ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- For all the unsolicited advice the Kansas City Chiefs receive about how to best preserve running back Jamaal Charles for the long term, they don’t seem inclined to listen. Days after they fortified Charles’ contract, the Chiefs appear prepared to utilize their best offensive player as much if not more than in seasons past.

Charles
"I think he's got a lot in the tank," coach Andy Reid said. “We're going to keep using him. He's a good football player and he enjoys playing the game, so we'll keep getting him the football."

It's difficult to argue with that strategy. The Chiefs have surrounded Charles with a decent cast of complementary players but they have no one else with his proven record of productivity.

The main backup for Charles is Knile Davis, who when it comes to raw ability has as much as anyone the Chiefs have, Charles included. At 227 pounds, Davis is a bigger, stronger runner than Charles and is every bit as fast.

Davis has come a long way since he joined the Chiefs as a rookie last year but he's still unpolished. He's particularly rough in the passing game, where his skills as a receiver and blocker lag far behind those of Charles. As offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said, "This will be a big camp for him."

With a strong showing at camp, Davis could convince the Chiefs he deserves more playing time. The Chiefs have fiddled with some formations that include both Charles and Davis.

But as far as diminished playing time for Charles, nothing short of injury will make that happen.

"He may not get more touches," Pederson said of Davis. "He may get more plays. We just pick our spots. There are certain plays for Knile and certain plays for Jamaal. Sometimes it's a feel thing: 'Hey, let's get Jamaal [a rest for a play or two] and then get him back in the game.'"
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The proof will always be in what happens in the weeks, months and seasons to come, by how he conducts himself, but Broncos linebacker Von Miller says 2014 is a new season and that he, in most ways, is a new guy.

"I'm a way different person from what I was five years ago, a year ago," Miller said. "I'm definitely different, more mature. I'm one of the oldest guys in the linebacker room now. I was talking to Wesley [Woodyard] the other day, and I was like 'Bro, I'm one of the oldest guys in here right now,' and we started laughing so it's just part of it. Just have to grow up."

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey"I'm definitely different, more mature. I'm one of the oldest guys in the linebacker room now," Von Miller said.
The Broncos certainly want to leave the Super Bowl behind, to turn the page on the 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks to close out the 2013 season and move on to the business of 2014. But Miller would like to box up most of what the '13 season had to offer -- a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy to open the season, a torn ACL to close it and largely up-and-down play in between -- and lock it away.

But by most accounts Miller has done what's necessary since the Super Bowl loss. He has worked judiciously through his rehab and, as Broncos executive VP/GM John Elway has put it, Miller "looks ready to put last season behind him and get back to being the Von we know he can be."

Miller will always have a special spot in whatever becomes of Elway's tenure as the Broncos' top football executive. Miller was the first draft pick after Elway was hired for his current job, the first-round pick of the 2011 draft (second pick overall).

He's also a key piece in what the Broncos hope will be a defense that does far more than ride along in the slipstream of one of the league's highest-scoring offenses. And though training camp is just two days old, it's smooth sailing thus far for Miller.

The Broncos are easing him back into action; he is limited to essentially individual work and 7-on-7 drills right now. Elway said he expects Miller to be cleared for full contact by the time the Broncos get to their third preseason game.

"I've been on a great game plan with Greek (Broncos head trainer Steve Antonopulos) and the guys and they have me on a very good schedule and I'm just following those guys," Miller said. "... I think it's a mission every year. I want to be the best and that's my mission and I'm aiming for it and I'm working hard for it and that's where my head's at right now."

But the Broncos like what they've seen from Miller, especially since there is less of him to see. The fourth-year linebacker made it a point after his surgery to drop the weight he added during the 2013 offseason and while he was suspended.

Miller is far closer to the 255 pounds he said he weighed during the 2012 season when he had 18.5 sacks than to the 270 pounds he said he weighed when he returned from his suspension in his quest to play with more power.

Even in limited duty during OTAs, minicamp, and the opening practices of training camp, Miller has looked far quicker and more explosive than he did in practice last November and December. And those who know him say Miller has been helped on all fronts by DeMarcus Ware's arrival.

"And we all feel good when we see [Miller] like that," said linebacker Danny Trevathan. "That's a big part of our defense, what those guys can do in the pass rush."

"I think it just made me a better person," Miller said. "Adversity reveals character and I think all the stuff that happened, I handled it well and I'm in a blessed situation to be where I'm at today. I'm not looking at all that stuff ... I'm looking forward and just grinding it out."
NAPA, Calif. -- From the moment he landed with the Oakland Raiders in a trade with the Houston Texans on March 21, Matt Schaub has insisted confidence, or lack thereof, will not be an issue for him going forward.

Schaub
Schaub
Not even after a nightmarish 2013 in Houston in which he threw 14 interceptions in 10 games, including pick-sixes in four straight games, and lost his job.

Surely the Raiders' coaching staff must have some questions about whether Schaub has any mental hurdles to overcome in camp, no?

Well, no.

"I don't have any problems with Matt Schaub's confidence," coach Dennis Allen said Thursday.

"I think he's in a good frame of mind. I think he's very hungry. I think he's excited about the new opportunity."

