AFC West football capsules


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Jan 22, 2006
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AFC West Football Capsules

August 30, 2006
By Kyle Baillargeon
PA SportsTicker Staff Writer


Biggest Changes: Javon Walker is in at wide receiver and Ashley Lelie is out. The team traded for Walker in the offseason in the wake of Lelie's demand to be traded out of Denver. Coach Mike Shanahan lost the team's leading rusher Mike Anderson, leaving the starting running back position wide open for Mike Bell, Ron Dayne and Tatum Bell. With their first-round pick, the team selected Jay Cutler, who will be groomed as the quarterback of the future. On the defensive side, the team cut defensive end Trevor Pryce.

Positives: Quarterback Jake Plummer cut his interceptions from 20 in 2004 to only seven in 2005. With Cutler looming in the background, Plummer will be motivated to show that he can play at that high level again. Shanahan revamped the defensive line last year and it paid dividends as the team was second in the league in run defense. Another year of playing together under Shanahan will only make the defensive line better. Should Walker be fully recovered from his torn ACL, he and Rod Smith will make for a formidable duo at the wide receiver position.

Negatives: Shanahan is once again looking to prove that anyone can rush for 1,000 yards in his offense with the zone blocking scheme. However, his depth chart at running back is led by undrafted rookie Mike Bell. Dayne and Tatum Bell need to show they aren't perennial underachievers. Despite the stellar numbers in the regular season in 2005, Plummer did not have a good postseason, committing four turnovers in the AFC championship game loss to Pittsburgh. As good as the defense was against the run in 2005, the Broncos finished the season with only 28 sacks.

On The Spot: The running game will make or break the team's offense this year and determine how far they can go in the playoffs. Should the team rush well, Plummer will be able to run an efficient offense and get the ball to Smith and Walker. If the running game falters, however, then Plummer will be forced to throw more than the team is comfortable with and his interception numbers will rise.

Prediction: The Broncos did not make many changes in the offseason and are bringing back 10 of 11 starters on defense. Should the pass rush improve and if the rushing attack is successful, the Broncos should again win the AFC West.

Tidbit: Over the last three years, the Broncos have had three different 1,000 yard rushers.


Biggest Changes: Herman Edwards steps in as coach, replacing the retired Dick Vermeil, after five years with the New York Jets. He has named Larry Johnson as the team's starting running back, and with the possibility of Priest Holmes not being able to come back due to a serious neck injury, Johnson will have the opportunity to be the team's go-to-guy for an entire season. Willie Roaf retired in the offseason, leaving the team without a proven left tackle, although Kyle Turley could fill that hole. The team also tried to improve its defense with the additions of free agent cornerback Ty Law, who had 10 interceptions last season for Edwards with the Jets, and first-round pick Tamba Hali, a defensive end out of Penn State.

Positives: Johnson rushed for a team record 1,750 yards in 2005 and was second in the league in yards from scrimmage despite starting only nine games. Johnson's numbers are expected to increase now that he has been named as the team's starting running back. The addition of Law should help the secondary, and 2006 draft picks Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page are high energy guys who will benefit from having veterans like Law and Sammy Knight show them the ropes. Edwards will bring the Cover 2 scheme to the defense.

Negatives: Losing Roaf puts a serious dent in the offensive line. Turley is an experienced veteran who could ease the pain of losing Roaf, but Turley has been out of the game with back problems for the last two years and is much lighter than his listed weight of 300 pounds. Another worry is the loss of starting right tackle John Welbourn to retirement. Losing both tackles could be a problem for both Johnson and quarterback Trent Green. Explosive tight end Tony Gonzalez will have to block more to keep Green protected, which will handcuff Gonzalez and prevent the team from utilizing his excellent receiving skills. Gonzalez is arguably the team's best receiver and should he block more, the rest of the receiving corps will be exposed as being painfully average. The team finished 30th in the league in pass defense last year, and it could be another long season on the defensive side of the ball should the new cover schemes not work.

On The Spot: Now that he has the starting spot all to himself, Johnson needs to produce the way he did in 2005. With so many other questions for the team, Johnson will need an MVP caliber performance for Kansas City to make the playoffs.

