skills and a Smith-Flowers pairing would be interesting.

Oakland Raiders: Cary Williams, CB, Ravens: The Raiders won't have a ton to spend and they have a lot of positions that need help. But I’m going with a cornerback, because I think it is the team’s greatest need. Really, name a legitimate starting in-house candidate in Oakland that is not an emergency option. Williams may be too sought-after for Oakland to afford. But he is a solid starter who has been through the wars. If the price is right, he’d fill a big need for Oakland. A more affordable option will be former Denver cornerback Tracy Porter. I think Oakland -- coach Dennis Allen was Porter’s position coach in New Orleans -- will be interested, but if Williams fell to Oakland, I think it would be worth considering.

San Diego Chargers: Andy Levitre, G, Bills: Levitre is one of the best guards in the league. He will be sought after in free agency. But if the price is not through the roof, I think the Chargers will be a player for his services. The Chargers’ primary task this offseason is to improve the offensive line. Levitre would be a great start. Levitre, who is from California, likely would be interested in signing and reuniting with former Buffalo offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who was just hired by the Chargers. He has a zone-blocking scheme. San Diego coach Mike McCoy said the Chargers will run the scheme that best fits the players, and I'm sure D’Alessandris would like to reunite with Levitre to help introduce his system. The Chargers’ best offensive lineman, guard Louis Vasquez, is also free. In the best-case scenario, San Diego would be able to keep both players, but it’s difficult to put top resources into two guards, especially with the team needing a left tackle. But because Levitre has experience in D’Alessandris’ system, I could see him being a more valued target than Vasquez.
In an interview with a Kansas City radio station, Chiefs free-agent left tackle Branden Albert said he does not know what the team's plans are for him, but he wants to stay in Kansas City.

And as expected, Albert said he has no interest in moving to guard. He is staying at left tackle and he will be paid well for it whether it is from the Chiefs or elsewhere.

In other AFC West news:

The Chargers hired former Carolina receivers coach Fred Graves for the same job and they are hiring former Buffalo offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris for the same position.

U-T San Diego reports the Chargers will keep running backs coach Ollie Wilson. Most of the defensive staff has been kept by new coach Mike McCoy, but he is bringing in many of his own coaches on the offensive side of the ball.

Charlie Joiner has retired from the NFL. He was in the NFL for a total of 44 years, including 21 with the Chargers. He played for San Diego for 11 years. He had two coaching stints in San Diego, including one for the past five years. His contract expired after the season.

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 2, 2010
8/02/10
10:55
AM ET
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 31

PITTSFORD. N.Y. -- Of any preseason prediction I can make, the one I'm most confident in is that the Buffalo Bills will finish fourth in the AFC East.

That slot would be neither general manager Buddy Nix's nor head coach Chan Gailey's fault. The problems they inherited have set the course for 2010.

But they are setting a tone for the long-term future the players can respect.

Gailey is trying to establish a new culture with his first training camp. He wants people to use two adjectives that haven't been associated with the Bills for a long time: tough and disciplined.

"He's very particular about things and how he wants them done," Bills receiver Lee Evans said. "We haven't really had that for a while here, with the head man running the show. You understand what he's trying to get done."

Gailey has kept his players in full pads at St. John Fisher College. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely had his players in complete gear at camp.

Gailey believes players should be in pads and tested both physically and mentally. He's in a discovery phase not only about what he'll be able to work with on Sunday afternoons, but also keepers who will help him build a long-term foundation.

"When you actually have those shoulder pads on, mouthpiece in, chinstrap buckled up and you have to get off a block to make a play," safety George Wilson said, "that really shows the true testament of a real football player.

"That's what our coaching staff needs, a new staff that's coming in to evaluate this entire team and be able to put the best 53 men together for this 2010 season. I like what we’re doing. It's going to make us a lot more physical, a lot tougher, a lot more mentally prepared, and I have a positive outlook about it."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeEdwards
AP Photo/David DupreyTrent Edwards is being given the chance to win the starting quarterback job.
1. Can quarterback Trent Edwards capitalize on another opportunity? Bills fans seemed to be pulling for Brian Brohm to emerge as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. A major reason is they haven't seen him truly fail yet -- unlike Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Yet, after several months working with his quarterbacks, Gailey liked Edwards best and installed him as the No. 1 quarterback to begin training camp. The battle remains open, but with Fitzpatrick and Brohm sharing reps with the backups and surrendering a few here and there to rookie Levi Brown, it's Edwards' job to lose. Based on Edwards' medical chart (combined with Hot Issue No. 2 below), there are no guarantees.