Schaub, a third-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2004 before heading to Houston in 2007 and going to two Pro Bowls, should benefit from a change of scenery, Allen said.

"I think anytime you go into something new, there's a little bit of, maybe it's an increased focus, an increased intensity level, because it is new," Allen said. "You kind of force yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit.

"I think he's done that. I think he's been very focused and very driven this offseason and I don't think there's any question that he's got something that he wants to go out and prove."

This much is true, though: If Schaub struggles early, fans will be calling loudly for second-round draft pick Derek Carr out of Fresno State, and Schaub does not need that kind of distraction or distress as he's trying to establish himself in Oakland.

That process begins in earnest Friday with the Raiders' first training camp practice of 2014. Sunday, they go at it in pads for the first time.
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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- We've already established just how much the Kansas City Chiefs need running back Jamaal Charles and how important he is for their aspirations this season.

That part isn't the surprise. Anyone who watched the Chiefs play in 2013 realized his worth to his team.

You probably don't realize the other part of this -- just how much a holdout would have hurt Charles. It would have hurt Charles plenty, perhaps as much as his absence would have hurt the Chiefs.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images"I didn't want to hold out," Jamaal Charles said. "That's not my place. I couldn't do it. I just wanted to get the deal done."
Though it may appear otherwise now -- after his arrival at training camp at Missouri Western State University was delayed by a couple of hours until he received the contract extension he wanted -- Charles isn't a greedy, me-first diva. He is by all accounts a good teammate. Despite his desire for a pay raise, Charles attended offseason workouts and practices. It wasn't just a show of good faith to the Chiefs. Charles wanted to be working and sweating with his teammates.

Charles cares about giving the Chiefs their money's worth. He cares about what his peers think. He cares what you think.

It's important to Charles to leave an imprint on the game that will last for years. He's well on his way toward doing that. Many backs have had a season or two as good as the ones Charles has put together in recent years.

Few have had as many as Charles. Playing in coach Andy Reid's offense for the Chiefs, Charles has a great opportunity to enhance his legacy, but that would be impossible for him to do if he's sitting out in a pay dispute.

So if you think the Chiefs were relieved to see Charles take the practice field as they opened training camp Thursday, know that the feeling was mutual.

"I didn't want to hold out," Charles said. "That's not my place. I couldn't do it. I just wanted to get the deal done. I could have held out and gotten [more money]. I'm just happy with what I have for right now. ... I didn't want to even be selfish like that. That's not my personality."

Charles joined the Chiefs at camp a couple of hours after the reporting deadline on Wednesday, after the sides had reached agreement on the contract extension. He felt ashamed enough about a holdout even that brief that he took to Twitter with the joke he had been late because his car broke down on the way from Kansas City to St. Joseph.

So while the Chiefs needed Charles, the opposite is just as true. And had the Chiefs held firm for just a few days and held back their offer of new money, Charles might have caved first.

"I couldn't [hold out]," he said. "I wanted to do it but it's just not me. I'm not a cocky player. I'm not one of the players [who does] that to his team. I've always been a team player my whole time here. I was ready to get the deal done and move forward."

Broncos camp report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
9:30
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A daily review of the hot topics coming out of training camp:
  • When the Broncos selected wide receiver Cody Latimer in the second round of the draft in May, they did it knowing full well Latimer had suffered a fracture in his left foot in a pre-draft workout, much like Demaryius Thomas had before the Broncos made him a first-round pick in 2010. "I think they're like experts when it comes to that because it's worked out for them before," Latimer said. The Broncos dialed Latimer back for much of the offseason -- he did some limited team work in the team's three-day minicamp in June and the final set of organized team activities -- but looked just fine Thursday as he consistently flashed top-tier speed throughout the practice. He will get some premium snaps this season.
  • With Demaryius Thomas excused until Monday, Andre Caldwell took plenty of reps with the offensive starters. Caldwell, who signed a two-year deal to stay with the Broncos just before free agency opened in March, watched the team draft Latimer and sign Emmanuel Sanders. But quarterback Peyton Manning trusts Caldwell and showed even in Caldwell's limited playing time last season he was willing to throw to Caldwell in tight situations. And Thursday Manning made it clear people shouldn't be quick to dismiss Caldwell just yet in the wide receiver rotation, offering, "Caldwell will have a more significant role this season."
  • In the wake of the team's announcement that Pat Bowlen was stepping down as the team's owner this week, team president and CEO Joe Ellis met one-on-one with three players -- Manning, special teams captain David Bruton and defensive end DeMarcus Ware. Ware just signed in March, but this, as well as how Ware has conducted himself in offseason workouts, shows his standing in the locker room already. He spent time with almost every pass-rusher on the practice field Thursday, offering tips during drills, including to Derek Wolfe, Von Miller and Quanterus Smith. It will be absolutely stunning if Ware is not one of this team's five season-long captains.
  • The issue is a long way from being decided, but, as expected, Chris Clark is getting the first look with the starters at right tackle. The Broncos figure to do at least some mix-and-match at the position over the next couple of weeks with Clark and Winston Justice having received the bulk of the work in minicamp and OTAs. But if they stick to the plan to take a look at all of the possibilities, rookie Michael Schofield has shown enough in offseason work to get a look as well.
  • The Broncos lost 16 fumbles last season, the most in the league, and lost three more fumbles in the playoffs. So, safe to say ball security has been a front-burner issue for the Broncos all through the offseason with the appearance of a green ball that has been carried around by the likes of Manning and Thomas. But the fumble reminder is blue for training camp and Manning was toting it around Thursday. Things still need attention as the Broncos put the ball on the ground twice in team drills, both on strip plays by the defense.
  • Some odd and ends: With Chris Harris Jr. on the physically unable to perform list, Kayvon Webster got some work in the base defense in the two practices. ... Linebacker Von Miller, who isn't expected to be cleared for full contact until the Broncos' third preseason game, took part individual drills with the linebackers and some 7-on-7 drills. Asked about his knee he said "it feels good for today."

