AFC West Training Camp Capsules
AFC West Training Camp Capsules
By The Associated Press
Jul. 21, 2018
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (10-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 28, Missouri Western, St. Joseph, Missouri
LAST YEAR: Chiefs rolled to 5-0 start, went through midseason swoon, then won final four games of regular season to defend AFC West title for first time in franchise history. QB Alex Smith had career season, RB Kareem Hunt led NFL in rushing, and WR Tyreek Hill evolved from speedy gadget star to playmaking pass catcher. Defense struggled to absorb season-ending injury to SS Eric Berry, resulting in unit that routinely allowed big plays. Season ended when Kansas City blew 21-3 halftime lead in 22-21 loss to Tennessee in wild-card round of playoffs.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Sammy Watkins, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Kendall Fuller, QB Chad Henne, DT Xavier Williams, QB Matt McGloin, TE Tim Wright, CB David Amerson, LB Breeland Speaks, DT Derrick Nnadi, LB Dorian O'Daniel, SS Armani Watts.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Alex Smith, CB Marcus Peters, LB Derrick Johnson, FS Ron Parker, LB Tamba Hali, CB Phillip Gaines, WR Albert Wilson, CB Terrance Mitchell, OL Zach Fulton, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Ramik Wilson, DL Bennie Logan, CB Kenneth Acker.
CAMP NEEDS: Must determine starting CBs after trading Peters and releasing Mitchell, with Fuller and Amerson front-runners. Berry must prove his health after tearing Achilles tendon last September. Pass rush must show improvement with rookies Speaks and O'Daniel complementing OLBs Justin Houston and Dee Ford.
EXPECTATIONS: Chiefs' have overhauled roster under second-year GM Brett Veach, particularly on defense. Longtime stalwarts Johnson and Hali are gone and rookies will be expected to contribute from first snap. But if Chiefs are to win third straight AFC West title, they need second-year QB Patrick Mahomes II to live up to expectations. Kansas City traded up to select him 10th overall in 2017, and was so confident in his abilities it traded Smith to Redskins after best season of career.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 28, Jack Hammett Sports Complex, Costa Mesa, California
LAST YEAR: Bolts' relocation season ended just short of playoff berth with impressive 9-3 finish under new coach Anthony Lynn following 0-4 start. LA's new team had one of NFL's most impressive offenses, with Philip Rivers and receiver Keenan Allen headlining gifted group of playmakers. Chargers finished fourth with 376.6 yards per game, and plus-12 turnover margin was third. Offensive line also allowed NFL-low 18 sacks. Defense rounded into form along with offense, with shutdown cornerback Casey Hayward and pass-rushing stars Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram leading group that finished third by allowing 197.2 yards per game against pass. Chargers won final five games at tiny StubHub Center, even establishing something close to home-field advantage. They barely missed first playoff berth since 2013.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: C Mike Pouncey, TE Virgil Green, S Derwin James, LB Uchenna Nwosu, QB Geno Smith, K Caleb Sturgis.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Tre Boston, TE Antonio Gates, DL Jeremiah Attaochu.
CAMP NEEDS: Staying healthy has been almost impossible for Chargers in recent years, and they've already lost budding star TE Hunter Henry to season-ending knee injury from non-contact drill in May. They'll look for new starting tight end in camp, and it's imperative to get to regular season with no additional serious injuries — and enough momentum to improve on last year's 0-4 start. Defense that frequently struggled against run must sharpen approach, and tackle Brandon Mebane could help immensely with bounce-back season. Bolts must figure out whether No. 7 overall pick Mike Williams is ready to be regular receiver after injury-shortened rookie year. They must find solid kicker after failing to do so last year, with Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo headlining competition.
EXPECTATIONS: If Chargers pick up where they left off, they have components of Super Bowl contender. They return with above-average franchise quarterback, Pro Bowl receiver and elite talent at nearly every important position, including two of NFL's best pass rushers and two of its top cornerbacks if Jason Verrett returns from injury at full strength. Another major injury could scramble forecast, but franchise that has won one playoff game and one AFC West title in past decade seems capable of much more this fall.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (6-10)
OPEN CAMP: July 26, Napa, California
LAST YEAR: Raiders plummeted from 12 wins in 2016 to six last year as QB Derek Carr and offense regressed, defense struggled, and coach Jack Del Rio was fired. Oakland's offensive output dropped by more than seven points per game, takeaways fell from 30 to 14, and Raiders got almost no production from past three draft classes in becoming one of league's biggest disappointments. That led to move to bring coach Jon Gruden back for second stint with Raiders after spending past nine seasons in broadcast booth.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Gruden, WR Jordy Nelson, WR Martavis Bryant, RB Doug Martin, LB Derrick Johnson, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Marcus Gilchrist, LB Emmanuel Lamur, LB Tahir Whitehead, WR Ryan Switzer, OL Kolton Miller, DT Maurice Hurst, DE Arden Key.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Del Rio, WR Michael Crabtree, RT Marshall Newhouse, LB NaVorro Bowman, CB TJ Carrie, CB Sean Smith, CB David Amerson, P Marquette King.
CAMP NEEDS: Biggest priority is getting 2016 Defensive Player of Year Khalil Mack into camp after he held out entire offseason while seeking long-term contract. Mack is entering final year of rookie deal and Gruden and new DC Paul Guenther are eager to get most important defensive piece on practice field. Other main issues are learning Gruden's system and figuring out offensive tackle situation with LT Donald Penn coming back from foot injury and rookies Miller and Brandon Parker battling Breno Giacomini for time.
EXPECTATIONS: Owner Mark Davis has wanted to bring back Gruden ever since taking over team seven years ago. He's hoping move pays off in team's final two seasons in Oakland before move to Las Vegas in 2020. Gruden is being counted on to bring out best from Carr, who went from MVP candidate in 2016 to mediocre last season as he dealt with injuries. His protection got worse and his receivers were inconsistent. Even if Gruden does manage to spark offense, defense will need to take big step forward for Raiders to get back into playoff contention.
DENVER BRONCOS (5-11)
OPEN CAMP: July 27, Englewood, Colorado
LAST YEAR: Coach Vance Joseph's first year was debacle in every phase. Denver's anemic offense cycled through three QBs during soured season that included eight-game skid, franchise's longest in half-century, and featured eight double-digit losses. Exhausted defense surrendered too many points and special teams were anything but. GM John Elway thought about firing Joseph but decided to give him second chance and then bolstered roster.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Case Keenum, DE Bradley Chubb, RB Royce Freeman, WR Courtland Sutton, WR DeSean Hamilton, RT Jared Veldheer, LB Josey Jewell, CB Brock Tramaine, S Su'a Cravens, P Marquette King, part-time pass-rushing coach DeMarcus Ware.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Aqib Talib, QB Trevor Siemian, RB C.J. Anderson, TE Virgil Green, WR Cody Latimer, ILB Corey Nelson, QB Brock Osweiler, strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson.
CAMP NEEDS: Broncos need Keenum to stay healthy first and foremost because behind him are two players who have combined four NFL starts, all by Paxton Lynch. Former first-round pick will be duking it out with 2017 seventh-rounder Chad Kelly for backup job in toned-down version of QB derby that's been annual rite of summer in Denver since Peyton Manning retired.
EXPECTATIONS: Broncos haven't had back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72, and they have every intention of returning to playoffs in 2018. Having Chubb as cohort should make superstar LB Von Miller even better, and Denver's infusion of offensive talent through draft and free agency should take some pressure off defense that's been carrying team for three years now.