Preseason Watchlist - AFC West
By Jason Wood
July 26th, 2010

Denver Broncos

  • Link: http://www.denverbroncos.com/schedule-and-events/training-camp.html
  • Location: Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Centre (Englewood, CO)
  • Dates: July 28 (Rooks), July 31 (Vets) - August 20
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • Year Two under Josh McDaniels is going to be interesting to say the least. Rookies report on the 28th, three days before veterans settle into the Paul Bowlen Memorial Center. The Broncos insist they have a plan, but from the outside there are more questions than answers. On the defensive side of the ball, Don Martindale takes over for Mike Nolan, who couldn't see eye to eye with McDaniels and instead took his services down to Miami. Martindale won't change the system, but will have an entirely new defensive line. On offense, the Broncos must integrate quite a few young players into a unit that finished 20th in points scored.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/15 - @Cincinnati (7:00 PM EST)
  • 8/21 - Detroit (9:00 PM EST)
  • 8/29 - Pittsburgh (8:00 PM EST)
  • 9/02 - @Minnesota (8:00 PM EST)
  • What We're Watching

  • Will fans be patient with QB Tim Tebow? - The coaches insist they're happy with starter Kyle Orton and yet their actions say differently. The offseason acquisition of Brady Quinn and a 1st round pick on Tim Tebow put Orton on a short leash. Broncos fans have fallen for Tebow hook, line and sinker, but most NFL observers have serious questions about his ability to contribute anytime soon.

  • Is RB Knowshon Moreno ready for stardom? - Moreno was solid last year but faltered down the stretch (2.66 yards per rush over the final month) and hopefully will be better conditioned to avoid hitting that wall again. The Broncos have a lot of questions but making Moreno the centerpiece of the offense isn't one of them.

  • Are the Broncos really comfortable with WRs Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal? - Royal was the NFL's worst starter last year yet the departure of Brandon Marshall seemingly gives him another shot at the job. Jabar Gaffney was a part-time contributor last year but caught 14 receptions for 213 yards in the final game when Marshall sat out. If either isn't capable of playing a full-time role, the Broncos will be forced into playing rookies Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Both rookies would be better served as backups to start their careers.

  • When will LT Ryan Clady get back on the field? - Clady is the Broncos best lineman by a country mile and can't be replaced. That's why the team is eager to see him back on the practice field after tearing his patella tendon in April.

  • Will the rookie O-lineman play right away? - Second rounder Zane Beadles, 6th rounder Eric Olsen and 3rd rounder J.D. Walton all have shots at starting roles this year, but need to beat out Seth Olsen, Russ Hochstein, and Chris Kuper in camp.

  • Do the Broncos intend on throwing the ball to their TEs? - Tony Scheffler was sent packing which leaves Daniel Graham, Richard Quinn and Marquez Branson. That suggests the coaches plan on using the TEs mainly as in-line blockers.

  • Are the free agent D-linemen an upgrade? - Justin Bannan, Jamal Williams and Jarvis Green were all brought in to potentially start for a team that ranked 26th in rushing yards allowed last year. Are they material upgrades from last year's trio?

  • Kansas City Chiefs

  • Link: Chiefs Training Camp Information
  • Location: Missouri Western State University (St. Joseph, MO)
  • Dates: July 29 (Rooks & Vets) - August 20
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The Chiefs' transformation into the Patriots of the Midwest continues with the additions of OC Charlie Weis and DC Romeo Crennel. Both veteran coordinators will look to help Toddy Haley transform this team back into a contender; but they have tall tasks ahead. When the team reports to Missouri Western State at the end of July, most of the focus will be on getting more from players already in place versus giving jobs to new people. The Chiefs have used a lot of high draft picks on defenders in recent years and GM Scott Pioli wants Crennel to coach them up because there's too much money invested in them to start anew.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/13 - @Atlanta (8:00 PM EST)
  • 8/21 - @Tampa Bay (7:30 PM EST)
  • 8/27 - Philadelphia (8:00 PM EST)
  • 9/02 - Green Bay (8:00 PM EST)
  • What We're Watching

  • Is QB Matt Cassel a quality NFL starter? - The Chiefs certainly think Cassel's year in New England wasn't a fluke, which is why they signed him to an enormous extension before he ever started a game in KC. But last year left a lot of doubts and if Cassel doesn't show immediate improvement under Charlie Weis' watch, this could be a lost season.

  • What to make of WR Dwayne Bowe? - Last year Bowe was coming off a 1,022-yard / 7 TD season and one of the few sure things on a rebuilding unit. This year it's tough to know whether Bowe has a future in KC after mouthing off in a national magazine and admitting to being out of shape at a receivers' camp in early July.

  • RBs Jamaal Charles vs. Thomas Jones - Jamaal Charles was dynamic last season but the Chiefs jumped at the chance to sign workhorse Thomas Jones. Will the coaches use both liberally in a committee approach, or is Jones just veteran insurance? The answer to that question is the difference between Charles being a top tier fantasy option and being overvalued at his current ADP.

  • What is Dexter McCluster's role? - McCluster was considered a running back in college, but has been listed as a wide receiver by the Chiefs. As camp gets rolling, it will be interesting to see if he's used as a super utility player and if that means he'll get enough touches to be worthy of fantasy consideration.

  • Centers Rudy Niswanger vs. Casey Wiegmann - Wiegmann, the once and future Chief, is back to challenge Niswanger for his old job. The Chiefs should probably hope Wiegmann wins the job because Niswanger has proven to be ordinary at his best.

  • How good is S Eric Berry? - The Chiefs desperately need Eric Berry to be a do-it-all safety that can disrupt opposing offenses otherwise all the coaching in the world by Romeo Crennel isn't going to turn this unit around.