Chiefs camp report: Day 1

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
7:45
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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Some thoughts and observations on the Kansas City Chiefs' first training camp practice at Missouri Western State University:
  • Sean McGrath was the Chiefs' leading pass receiver at tight end last season with 26 receptions, but after reporting to camp a day earlier, he was absent from practice. He is reportedly considering retirement. McGrath faces a difficult battle to make the regular-season roster. At tight end the Chiefs have veteran starter Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris. The Chiefs drafted Kelce in the third round last season and have big plans for him in the passing game after he missed all of last season with a knee ailment. Harris was a basketball player in college, but has showed an aptitude as a receiver. McGrath, at the least, is good insurance in the event of an injury to one of the others.
  • The kicking competition got going early. Veteran Ryan Succop and rookie Cairo Santos each made all of their six field goal attempts, with 43 yards being the longest try for each player. Santos has ability and provides a less expensive alternative to Succop. But the Chiefs are better off sticking with the incumbent. It would probably prove to be a mistake to go with an untested rookie in such a pressure-filled job.
  • The Chiefs are counting on reserve safety Sanders Commings to play in their nickel defense, but he might not be reliable. Commings didn't practice and the Chiefs put him on the non-football injury list with a strained foot. Coach Andy Reid said he believed Commings would return to practice soon, but Commings might be revealing himself as an injury-prone player. He missed most of his rookie season last season with injuries. The Chiefs also put backup guard Rokevious Watkins on the non-football injury list because of a problem with a disk in his back.
  • The Chiefs worked on kickoff returns and spread the work among five returners. They should give most of the work to the two most promising candidates, Knile Davis and rookie De'Anthony Thomas. Davis returned a kickoff for a touchdown as a rookie last season. Thomas, a fourth-round draft choice this season, is fast, but because of his size (5-9 and 174 pounds) might be better suited to returning punts. But the Chiefs need to make sure of that before taking Thomas out of the kickoff return mix.
  • Cornerback Sean Smith appeared to move into the No. 1 cornerback spot last month when the Chiefs released Brandon Flowers. But Smith was demoted to second-team soon afterward and practiced as a backup again Thursday. The decision is a curious one. Smith is the most experienced of the Chiefs' cornerbacks and at 6-3 has the size the Chiefs prefer in their corners. Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker are, at least for now, the starters. Cooper struggled at times as a rookie last season and Parker is a journeyman. The Chiefs need to get Smith back in their starting lineup soon.
NAPA, Calif. – The big news the day before the Oakland Raiders' first training camp practice revolved around cornerback D.J. Hayden's pending trip to the physically unable to perform list.

But there was other injury news announced by coach Dennis Allen at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa at a lunch attended by five media outlets and the team’s website.

Burnett
Burnett
Allen said the Raiders will cut linebacker Kevin Burnett, as the nine-year veteran was not cleared for participation by the Raiders’ medical staff. Burnett, who was dealing with an ankle issue in the second organized team activities session in early June, started 16 games at weakside linebacker last season and had 129 tackles with 2 sacks and an interception.

The Raiders drafted Khalil Mack with the No. 5 overall pick and the rookie is slotted to start on the strong side, with Sio Moore moving toWill linebacker to battle Miles Burris for the starting job. Nick Roach, who played every defensive snap last season, returns at middle linebacker.

“Where we’re at at the linebacker position, with some young talented players, Miles Burris and Sio Moore, Kaluka Maiava being a main guy, I think we feel good with that position,” Allen said, “and we’re going to move on from Kevin Burnett.”

Burnett had a salary cap value for 2014 of nearly $4.14 million and was due to make $3.5 million.

Also, Allen said tight end Nick Kasa (hip flexor) and guard Lucas Nix (knee) would join Hayden (foot) on the PUP list, with safety Usama Young (quad) and rookie cornerback Keith McGill (ankle) potential adds. Young and McGill were injured Thursday during the team’s conditioning tests.

Defensive end C.J. Wilson (hamstring) and defensive tackle Stacy McGee (broken thumb) will be placed on the non-football injury list after being hurt away from the Raiders’ facility.

Defensive lineman Antonio Smith, meanwhile, is “good to go” after not practicing at all in the offseason programs while recovering from an undisclosed procedure following a weight-room mishap.

