AFC West: Oakland Raiders
It is no surprise that Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis was recently in San Antonio. In fact, the teams's official website posted a photo of him there on July 20, along with former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros and former Raiders receiver Cliff Branch.
What is somewhat surprising is that it took so long -- nine days in the 24/7 news cycle supported by citizen journalists -- for this rumor/report to go viral: Are the Raiders looking to potentially move to the Alamo City?
"I was in San Antonio to honor Cliff Branch on his induction into the PVILCA [Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Association] Hall of Fame,” Davis said in a team-released statement Tuesday afternoon.
“Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros is a friend, and Henry suggested I take the opportunity to meet with some of the city officials while we were in town. I have nothing further to discuss on the topic.”
According to the report in the San Antonio Express-News, Davis “and two top lieutenants” met with several city officials about the “potential” of moving his team from Oakland to San Antonio. Among said officials: Cisneros, who was behind the Alamodome project as San Antonio mayor, mayor Julián Castro, city manager Sheryl Sculley, Mario Hernandez of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, and both Richard Perez and David McGee, the president and chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, respectively, per the report. Davis also talked with San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt and Red McCombs, "who both showed interest in having a stake in the team if it were to move here,” according to the report.
The Raiders need a new stadium -- the current lease at O.co Coliseum expires at the conclusion of this upcoming season -- and had previously, in a roundabout way, been linked to San Antonio, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, as well as nearby Concord and Dublin in the East Bay.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Davis took an aerial tour of the city by helicopter. The Alamodome would be considered a temporary home as it is 21 years old and Davis had repeatedly talked of building a stadium fit for the Raiders, its history, fans and his late father's legacy. In fact, the report said Davis wanted “a small, intimate” stadium in front of which he could place “a statue of his father” Al Davis.
Still, San Antonio is considered Dallas Cowboys' turf, and the Houston Texans might want to have a say as well.
- Has Matt Schaub regained his mojo? It looked like that was the case, at least during the end-of-practice red zone drills. Schaub showed off his arm with two absolute lasers on in-routes for touchdowns on consecutive passes. The first score came to receiver Andre Holmes, who was slanting in from the right side and beat cornerback Carlos Rogers. The second pass was a beauty down the middle that hit tight end David Ausberry in stride in the end zone, just in front of cornerback Tarell Brown.
- As impressive as Schaub's throws were, so too was running back Kory Sheets, who is trying to stick after winning Grey Cup MVP honors in the CFL last year. Sheets, behind Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Latavius Murray, broke off a pair of long runs in the fully-padded 11-on-11 drills. “This is my last shot,” Sheets said. “As a 29-year-old unproven running back in the NFL, you don't get too many chances to mess up. So whenever you do get the ball ... the opportunity to make a play, you've got to go out there and make it.” Coach Dennis Allen said he liked Sheets' “run skills,” though there was room for improvement in his pass-protection game.
- Before practice began in earnest, there was a walk-through, of sorts, for the kick return team. And there was undrafted rookie George Atkinson III leading the way, along with Taiwan Jones, McFadden and Jeremy Stewart. But when the team went back to the drill later in the day, Atkinson was replaced by veteran Maurice Jones-Drew. And if you're wondering about McFadden's purported ball security issues as a kick returner, one kick did bounce off his chest with a thud and roll out of bounds.
- Two days of pads and no unbelievable hits from rookie linebacker Khalil Mack. That's probably a good thing. Allen wants to save his guys for the real thing, and that makes sense. Besides, Mack had a golden opportunity to absolutely blow up running back Jeremy Stewart 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage and merely wrapped him up. Good move. I will say this, though, Mack, who has been compared to Von Miller and now Clay Matthews, is all over the field.
- Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece's physical transformation is very noticeable. He told me he played last season at 250 pounds and was up to 255 during the offseason workuts. Reece said he's now at 238 pounds. “Everything is going to be better,” he said. “That's why we started this process.” It should mean he will be more involved in the Raiders' passing game.
- The Raiders receiving corps were shorthanded. Greg Little (hamstring) did not finish practice, Rod Streater, who suffered a concussion Sunday, sat out and is “day-by-day,” Allen said, while Juron Criner (hamstring) was also a spectator. Safety Shelton Johnson and linebacker Kaluka Maiava both missed practice with hamstring issues. Linebacker Marshall McFadden (hip) and tight end Jake Murphy (head) also sat out.