  • Will the Chiefs trade S Jarrad Page? - Strong safety Jarrad Page is unhappy with the restricted tender offer and has refused to sign it; instead requesting a trade. Will the Chiefs acquiesce or force Page's hand?

  • Oakland Raiders

  • Link: http://www.raiders.com
  • Location: Napa Valley Marriott (Napa Valley, CA)
  • Dates: July 28 (Rooks & Vets) - August 20
  • Open to the public? - NO
  • You would think the Raiders finished 11-5 rather than 5-11 considering how many pundits are picking them to win the AFC West this year. While contending for a division title may be premature, expecting improvement on both sides of the ball is not. Tom Cable survived a rocky 2009 but has no guarantees beyond this year. His potential replacement may be new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who was brought in to revamp a moribund offense. The Raiders don't open camp to fans, a frustration considering they'll be spending more than three weeks in Napa Valley.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/12 - @Dallas (9:00 PM EST)
  • 8/21 - @Chicago (8:30 PM EST)
  • 8/28 - San Francisco (9:00 PM EST)
  • 9/02 - Seattle (10:00 PM EST)
  • What We're Watching

  • How good is QB Jason Campbell? - Campbell is clearly an upgrade over the Raiders QB turnstile from a season ago, but that isn't saying much. Is Campbell capable of carrying a franchise to the playoffs as more than a game manager? And how will he adjust to yet another offensive system, only this time with new coaches and teammates to boot?

  • Figuring out the WR corps - Chaz Schilens has appeal, but has undergone two surgeries on his broken foot. Darrius Heyward-Bay was a washout as a rookie, but has been praised at every turn during mini-camps. Can he carry that into training camp? If not, can the team get enough from Louis Murphy, Johnnie Lee Higgins and Todd Watkins to put points on the board?

  • Is TE Zach Miller ready for prime time? - Miller caught 66 receptions for 805 yards last year on a terribly inept offense, so the sky is the limit if the team can approach mediocrity. Is Miller ready to emerge as a Top 5 fantasy TE?

  • RBs Darren McFadden vs. Michael Bush - The Raiders want to run the ball early and often, which means plenty of work for both McFadden and Bush. But training camp should provide a glimpse of the expected split, and the winner could be a fantasy steal running behind an underappreciated offensive line.

  • Bolstering the front line - John Henderson didn't appear to have much left in the tank in Jacksonville but the Raiders are giving him a try alongside Tommy Kelly. Richard Seymour is rock solid, but the Raiders need either Matt Shaughnessy or more likely rookie Lamarr Houston to become a consistent rush end on the other side.

  • Acclimating LB Rolando McClain - Rookie Rolando McClain should start at MLB immediately and will have to become the quarterback on a defense that needs to be more productive against the run. Does McClain have any growing pains, or will he fit right into the system?

  • San Diego Chargers

  • Link: http://www.chargers.com
  • Location: Chargers Park (San Diego, CA)
  • Dates: July 25 (Rooks), July 30 (Vets) - August 12
  • Open to the public? - YES
  • The Chargers bring the rookies to camp almost a week before the veterans report, which is fitting as the 1st year players are expected to play key roles on both sides of the ball this year. Head coach Norv Turner preaches consistency and the expectations won't change regardless of who ends up on the 53-man roster. One thing that won't be tolerated is drama that takes away from the team concept, which makes this a particularly tricky offseason.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/14 - Chicago (9:00 PM EST)
  • 8/21 - Dallas (9:00 PM EST)
  • 8/27 - @New Orleans (8:00 PM EST)
  • 9/02 - @San Francisco (10:00 PM EST)
  • What We're Watching

  • Can RB Ryan Mathews meet Turner's expectations? - No matter what you think of LaDainian Tomlinson, statistically he was one of the worst tailbacks in the NFL last year. Rookie 1st rounder Ryan Mathews will be counted on to start and, according to his coach, notch 250 carries and 40 receptions. Those are lofty goals and, if he achieves them, Mathews will be an instant impact fantasy player.

  • Will LT Marcus McNeill and WR Vincent Jackson concede? - A contentious contract situation finds the Chargers starting left tackle and best receiver unsigned restricted free agents with low tenders. The financial incentive for not playing may not be compelling enough to keep either player from sitting out the first 10 games of the season. Is there any way the Chargers brass and these star players can come to terms?

  • Is Malcom Floyd capable of WR1 production? - Philip Rivers is a special quarterback but he needs a credible set of receivers to produce at the level we've come to expect. Malcom Floyd might have been a quality WR2, but can the 7th year receiver handle the attention of opposing defenses' top corners?

  • Should we be worried about TE Antonio Gates plantar fasciitis? - With Vincent Jackson's situation uncertain, it's more important than ever for Antonio Gates to be omnipresent. But on the eve of camp Gates believes he may be limited by plantar fasciitis. Is this just a veteran's way of avoiding the rigors of camp or a worry of something chronic? We're betting on the former, but will look for signs that it's not the latter.

  • Settling on a nose tackle - Ogemdi Nwagbuo is going to be pushed by rookie Cam Thomas and veteran Antonio Garay; the winner will be a key cog in a defense that relies on the NT to take on double teams.

  • Safeties Steve Gregory vs. Darrell Stuckey - Rookie Stuckey has the skills to immediately challenge Gregory for the starting strong safety job. Gregory will need to be lights out in camp to fend off the aggressive rookie.

  • CBs Antoine Cason vs. Nathan Vasher vs. Donald Strickland - Antonio Cromartie was traded to the Jets and there will be an open competition for his vacated starting spot opposite Quentin Jammer.

  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to wood@footballguys.com.

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