But Edwards has yet to get a fair shot to prove what he can do. He has experienced plenty of chaos since the Bills drafted him in the third round in 2007. Gailey is the first offensive-minded head coach Edwards has played under. Last year, offensive coordinator Turk Schonert got fired 10 days before the season, the Bills jettisoned both starting tackles (two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and the most experienced member of the offensive line, Langston Walker) from the season before and endured a futile no-huddle experiment.

Gailey has run successful offenses everywhere he has been. This finally could be a legitimate chance for Edwards to show what he can do.

2. How will the Bills survive without proven offensive tackles? The Bills aren't known for their pass rush, but it was apparent in the early days of practice their offensive tackles were overmatched in pass protection. For their safety, quarterbacks wear red jerseys to remind oncoming defenders not to hit them. Good thing, or else the Bills might have needed to sign some replacements already.

While some front offices believe guards are fungible and tackles vital, the Bills have operated contradictorily in recent years. They've drafted guards within the first two rounds (Eric Wood and Andy Levitre) and paid big bucks for a free agent (Derrick Dockery) while declining to draft a tackle earlier than the fifth round since 2002.

Left tackle Demetrius Bell has been limited in 11-on-11 drills because he's recovering from knee surgery. He received his first snaps Sunday. His replacement, Jamon Meredith, has been overwhelmed at times. The other tackles likely to make the 53-man roster -- Cornell Green, Kirk Chambers and rookie Ed Wang -- have looked ordinary at best.

[+] EnlargeSchobel
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Bills have decided to move forward without linebacker Aaron Schobel.
3. What will happen with vacillating pass-rusher Aaron Schobel? He spent the entire offseason at his home in Texas, perhaps playing possum. He didn’t return to the Bills' facility to collect his roster bonus or participate in offseason workouts. He told some media outlets he was all but retired.

Then, on the verge of camp, the two-time Pro Bowler with a $6 million base salary expressed a change of heart. Schobel might want to play after all. Or maybe he's posturing for a trade, threatening to show up a month before the regular season despite failing to attend so much as a chalk-board session on the team's transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4.

On Monday morning, the Bills provided a nebulous answer: In a news release, Nix announced the team is moving forward with plans that do not include Schobel.

Nix said: “Aaron has been contemplating retirement for the past seven months, but we are at the point where we are moving forward and have informed his agent of our plans.”

Schobel can improve the defense with his talents, but the team is rebuilding and going through a defensive transformation he has demurred from. If they cut him, then they forfeit an asset. A trade appears to be the best option to me.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Wide receiver Steve Johnson was an afterthought when the Bills drafted him in the seventh round three years ago. But the front office was quietly confident he would be a player someday. After getting buried on a depth chart that no longer includes Terrell Owens and Josh Reed, Johnson might be ready to emerge. Johnson opened camp as the starting No. 2 receiver opposite Evans. That puts James Hardy on the spot. The Bills took him in the second round the same year they drafted Johnson.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Rookie running back C.J. Spiller, the ninth overall draft choice, still hasn't been signed. Reports indicate it might be a while before he's under contract. The players around him in the draft order have come to terms, but Spiller was the first running back off the board and was considered the most electric playmaker in the draft. His agent, Gary Wichard, certainly is hammering home that point every time he speaks to the Bills. While it's true running backs can afford to miss practice more than other positions because their role is so reactionary, Spiller is more than that. The Bills also consider him a receiver, and that makes practice time more precious for learning the nuances of Gailey's offense.