But rather than bring in another cornerback, the Raiders signed a converted safety in Rutgers product Jeremy Deering, who originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots in May before being waived.
The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Deering began his college career on the offensive side of the ball for the Scarlet Knights as a running back and receiver, rushing for 578 yards and two touchdowns on 130 carries while catching 21 passes for 415 yards and a TD in his college career. He also returned 41 kickoffs for 1,100 yards with a score.
Deering transitioned to safety as a senior and finished with 39 tackles (22 solo) and an interception.
The signing brings the Raiders’ roster to the camp limit of 90 players, after the team cut linebacker Kevin Burnett last week.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
In order to keep both McFadden and Jones-Drew healthy, expect the Raiders to dole out a healthy dose of Murray and CFL Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets in the exhibition season. Atkinson's best shot at making the roster remains as the kickoff returner.
Neither Reece, a two-time Pro Bowler, nor Olawale are the prototypical fullback, but both has skillsets that are fits for the Raiders offense.
Little has flashed enough in the early days of camp to supplant last year's draft pick, Brice Butler. At least for our purposes here.
TIGHT ENDS (2)
The job is Ausberry's to lose, it would seem.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Donald Penn
- Gabe Jackson
- Stefen Wisniewski
- Austin Howard
- Menelik Watson
- Khalif Barnes
- Tony Bergstrom
- Matt McCants
- Kevin Boothe
No changes here, though it's no secret the Raiders are hoping the rookie Jackson wins the left guard spot for a line that would average 6-foot-4, 326 pounds.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
- Justin Tuck
- Antonio Smith
- Pat Sims
- LaMarr Woodley
- Stacy McGee
- Jack Crawford
- C.J. Wilson
- Justin Ellis
No changes here either, even if McGee and Wilson might be behind a tad dealing with injuries.
Dennis Allen likes this group. A lot. So much that veteran Kevin Burnett was expendable enough to cut.
An early, ahem, doomsday prediction that's not reflected here yet? Hayden to Injured Reserve, with Chimdi Chekwa taking his roster spot.
Usama Young being on the PUP list to start camp keeps him in the danger zone .
Dennis Allen believes Janikowski's "trust" issues with King as his holder are a thing of the past.
“From the standpoint of who we have and going to training camp feeling good about being competitive and winning some games -- you ask yourself can you go into games knowing you’ve got a defense that can pressure the quarterback, cover receivers and stop the run?” he said. "On offense, you ask do you have guys who can protect, run the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball? The answers are, yes. Now, we’ve got a lot of new guys who have to adapt to each other, but I feel like we’re right where I thought we’d be.”
The first two years of the rebuild were painful, with back-to-back 4-12 seasons. McKenzie had to get a bloated salary cap under control, overcome the absence of draft picks in Year 1 and listen to the frustration of a fan base that hasn’t seen a winning season in Oakland since 2002.
The key to this season will be good health, he said. Some of the free agents being counted on the most arrived with a recent history of injuries that caused them to miss games or negatively impacted their performances on the field. Among them, defensive end LaMarr Woodley hasn’t played a full season since 2010; cornerback Carlos Rogers ended last season with a hamstring strain that limited his play; and running back Maurice Jones-Drew was sidelined for 10 games in 2012 with a bad foot and was slowed by an assortment of injuries last year.
McKenzie says he’s not concerned by the lack of a true No. 1 receiver.
“Do we have a Larry Fitzgerald, a Calvin Johnson, a top-five guy that everybody knows the ball is going to go to him? No,” he said. “We have a spread-it-around type receiving group, and it’s a group with a lot of good receivers. Do we have that bona fide guy? No one has established himself as that, but we have some guys who are stepping up. We have proven, good football players who we are going to go to.”
He’s also not anxious about his situation at cornerback, with 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden out indefinitely with a foot injury.
“That fact that it’s a foot, it’s a bone, the bone is going to heal,” McKenzie said. “When it does, he has to get comfortable planting and rolling the foot. How long is that going to take? How long is it going to take for him to, not get comfortable, but get to that level he was at before he hurt it? We don’t know. But I can say this: We have some competitive guys at that group. I feel better about that position than I did last year, even with the injury. We have some other guys who are competing.”
The addition of Rogers and Tarell Brown from San Francisco were major, and the team is high on draft picks T.J. Carrie, who has looked good in workouts and the first few days of camp, and Keith McGill. Plus, a defensive back’s best friend is a good pass rush, and the Raiders have upgraded in that area with the drafting of Khalil Mack and the free-agent signings of Justin Tuck and Woodley.