Prediction: The team goes where Johnson goes, plain and simple. If he plays at the same high level as he did in 2005, the team should win at least 10 games.

Tidbit: Last season, the Chiefs became only the fourth team since the NFL implemented the 12-team playoff format in 1990 to win 10 games and miss the postseason.


Biggest Changes: Philip Rivers is now firmly entrenched in the role of starting quarterback after the team let Drew Brees sign with the New Orleans Saints in the offseason. Free agent addition Marlon McCree is versatile enough to play either free safety or strong safety. Assuming his knee can hold up, first-round pick Antonio Cromartie should bolster the cornerback position or start at nickel back. Cromartie and McCree were brought in to help a pass defense that ranked 28th in the league in 2005.

Positives: LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates are two of the premier offensive players in the NFL, and along with Keenan McCardell, they give Rivers the targets he'll need to succeed in his first year as the team's starting quarterback. In 2005, Gates led all tight ends in receiving yards and touchdowns, while Tomlinson was fifth in the league in total yards from scrimmage despite being slowed considerably by a broken rib late in the season. Defensive Rookie of the Year Shawne Merriman made an immediate impact to the linebacking corps with 10 sacks and two forced fumbles in 15 games. The defense led the league in run defense in 2005. If the secondary can improve, the Chargers should have a very formidable defense.

Negatives: The most critical position on any offensive line is left tackle, as it protects the quarterback's blindside. Starter Roman Oben suffered a foot injury in 2005 and could not participate in minicamps. Should injuries continue to affect his play, the Chargers are left with rookie Marcus McNeill and journeyman Leander Jordan to protect Rivers. Tomlinson has been such an integral part of the team's offense over the last five years as both a rushing and receiving threat that the coaching staff needs to be careful of overusing him. The team can't afford to mortgage Tomlinson's future in order to compensate for Rivers' inexperience.

On The Spot: Rivers has to prove that general manager A.J. Smith made the right choice by letting Brees go. If Rivers struggles, it could be a long season.

Prediction: The Chargers have a strong group of young impact players on both sides of the ball, specifically offense. But if Rivers doesn't succeed and the secondary doesn't improve, last year's record of 9-7 will be tough to repeat.

Tidbit: Tomlinson's only season of fewer than 339 rushes came in 2003, when he had 313 carries and 100 receptions.


Biggest Changes: The Raiders rehired former coach Art Shell, hoping that a change in offensive philosophy will allow for better utilization of 2005 additions Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan. Quarterback Aaron Brooks was signed away from New Orleans and has a strong if inaccurate arm. On defense, the team lost Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson and used the seventh overall pick on safety Michael Huff. Robert Gallery, the second overall pick in 2004, moves from right tackle to left tackle.

Positives: Moss is arguably the best vertical deep threat in the NFL, and the addition of Brooks, who can air it out with the best of them, should make Moss' less than stellar 2005 numbers seem like a distant memory. Jordan ran for 1,025 yards in 2005. With an increased focus on the power running game under Shell, a former offensive lineman, those numbers should increase. Huff is a former Thorpe Award winner as the nation's best defensive back.

Negatives: Although Jordan should see the ball more in the running game, the offensive line must become more consistent in order for the Raiders to finish higher than 29th in rushing, as was the case in 2005. Brooks has never proven to be a consistently accurate passer. Second-year quarterback Andrew Walter may be the starter by midseason. Moss has battled with hamstring injuries the last two seasons. The Raiders need him to be completely healthy, especially since fellow receiver Jerry Porter remains disgruntled. Losing Woodson was tough for an already struggling secondary, and although Huff has the talent to become a superstar, his adjustment as a rookie will take time.

On The Spot: Jordan will shoulder a larger load this year as the team will put a high emphasis on the inside running game in order to spread the field for its high octane receivers. Should Jordan falter, the play action will as well and Brooks' struggles with accuracy will be magnified.

Prediction: There are too many question marks for the Raiders and the rest of the AFC West will be too strong for them to do much better than last year's 4-12.

Tidbit: The Raiders are 2-16 against AFC West opponents the last three seasons.
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