“You’d love to be able to start with everybody healthy and everybody on the field, but obviously, injuries are part of this game and it’s something we’ve got to be able to deal with and something that we’ve got to be able to overcome,” Allen said. “We’ll take it day by day and try to attack the rehab as fast as possible and see when we can get those guys back out there.”

The Raiders’ first training camp practice is Friday at 3 p.m. PT, with the first padded practice on Sunday.
Impressionist Frank Caliendo stopped by ESPN.com’s NFL Nation TV Thursday and offered hilarious takes in different voices on the current state of the NFL, joining host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Kevin Seifert (NFL national reporter).

Caliendo broke out many of his impressions, including his staple of staples, John Madden, and advised life-of-the-party rookie Johnny Manziel to keep on partying, in Madden’s voice, like Madden’s Raiders of the 1970s did as one of the league’s dominant teams of the era, both on and off the field.

Earlier in the day on ESPN Radio’s "Mike and Mike" show, Caliendo read LeBron James’ letter to the fans, his reason for returning to Cleveland, in the voice of Morgan Freeman. Caliendo shared some of it on the Spreecast as well.

Other NFL personalities Caliendo did impressions of included what is now his newest staple, Jon Gruden, while briefly taking the show into a Gruden family reunion and reminiscing on Harry Potter’s school of Hogwarts. He also did Will Ferrell doing Harry Caray.

Caliendo, who has had his own television show in the past, said he stopped counting how many voices he has in his repertoire, though it’s been reported he has at least 120 impressions, from former president George W. Bush to Mike Ditka, which he said is all about chewing gum and putting his index finger above his lip as a mustache. He wants to add a Peyton Manning impression, saying there’s some “Elvis” in the five-time NFL MVP’s voice.

And yes, Caliendo did some Charles Barkley while discussing how he comes up with ideas for impressions. Caliendo was on the show for 20 minutes.

Other topics discussed by Gutierrez, Harvey and Seifert included Ray Rice getting a reported two-game suspension, Tony Dungy’s recent assertion that he would not draft the openly gay Michael Sam because he would be too big a distraction, and a new home for the Raiders.

The show can be watched here:

 
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The last word rings the loudest, and when it comes to all the Denver Broncos accomplished last season, the Seattle Seahawks got the last word.

It came in the form of a 43-8 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

For many, that nationally televised cave-in wiped away all of the touchdowns, league records and remember-when plays that the Broncos had assembled along the way. Because of that, the Broncos have moved through the offseason with questions about their mettle swirling around them.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware, Von Miller
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesAdding DeMarcus Ware, left, and getting Von Miller, right, back from injury has the Broncos excited.
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner went on ESPN and dropped the words "scared" and "timid" when asked about the Broncos and the title game. Others around the league have done the same in private -- asked the same questions, wondered the same things. How can the Broncos navigate a tougher schedule than they had last season and do it as they try to bounce back from the kind of high-profile loss that is often difficult to shake?

That's what everyone wants to know, and it's a burden the Broncos carried as they took the field Thursday for their first training camp practice.

Make no mistake -- the Broncos like the team they have. And why not? Peyton Manning is back, as are the coaching staff and the guts of a roster that has gone 13-3 in back-to-back seasons.

As cornerback Chris Harris Jr. put it, "Guys know what kind of team we have."

John Elway, the Broncos' general manager and executive vice president of football operations, was busy this offseason, signing high-profile free agents DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders.

"Are we a better football team on paper?" Elway asked. "I think we are. I feel good about the fact that we're a better football team with free agents that we signed, as well as the draft, as well as the young guys taking steps from last season."

Ware arrived from Dallas with 117 career sacks. Talib and Ward were named to the Pro Bowl last season.

"DeMarcus came in and walked in like he'd been here for 10 years, because that's the kind of guy that he is," Elway said. "You know the way that Aqib practices and the competitive nature that he has, and the mentality, the toughness that he brings."

The Broncos also have the likes of Harris Jr., Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson and Rahim Moore -- defensive players who finished the season on injured reserve -- back on the practice field. They've seen Manning look as good as ever, with his receivers saying the future Hall of Famer has had a little more on his fastball this spring.

They see a deep team with impact players they believe is tougher, a little more calloused by what has happened. But training camp is the season of sunshine and rainbows in the NFL. Always has been, always will be. Everyone arrives to camp happy and optimistic, touting the offseason changes in players or attitude, the new day or new era.

"I'm never getting too optimistic, because this thing changes so fast, and things can change on a dime," Elway said. "But I am excited about the team that we have on the field, I'm excited about the coaching staff that we have.

"So we're excited about getting started -- plus we can put last year behind us. As tremendous as last year was, obviously there's always a bitter taste in your mouth when it ends the way it ended. When we get out on the field, that officially ends the 2013 season. We can now get going on the 2014 season."

It's a season where the Broncos hope they can be the team that hands out the exclamation point.

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- AFC West

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
11:00
AM ET
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It seems like a football eon ago that then-Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels sized up the potential AFC West race and called the San Diego Chargers “kind of the measuring stick.”

That statement came before the 2010 season as the Chargers had won the previous four division titles. It’s also right about the time the winds of change began to roar in earnest in the division, when the foundation was set for what has happened since.