Whether the moves translate into better than 4-12 remains to be seen, but for now McKenzie believes the Raiders are right where they’re supposed to be.
This year the Raiders are considering using running back Darren McFadden as the point man in the read option. McFadden filled the role at times at the University of Arkansas, and he ran some Wildcat early in his career with Oakland. The possibility of taking snaps directly from center excites him.
“I always tell people I really was supposed to be a quarterback, I just ended up being a running back,” McFadden said. “It’s always fun to me, being able to get back there behind center. It takes me back to my old roots. The first position I ever played was quarterback. It was my first love.”
Coordinator Greg Olson is intrigued by the idea of having McFadden and newcomer Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield together. The two are competing for the starting job in the base offense, but Olson believes having the pair on the field together could create matchup problems for defenses. The scheme is also a way to keep opponents off balance.
“With the influx of the college game, Terrelle Pryor was a good fit for the read-option scheme and we had some success with it,” he said. “Now we’re back to a more traditional-type passer (in newcomer Matt Schaub), so we’ll get back to a more traditional system. But there were some things that we really liked about the read-option scheme, and we’ll still be capable of doing some of them because of Darren’s background in college. The thought of having him and Maurice back there together is kind of intriguing to us. So we’ll look to keep some of those elements in the offense.”
When he made the transition to the back of the secondary in 2012 with the Green Bay Packers, he was a safety in name only. Green Bay still used him to cover receivers in the slot, on the perimeter and on underneath routes. He was a cornerback who just happened to line up at safety.
But this season the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year has accepted that he’s now a true safety, which means he has to be more patient, adjust his angles and not attempt to jump a route as if he were the corner in coverage. He’s also enjoying learning a “new” position from first-year assistant secondary coach Marcus Robertson, who spent 12 years in the league as a safety, and was a two-time All-Pro.
“It’s a big difference having him around -- big difference,” Woodson said. “It’s not just that he played the position; he knows the position. He knows the position better than I could imagine. That’s what’s been great for me.”
In 2013, Woodson relied on his athleticism. So supremely confident in his physical abilities, he tried to make plays even when his role wouldn’t allow it. “I’m an athlete, so I figured that if they moved me to safety, I’m just going to play safety. And I did. I had 97 tackles and two sacks.”
But now he’s adding the mental to go with the physical, and he sees no ceiling. A defensive back’s best friend is a pass rush, and the Raiders upgraded theirs with the additions of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Khalil Mack. They’ve also improved their talent at cornerback by signing experienced winners in Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown.
“I’m still adjusting to it,” Woodson said. “The biggest thing is that I’m still breaking (on passes) as if I’m a corner. I’m back there deep and anything the quarterback does, I’m breaking on it. Well, there’s no way I can get up there and make a play. So I’m learning patience. It’s actually fun because I’m learning.”
- The Raiders took a businesslike approach on Day 1 as there wasn’t the manufactured enthusiasm you normally see this time of year. The focus was on learning and getting better, because they’ve got a short amount of time to meld a number of new players into a cohesive unit. Then again, the weather could’ve been a factor as well. With the temperature flirting with triple digits, it was hot enough to sap the energy of onlookers in shorts and T-shirts, so one could only imagine the impact the heat had on players in shoulder pads and helmets.
“That’s what training camp is all about,” coach Dennis Allen said of the heat. “If you want to be a mentally tough team and you want to be able to win in the fourth quarter, you have to go through experiences like this where you have to push yourself through the heat, don’t give into it and you’re able to still go out and execute your job at a high level. One hundred degree heat is no comparison to what it will be like the pressure of opening day. Our guys handled it pretty well.”
- Much of the focus was on the passing game. As typically is the case early in camp, the defense had the upper hand. But that figures to balance out over time -- and particularly when the threat of the run game is present. The Raiders will lean heavily on their ground game, which should make play-action passes particularly effective.
- It was interesting to see running back Maurice Jones-Drew among those fielding punts. The return job remains open, and Jones-Drew excelled in that area while at UCLA. “He’s a guy that when he came into the league, he’s done that some and he’s done it at a high level,” Allen said. “He’s a guy that I wanna take a look at down there. I think we wanna go into this training camp with an open mind and really open up to all possibilities of guys.”
- Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden split reps at running back with the first-team offense. Although competing for the starting job, don’t expect to see a lot of them in the preseason. First off, each has a recent history of injuries, and the Raiders want to make sure they’re as close to 100 percent as possible entering the regular season. Secondly, the staff wants to get a look at youngsters Latavius Murray, a 2013 sixth-round pick who missed all of last season with a foot injury, and Kory Sheets, a star CFL performer who rushed for 2,875 yards and 23 touchdowns over the past two seasons with Saskatchewan.
- The offensive line remained unchanged from offseason workouts, but the unit is not set in stone. For now, from left to right, there’s tackle Donald Penn, guard Khalif Barnes, center Stefen Wisniewski, guard Austin Howard and tackle Menelik Watson. But the staff is high on rookie guard Gabe Jackson. Ideally he would start at left guard, which would then allow the versatile Barnes to serve as a utility player.
- Allen says he’s in no rush to choose a starter between linebackers Miles Burris and Sio Moore. He says he wants to let them compete until, hopefully, one creates separation from the other. Burris worked with the first unit on Day 1; Moore worked with the second unit.
- Second-year cornerback DJ Hayden is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. He watched part of practice form a stationary bike, then after practice walked with a noticeable limp, though with no protective boot. Whether that will signal an early return (i.e., a couple of weeks) remains to be seen.
To reinforce his point, he bugged his eyes and stared the visitor in the eyes even more intensely before repeating himself: "It's Matt. Matt's our quarterback."
For all the talk about rookie second-round pick Derek Carr mounting a serious challenge for the starting job, Allen is firmly committed to veteran newcomer Matt Schaub.
"I'm really excited about Derek Carr," Allen said. "I think he's got a chance to be a top-level quarterback in this league. But he's young, and he's a rookie. That's a tough proposition in this league. I know we've seen some guys that have been able to have some success as rookie quarterbacks, but I've also seen some opportunities where guys have had a chance to sit in behind a veteran quarterback and watch and learn and go on to have successful careers."
There's no doubt Carr has won over the staff more quickly than your typical first-year signal-caller might. He has size and arm strength and has displayed accuracy and a command of the offense as well as the huddle.
But young quarterbacks are prone to lows as well as highs. For instance, on Friday Carr made several beautiful throws and showed an ability to correctly go through his read progressions. But he also forced a pass down the seam that was picked off and he lost the football on a botched exchange from center. Those types of mistakes often are the difference between winning and losing -- and Allen and the Raiders can't afford a third straight 4-12 season.
So rather than live with Carr's potential growing pains, the plan is to ride with Schaub, an 11-year veteran who is coming off his worst season as a starter. In 10 games last season with Houston, he threw 14 interceptions -- including a pick-six in four consecutive games -- and only 10 touchdown passes. His passer rating of 73.0 was a career low as a Texan.
"It wasn't all on Matt; there were other factors involved with it," Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "But the bottom line is he's the guy pulling the trigger and making the decision to let the ball go in that situation, so he took the heat. We looked at it as an anomaly. It would've been different if there had been a drop-off year by year, but I don't know if you can look back and find another quarterback who fell off as dramatically as he did in the history of the game. So we view it as just one year."
The Raiders' blueprint for success includes running the football, playing solid defense and winning at situational football. It's a formula that places an even greater premium on ball security, which often is an issue with young quarterbacks. The staff has no plans to rush Carr onto the field, even as Olson says "the game has not been too big for him" to this point.
There figures to be a vocal groundswell of public support for the former Fresno State star if he plays well in the preseason, similar to what happened last year when fans clamored for the younger and more athletic Terrelle Pryor over veteran newcomer Matt Flynn, the designated starter. But unlike in that situation, don't look for the youngster to unseat the veteran in Week 1.
Look in Allen's eyes. Listen to the tone of his voice. Both leave no doubt: Matt's his quarterback.
Surely the Raiders' coaching staff must have some questions about whether Schaub has any mental hurdles to overcome in camp, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?).
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.
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.
@adamteicher 9-7 would be a great accomplishment. Schedule is nails, but if OL gels and backend D is in place, it's doable. O will score— Lou Montagna (@LouMontagna) July 21, 2014
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.
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.
@eric_d_williams 11-5 & make the playoffs if we stay healthy, 9-7 & miss the playoffs if we don't. And we'll beat Denver.— Shea Duggan (@SDsportskid86) July 22, 2014
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.