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey
AP Photo/ David DupreyChan Gailey is trying to learn as much about his team by working them out in full gear.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The atmosphere at St. John Fisher College has been lifeless. It hasn't mattered whether it's morning, afternoon, night, weekday or weekend. The few fans who have shown up are silent.
  • Fitzpatrick has been plagued by interceptions through the first few days of camp. Bills defenders seem to have developed a strong read on where he's going to throw.
  • Gailey has mandated knee braces at practice for the offensive linemen, whether they've had injuries or not. He has been doing that since he began working with O-line coach Joe D'Alessandris at Georgia Tech in 2002. The players can opt out of the knee braces for games if they don't like how they feel.
  • The Bills' defensive backs have sensational hands. In every drill I watched, it was rare to see a ball hit the ground.
  • Left cornerback Leodis McKelvin has demonstrated lapses in concentration. He seemed lost in a passing drill Saturday, getting beaten by Hardy for an easy touchdown. Secondary coach George Catavolos had trouble getting McKelvin's attention afterward for some instruction. Soon after, McKelvin was dropping punts in a return drill.
  • Inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell told me the unit relies on free-agent acquisition Andra Davis' insight when it comes to 3-4 questions. That also goes for inside linebackers coach DeMontie Cross, who hasn't coached an NFL 3-4 before.
  • Mitchell on the 3-4: "It gives you more freedom. It allows you to showcase your ability a lot more. It's going to be a lot more fun."
  • Brian Moorman and Rian Lindell are one of the NFL's best punter-kicker combos. The Bills didn't bother to bring in any additional legs.
  • Wood is a head knocker. His quick return from a shattered left leg and no-nonsense demeanor on the field will make him popular in Buffalo.
  • After obstructed media views on the opening day, the Bills did a fine job of reorganizing their access areas to allow better viewing of 11-on-11 drills.
  • Outside linebacker Aaron Maybin has a body shape that stands out the moment you see him. Maybin looks like a Wii character, with a tiny waist that flares upward toward his shoulder pads. He told me his waist is 36 inches, but in pads it seems like a 28.
  • I focused on the tight ends at the blocking sled Friday morning. I saw why sophomore Shawn Nelson is viewed as more receiver than blocker. He looked considerably less powerful than the rest. While Derek Schouman, Jonathan Stupar and Michael Matthews jacked the sled, Nelson merely budged it. Nelson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Only Matthews is larger at 6-4 and 270.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Cross-checking with old friends can be a very valuable thing at draft time.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Morgan
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesDerrick Morgan had a number of coaches vouch for him before the Titans drafted him.
Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn did with first-round pick Derrick Morgan, and Washburn said his phone was buzzing with text messages Thursday night about the two being a perfect marriage.

Joe D’Alessandris was the Chan Gailey assistant who led the recruiting charge to pull Morgan to Georgia Tech over Ohio State, Penn State, Miami and Boston College. He also just happened to have coached with Washburn way back when they were both starting out and Washburn was the defensive coordinator at Livingston College in 1979.

“Joe’s my best friend in coaching,” Washburn said. “… He told me Derrick was the most unusual high school player he’d ever seen, everything he did was just so intense. Joe said this is a great match, me and Derrick being together.”

Giff Smith, who coached defensive line at Georgia Tech, worked as a graduate assistant for Arkansas when Washburn was there. Like D’Alessandris, Smith now works for Gailey with the Buffalo Bills.

And before Livingston and Arkansas, when Washburn and Titans scout Cole Proctor were at Lees McRae College, a high school coach used to visit them to talk football. Paul Johnson’s now the head man for the Yellow Jackets.

“It’s a small world,” Morgan said.

“Everybody texted last night and said, 'This is perfect,’” Washburn said. “Of the five guys -- I’m counting Sergio Kindle, Jerry Hughes, Brandon Graham, Jason Pierre-Paul and Derrick -- this guy had the fastest 10[-yard time] and this guy is the toughest …

“This guy played like we try to have the Titans’ defensive linemen play. He’s got to run to the ball better, but he brings it, now. When he lines up, he means business.”

Gailey's staff looks thin on experience

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
3:45
PM ET
Now that new Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey has essentially assembled his staff, I thought it would be worthwhile to present a snapshot of who they are.

You'll notice a couple blanks still need to be filled in. The Bills have yet to designate a defensive line or linebackers coach and could have other openings on the staff. For example, they could choose to break up inside and outside linebackers.

The Bills have two defensive assistants who haven't been assigned duties. Bob Sanders and Giff Smith have experience coaching the defensive line. Sanders did it last year, but he also coached linebackers for the Miami Dolphins.

What stands out to me is the lack of NFL experience throughout the staff.

Defensive backs coach George Catavolos has banked 26 years in that role. Special-teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven has put in 23 years. But there's a huge drop from there.

Gailey has gathered acquaintances from his days at Georgia Tech and assistants he identified as up-and-comers during his brief stay with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Gailey will have at least eight assistants with two or fewer years of NFL experience in the positions they will hold with the Bills. At least four of them will have zero seasons of NFL experience in their given role.

That's not to say they're all neophytes.

One of those first-timers is veteran quarterbacks coach George Cortez, who has spent more than three decades coaching at colleges and in the Canadian Football League.

They might all be fine teachers, but I think it's fair to wonder how these coaches will handle the fast-paced, high-pressure setting of an NFL sideline on Sunday afternoons.

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