The Kansas City Chiefs won the division in '10. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired McDaniels after a 4-12 season marred by Spygate and hired John Elway as the Broncos’ top football executive.

Since then, the Broncos have won three consecutive division titles, one featuring the national phenomenon that was a Tim Tebow-led read-option offense, and two with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. And the Broncos' crushing February Super Bowl loss notwithstanding, they are coming off a record-setting 2013 with Manning returning and a free-agency haul that included pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos are poised to be in the league’s championship conversation again.

The Chiefs think they are ready for more, the Chargers were the only team in the division to beat the Broncos last season, and the Oakland Raiders, after a flurry of offseason moves, believe -- at least LaMarr Woodley believes -- they can be a playoff team.

NFL Nation reporters Jeff Legwold (Broncos), Eric D. Williams (Chargers), Adam Teicher (Chiefs) and Paul Gutierrez (Raiders) look at how the AFC West division race will shake out this season.

First Down

What will the Broncos' record be and why?



Jeff Legwold: Look at the Broncos' depth chart, and on paper -- yes, the dreaded "on paper" distinction -- they are better than they were when they finished 13-3 and played their way into Super Bowl XLVIII last season. After the crushing loss in the title game, they didn't go quietly into the offseason. They put together a solid draft class with two potential immediate contributors in cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer. They were also one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, reeling in Ware, Talib, Ward and Sanders. If Ware and Talib, in particular stay healthy (Talib has never played 16 games in a season), Denver's defense will be vastly improved alongside a record-breaking offense that figures to again pile up points. The Broncos finished with five defensive starters on injured reserve last season, and many of the players who were starting on defense down the stretch will be backups this season. Their trek through the NFC West to go with road games against the Patriots, Jets and Bengals gives them a potentially brutal schedule. They could be better than they were last season and not have the record to show for it. That is why 12-4 would be a quality piece of work.

Eric D. Williams: Denver will take a natural slide from its impressive 2013 campaign, but still come out on top of the AFC West at 11-5. Like the rest of the division, the Broncos face a much tougher schedule, with the season opener at home against Indianapolis and games at Seattle, at home against San Francisco, at New England, at St. Louis and at Cincinnati all potential losses outside the division. Though the defense should be better, free-agent additions Talib, Ware and Ward still have to mesh with the rest of that unit. Offensively, Denver's revamped line must do a better job of protecting Peyton Manning.

Adam Teicher: 12-4. It's a bit much to expect the Broncos to match their 13-3 record of last season. A schedule that includes two games against the Chiefs and Chargers and singles against all teams from the NFC West plus New England, Indianapolis and Cincinnati almost guarantees that Denver won't get to 13 wins. But a slightly diminished regular-season record doesn't mean the Broncos won't win the AFC or play in the Super Bowl again. From this vantage point, it's an upset if any team but the Broncos represents the AFC in the Super Bowl this season.

Paul Gutierrez: Sure, no one takes a Super Bowl beating like the Denver Broncos, whose five losses on Super Sunday are by a combined score of 206-58. But in the modern world of the rich getting richer, the defending AFC champs simply got better. Adding a trio of big-name free agents in Ware, Talib and Ward will only make the defense more sound. And the addition of Sanders, who will replace the departed Eric Decker, should help the Broncos' record-setting offense continue to hum along under the direction of Manning. The Broncos are primed for another division title with a 12-4 record, with tough games at Kansas City, at San Diego (the Chargers won in Denver last season), at New England (the Patriots won in OT last season) and at Seattle (remember that 43-8 pasting the Seahawks put on the Broncos in the Super Bowl?).


Second Down

What will the Chiefs' record be and why?



Legwold: There is an air about this team; the Chiefs seem comfortable with where the roster was at the end of the 2013 season going into 2014. They were not all that active in free agency, though they took some swings at a wide receiver or two, including Emmanuel Sanders. If they are the team that went 9-0 before the bye last season, then standing pat is just fine, but if they are the group that went 2-5 down the stretch, then they are not catching the Broncos. They have shuffled the offensive line and seem likely to lean on running back Jamaal Charles again on offense, but they lack pop on the outside, especially if receiver A.J. Jenkins can't lift his game. The defense is solid in the front seven, but in a division with quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, cornerback Brandon Flowers' release might be the move that eventually stings the most, especially if young cornerback Marcus Cooper, a player Manning targeted repeatedly last season, is not up to the challenge. It all has the look of a step back from last season's 11-5 to 9-7 with the NFC West on everybody's schedule in the division.

Williams: I predict Kansas City falling to 8-8 in 2014 for a couple reasons. The Chiefs lost two of their five starters along the offensive line in Branden Albert and Geoff Schwartz to free agency -- a position group that depends on continuity. Kansas City could struggle to protect quarterback Alex Smith, along with getting enough push to spring loose the talented Charles. Second, look at this season's schedule. Last season, Kansas City vaulted to a 9-0 record in part by facing backup quarterbacks like Jeff Tuel, Case Keenum and Terrelle Pryor. This season, four of Kansas City's first six games are on the road, including stops in Denver, Miami, San Francisco and San Diego. The Chiefs will be fortunate to be at the .500 mark after that treacherous stretch.