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.
@PGutierrezESPN 8-8 because they have a tough schedule and with the talent they have will improve a bit..DA gets fired & Gruden in 2015— AK (@AaronK510) July 21, 2014
“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.”
"Since the Seattle Seahawks steamrolled the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII," Jaworski wrote, "I've gone over every throw from every quarterback in the NFL to properly evaluate the best 32 on my QB Big Board."
Jaworski, it should be noted, did not include rookies in his rankings since they had not yet won a starting job.
So where did the Oakland Raiders' new quarterback, Matt Schaub -- a two-time Pro Bowler who has been called a top 10 quarterback by Raiders coach Dennis Allen -- land on Jaworski's list?
Schaub, who endured a nightmarish 2013 season in losing his job with the Houston Texans, was ranked 22nd.
"I can't remember a quarterback of Schaub's caliber having the kind of meltdown he did last season in Houston," Jaworski wrote. "It was painful to watch. His mind wasn't clear, his decision-making was poor, and he made throws he simply shouldn't make at this point in his career. He's been a great first-down passer during his career, particularly on play-action, but last year he was terrible at both. We'll see if he can regain his confidence in Oakland."
Yes, Schaub was acquired to be the franchise quarterback, no ifs, ands or buts about about it. And still ... if Carr, who was elevated to second string in organized team activities, challenges Schaub, let alone replaces him, that is bad news for coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie, who would have missed on yet another quarterback decision. The irony would be in Carr shining and thus potentially saving Allen and McKenzie. Stay tuned.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
George Atkinson III
McFadden and Jones-Drew have no doubt seen better days, but the plan is to keep each healthy by spelling the other. Yet the two need reps to get going. Murray is enticing after missing his rookie season with injury, and Atkinson is a legacy in silver-and-blackdom who would make his bones returning kickoffs. CFL Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets might be the odd man out.
Reece’s versatility has paid off with a pair of Pro Bowl appearances even if, critics point out, he is underused in the offense and not a great blocker. Good things usually happen, though, when the ball is in his hands. Olawale is surprisingly fast for a fullback.
No, the Raiders do not have that prototypical No. 1 receiver (Jones would seem to be the best fit), nor do they have a slot man (Moore?). What they have is a group of young, hungry pass-catchers with similar skill sets. Streater looks ready to take that next step and Criner showed flashes of his old motivated rookie-camp self in offseason workouts.
TIGHT ENDS (2)
To quote Jimi Hendrix: "Are you experienced?" To answer for this group: No. Much is expected of Ausberry, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, and Rivera surprised as a rookie. It would not be shocking to see the Raiders add a vet here at the end of camp.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
A rebuilt offensive line -- Wisniewski at center would be the lone returning starter -- promises to be a physical unit, even with a rookie at left guard (Jackson) and a second-year player at right tackle (Watson). In fact, a line of Penn, Jackson, Wisniewski, Howard and Watson would average 6-foot-4, 326 pounds.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
Tuck and Woodley bring experience and Super Bowl rings, even as Woodley is making the conversion from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end, which he last played in college. Smith did not practice at all in the offseason while recovering from a procedure following a weight room mishap and Ellis, the Raiders' first fourth-round draft pick, is the most intriguing interior prospect.
The arrival of Mack as the No. 5 overall pick moved Moore from strongside linebacker to the weak side, and has purportedly made injured and expensive veteran Kevin Burnett expendable. Burris was seeing first-team reps at Will linebacker in the final OTA session and Maiava is hoping to bounce back from an injury-plagued season. Kaelin Burnett's play on special teams might save his roster spot.
That’s a big question mark, rather than a dark cloud, over the head of Hayden, who missed the last two OTA sessions and minicamp with an ankle injury and thus, fell behind in his development. Again. The Raiders do have big plans for last year’s top draft pick. Rogers figures to be the slot cornerback while McGill, a fourth-rounder, is a big-bodied corner and Jones’ standing as a gunner on special teams belies his improvement at corner.
Woodson played just one full game with Branch, who was lost for the season with a broken leg in Week 2, so it will be interesting to see how they co-exist. Dowling and Carrie were revelations in minicamp, with Carrie primed to make his mark as the punt returner. Ross, thrust into action because of Branch’s injury last season, will be pushed by Usama Young.
Surely Janikowski’s issues with King as his first-year holder last season are a thing of the past, right?