Teicher: 8-8. Kansas City faltered down the stretch last season, winning two of its final eight games. The Chiefs then watched several significant regulars leave through free agency. The Chiefs have holes at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield that they failed to adequately address. That doesn't mean they won't be playoff contenders. Despite the lousy record, the Chiefs quietly finished last season as one of the NFL's better offensive teams. They might be able to score enough points to overcome a shaky defense that couldn't hold a 28-point lead in last season's playoff loss against Indianapolis.

Gutierrez: Are the Kansas City Chiefs the team that made history by becoming the first in NFL modern annals to follow up a two-victory season by winning its first nine games the following season, or are they the club that lost six of its last eight, including a heartbreaking 45-44 wild-card loss to the Indianapolis Colts? Momentum being what it is, and with the Chiefs having a so-so draft coupled with departures of the likes of Albert, defensive end Tyson Jackson and receiver/returner Dexter McCluster, plus a tough schedule, they seem to be on the way back down. As in a 7-9 record. Tough stretches that include games at Denver, against New England, at San Francisco and at San Diego early, and against Seattle, at Oakland, against Denver, at Arizona and at Pittsburgh late will truly tell the Chiefs' tale, even as Charles continues his ascent as one of the game's best all-around backs.


Third Down

What will the Chargers' record be and why?



Legwold: In his first year as Chargers coach, Mike McCoy helped get quarterback Philip Rivers back on track -- though Rivers never really conceded to being off track -- and the Chargers were able to fight through injuries, hand the Broncos their only home loss of the season, and earn a playoff spot. McCoy figures to try to keep Rivers cocooned in a low-risk approach on offense -- their leading receivers in terms of catches last season were a tight end (Antonio Gates) and a running back (Danny Woodhead) -- with a heavy dose of starting running back Ryan Mathews if he can stay healthy. Defensively, new cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers should help the secondary. As they continue their makeover in the second year of the current regime, most personnel people in the league believe the Chargers are still lacking enough athleticism, especially on defense, to make a significant push in the division race. Add up four games against the NFC West to go with New England and Baltimore and it looks like a 7-9 campaign.

Williams: If they can stay relatively healthy, the Chargers should finish at 10-6 and return to the postseason for a second straight season. San Diego is the only team in the AFC West projected to have all 11 starters on offense return in 2014. Rivers will be given even more freedom to call plays at the line of scrimmage and run the no-huddle offense, which should result in more favorable matchups for the Chargers. But we know San Diego's offense can put points on the board. The key for the Chargers will be improved play in a revamped secondary that includes first-round selection Verrett and free agent Flowers, along with a more potent pass rush with the healthy return of Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram.

Teicher: 8-8. The Chargers might be the division's most interesting team. San Diego is the team most capable of catching the first-place Broncos, but also has the best chance of getting caught by the last-place Raiders. If Rivers plays as well as he did last season, it's not out of the question that San Diego wins the AFC West. Like Denver, San Diego might have a better team than it did last season. Signing Flowers filled a big need. But a tougher schedule will keep the Chargers out of the playoffs this time.

Gutierrez: San Diego, under a rookie head coach in the offensive-minded Mike McCoy, won four straight games to end the regular season and sneak into the playoffs at 9-7, and another 9-7 campaign seems to be in the works, even if the Chargers look to be better in 2014. Some of McCoy's moves did have many fans scratching their heads, but there is no debating he was instrumental in Rivers' NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award-winning season. The Chargers added bruising running back Donald Brown to join lightning-quick Ryan Mathews and are excited to see what their receiving corps, highlighted by second-year wideout Keenan Allen, can do if Malcom Floyd is healthy. No, it's not the halcyon and high-flying days of Air Coryell, but with tough games at Arizona, Oakland, Denver, Baltimore and San Francisco, and with New England coming to San Diego, the Chargers will take it.


Fourth Down

What will the Raiders' record be and why?



Legwold: Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has the look of a potential foundation player in the Raiders defense. If things go as the Raiders hope, he should be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year because he's going to get plenty of snaps. But overall this team has put its immediate fate in the hands of veterans with far less of their career in front of them than in their past, led by quarterback Matt Schaub. Raiders coach Dennis Allen keeps saying Schaub is a top-10 passer in the league, but Schaub has always seemed to lack that kind of confidence in himself. But front-seven additions LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew are certainly risk-reward moves the Raiders need to work. Tuck is 30, Woodley is 29 and Jones-Drew, who has missed 11 games combined in the past two seasons, just turned 29. The depth chart is still thin, particularly on defense, and an injury or two will have a ripple effect. The schedule's second half also includes two games against the Broncos, two against the Chiefs, and games against the 49ers and the Rams. It all looks like a potential 5-11.

Williams: With the addition of several quality veteran players in free agency on both sides of the ball, Oakland has a chance to reach the .500 mark for the first time since 2011, but I have them finishing 7-9. With an emphasis on running the football led by backs Jones-Drew (who is returning home to Oakland) and Darren McFadden, Schaub should play better. Defensively, with the addition of first-round selection Mack and veteran defenders Antonio Smith (defensive line), Tuck and Woodley, the Raiders should be improved. The concern for this veteran team will be how consistently it finishes teams in the fourth quarter in order to preserve wins in close games.

Teicher: 6-10. The days of hopeless desperation are coming to an end in Oakland. The Raiders won't be the pushovers they were last season. But they are still not ready to compete with their AFC West rivals. Schaub won't be the answer at quarterback. Instead, he will be another in a long line of failures. Going to rookie quarterback Derek Carr won't solve their problems, at least not this season. By 2015, the Raiders will be a factor in the AFC West race. But despite a major free-agent spending spree, they will still drag the bottom in 2014.

Gutierrez: In the immediate aftermath of the NFL schedule being released back in April, I saw a 5-11 season for the Raiders. Now, after the draft, organized team activities and minicamps? I'll go 6-10. Doesn't sound all that impressive, I know, but it would, technically, be improvement for third-year coach Dennis Allen after consecutive 4-12 seasons. Yes, the Raiders did rebuild both lines with talent and, on the defensive side of the ball, championship pedigree. And they are going with a new quarterback in the battle-tested Schaub. Plus, the veterans Oakland brought in via free agency all have chips on their shoulders. Truly, this is the most talent Allen has had at his disposal. Still, Oakland has the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL, and until it proves differently, it's hard to imagine the Raiders winning more than six games. Where might they scratch out six victories? Let's start with home games against Houston, Miami (in London), San Diego, Arizona, Kansas City and Buffalo and go from there.

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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Newly signed running back Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs make their 2014 training camp debut this afternoon. While we're waiting, let's update you on some bottom of the roster moves the Chiefs made this morning.

They signed two veterans, offensive tackle Ryan Harris and linebacker Josh Mauga. They released one rookie free agent, linebacker DeRon Furr, and placed another, running back James Baker, on the did not report to camp list.

The addition of Harris makes the most sense. The Chiefs aren't particularly deep at offensive tackle. Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson are the starters. Veterans Jeff Linkenbach and J'Marcus Webb are the leading candidates to become the first tackle off the bench, so it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for the Chiefs if Harris wound up winning that job instead.

 
Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will not be on the field Thursday when the team opens training camp at its Dove Valley complex.

Thomas was excused until Monday by the Broncos' coaching staff to attend funeral services for his grandmother in Georgia. The Broncos Pro Bowl wide receiver did attend a team meeting Wednesday, shortly after he reported and took his arrival physical, as did the Broncos' other players.

On a morning radio appearance, Broncos head coach John Fox said Thomas "is where he needs to be, (our) prayers are with him."

Thomas has had back-to-back 90-catch, 1,400-yard seasons with Peyton Manning at quarterback, and the Broncos are currently negotiating a long-term deal with Thomas' representatives.

Thomas is expected to return for practice Monday.
NAPA, Calif. -- What was the first question Oakland Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr had for veterans as time grew short to report for training camp?

“Where do I park when I get there?” Carr sheepishly admitted.

Carr, the Raiders’ second-round draft pick out of Fresno State and QB of the future, found the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa’s players-only lot on Wednesday -- yes, he drove himself rather than ride the “rookie” bus from Alameda -- and, just like that, his future was kickstarted.

“I’m starting to learn how to be an NFL quarterback,” Carr told a cluster of reporters after checking in. “But I’ve still got a long way to go. So I’m just going to rely on my coaches and the team to help me get through my first camp.”

Carr has first-hand experience, so to speak, what with older brother David spending 11 years in the NFL after the Houston Texans made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2002.

In minicamp, Carr was elevated to second-string on Oakland’s depth chart, ahead of Matt McGloin and behind new starter Matt Schaub.

Ironically, it was Schaub who replaced the elder Carr in Houston and, if all goes according to plan in Oakland, the younger Carr will replace Schaub in the near future.

Schaub has been an accommodating mentor.

“Hopefully, Matt doesn’t get too annoyed at me for asking too many questions,” Carr said with a laugh. “Because I’m going to ask even more now. I’m going to try and pick his brain as much as I can.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said this season was "Super Bowl or bust" earlier this month, that was one thing.

After all, folks all over the region are thinking the same thing as they look over the Broncos' depth chart that still includes Peyton Manning at quarterback with a fairly young roster around him and one of the league's biggest hauls in free agency as well.

But now new arrival DeMarcus Ware has brought another goal into the conversation. Asked about the expectations of the team's defense, Ware said he hopes the Broncos go to uncharted ground when it comes to the franchise's history.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware says the Broncos want their defense to play as well as their offense.
"We are trying to be a force to be reckoned with this year and you already talked about us being an offensive team, but at the end of the day, we are trying to be [No.] 1 and [No.] 1," Ware said. "The best offense in the league and the best defense in the league."

That's not just a lofty goal, but something the team has never done in five-plus decades worth of football business. The team has been to seven Super Bowls -- six of those on Pat Bowlen's watch -- and won two title games. But the Broncos have never finished a season with the No. 1 defense in yards allowed per game, which is what the NFL uses to statistically rank defenses each year.

The Broncos' best season in scoring defense -- when they allowed a franchise low 148 points in a 14-game season -- was 1977. They finished ninth in yards allowed and were third in scoring defense, behind the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons. Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan routinely has said a team will almost certainly be in the Super Bowl conversation with a top-five offense to go with a top-five defense.

Then, Shanahan has said, it comes down to playing your best when the lights are brightest. But even that will be no small chore for these Broncos. Overall the Broncos have had only four seasons when they even finished in the league's top five in yards gained per game on offense and yards allowed per game on defense -- again that's how the league ranks them each year.

In those four seasons -- 1996, 1997, 2004 and 2012 -- the Broncos won the Super Bowl only to close out the 1997 season. They were upset in the playoffs, at home, to close out both 1996 and 2012 and were thumped by Manning in the wild-card game to close out 2004.

But Ware has again raised the issue many of the Broncos defensive players, most notably defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, have touched on throughout this offseason. That it's great Manning and the offense can pile up the touchdowns, but the Broncos want, and need, to be known for something on the other side of the ball.

If the team can't win the Super Bowl in a year that they scored more points in a season (606) than any team in history, then it's clear the Broncos need to bring a little something more than offensive pizzazz to the table.

But the difference in saying you want a top defense to go with the top offense and actually doing it is galactic in size. Especially in the salary cap era, when many teams find themselves picking sides when they're doling out the contract cash. And that was something John Elway was trying to avoid this past offseason when he was waving Bowlen's checkbook around in free agency, securing players such as Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward for the team's defense.

"I think that we've got to get to be where we're a complete football team," Elway said Wednesday. "We can't rely on [No.] 18 to win it because he can't win it by himself."

The 2013 season will always have its place in the team's lore as Manning threw for more touchdowns on his own (55) than the 31 other teams each scored. But the team never, whether it was because of injuries, mistakes or simply a lack of personnel, showed it had a Plan B for the days when the offense and Manning couldn't pull the team through -- like the day Super Bowl XLVIII was played, for example.

The Broncos didn't run the ball well enough not to have to throw it all the time and they didn't play defense consistently well enough to close the deal. Although the Broncos defense may have actually had one of its better days against the Seahawks in February until things got out of hand.

"To win a world championship, you have to be a great football team and you have to be well rounded," Elway said. "I think we've moved closer to that. Seattle was a tremendous football team. But this is a new year and we've got to go out and we've got to play the best football that we can play, and do what we do best. And how the coordinators put our guys in the best situations to be successful and we'll create our own identity. I think if we continue to do that with the people that we have, we're going to be able to compete for a world championship."

"I think this is going to be a night and day defense from last year," Ware said. "You had guys that were hurt [last year], and have the opportunity to not have any holes in your defense … So I think the sky is the limit for us."
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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs selected a running back in each of the past two drafts. They have one of the league’s highest paid wide receivers. They are hopeful a healthy collection of tight ends can make a difference in their passing game.

But no matter how they looked at it, the Chiefs would have felt the absence of running back Jamaal Charles.

And it would have hurt.

The Chiefs avoided that football calamity shortly after Wednesday’s reporting deadline for training camp at Missouri Western State University, agreeing to a contract extension with Charles, their most valuable player and their offensive engine.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesChiefs running back Jamaal Charles scored 19 touchdowns, including seven receiving, last season.
Charles should be with the Chiefs on Thursday when they hold their first camp practice.

“Jamaal is a third of their offense,’’ former Chiefs head coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards said. “He’s an explosive player. He’s going to generate points and he’s so difficult to defend because he’s multi-dimensional. They have nobody else capable of doing that.’’

Charles accounted for 35.8 percent of the Chiefs’ yards from scrimmage last season, the highest total in the league.

He was their leader in rushing (1,287 yards), receiving (70 catches for 693 yards) and touchdowns (12 rushing, seven receiving), the player the Chiefs leaned on week in and week out.

The Chiefs would have plugged a body into his spot, but they would have struggled to get half of Charles’ production from any one source. They drafted Knile Davis in the third round in 2013 but Davis averaged 3.5 yards per carry, or 1.5 yards fewer than Charles. He struggled as a pass-receiver and a pass-blocker.

“Davis can run the ball,’’ said Edwards, the Chiefs’ coach when they drafted Charles in the third round in 2008, “but he’s not Jamaal Charles.’’

The Chiefs this year drafted the fast but diminutive De’Anthony Thomas from Oregon in the fourth round. The Chiefs have looked at Thomas as a back and in a variety of other roles, but he’s still a rookie and an unproven commodity.

He’s also 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, and at that size unlikely to be a consistent threat for the Chiefs.

“Thomas is explosive and you can give him the ball a bunch of different ways,’’ Edwards said. “But he’s not an every-down player. He’s just not big enough.’’

The Chiefs had one of the least productive groups of wide receivers in the league last season and failed to add much in the way of proven help. They are hopeful of a bounce-back season from wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013 after signing a five-year, $56 million contract. But Bowe will turn 30 in September, so a return to form may be wishful thinking on the part of the Chiefs.

The Chiefs are healthy, for now at least, at tight end after injuries ravaged them at the position last year. But, again, they’re counting on big seasons from unproven players Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris.

Despite their efforts to fortify themselves on offense to the point they can survive without Charles, the fact is the Chiefs aren’t there yet. They can’t survive without him, a fact that soon would have been hammered home had they not moved Wednesday to get Charles into camp.

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