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Old 07-19-2006, 08:45 PM  
The Poz The Poz is offline
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A look ahead to the AFC West

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/9561372

By Vic Carucci
National Editor, NFL.com

Here's a look at the AFC West:

Denver:

What's going to help: Provided he is fully recovered from a major knee injury, Javon Walker (Green Bay) will add a game-breaking dimension at wide receiver that will complement Rod Smith. Although Ashley Lelie is angry enough over Walker's arrival to demand a trade and possibly hold out of camp, his presence would round out one of the better receiving trios in the league. Tony Scheffler (Western Michigan) is a good receiving tight end. Elvis Dumervil (Louisville) and Kenard Lang (Cleveland) should be effective pass rushers in nickel situations.

What's going to hurt: Losing a dependable running back such as Mike Anderson, particularly with no clear-cut starting choice from Ron Dayne, Tatum Bell and other candidates. The potential distraction of a Lelie holdout.

Kansas City

What's going to help: Tamba Hali (Penn State) looks like he will be every bit the pass-rushing force the Chiefs expected him to be before the draft. His knack for making plays from the backside also will help in a division with strong rushers. Lenny Walls (Denver) is a fairly solid cornerback because of his athleticism and ball skills. Bernard Pollard (Purdue) provides excellent run-stuffing skills at safety. New coach Herman Edwards is bringing a new mentality to the defense that emphasizes quickness, aggressiveness and toughness. Edwards should further help the defense, as well as the offense, by getting away from a wide-open attack and using a power-oriented approach that features Larry Johnson. Kyle Turley, out of football for two years, is trying to regain the strength he needs to add depth on the offensive line and possibly step in as a tackle replacement for retired John Welbourn.

What's going to hurt: A lack of wide receiver depth behind Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker, which got a little weaker with the departure of Marc Boerigter (Green Bay).

Oakland

What's going to help: The tougher and more physical attitude that new coach Art Shell should bring to the entire team, but especially to the offense, which will lean more heavily on the running of LaMont Jordan. A healthier Randy Moss, whose pass-catching production suffered greatly as he tried to battle through multiple injuries for most of last season. Michael Huff (Texas) is a playmaking safety who runs exceptionally fast, hits exceptionally hard, and has the ability to also play cornerback. Thomas Howard (UTEP) is an athletic linebacker whose speed should be utilized in pass-rush situations. Lance Johnstone (Minnesota) should be a solid pass-rushing complement to Derrick Burgess.

What's going to hurt: Another question mark, Aaron Brooks, taking over at quarterback for the question mark that was Kerry Collins. Unsettled situation at linebacker.

San Diego

What's going to help: Marlon McCree (Carolina) brings his aggressive, hard-hitting style to free safety, where he replaces Bhawoh Jue as the starter. McCree has excellent recognition skills and is always around the ball. Antonio Cromartie (Florida State) should have an immediate impact as a starter, or at least as a strong contributor at cornerback. Rashaun Woods (San Francisco), who missed 15 games with injuries since entering the league as a first-round choice, has a chance to salvage his career at receiver while learning from a quality veteran in Keenan McCardell. Marcus McNeill (Auburn) should add good depth at offensive tackle, provided he has improved his strength through intensive weight lifting during the offseason.

What's going to hurt: Parting ways with Drew Brees after his shoulder injury and putting the starting quarterback job into the inexperienced hands of Philip Rivers. Aging linebacking corps, with the exception of 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year Shawne Merriman.

KEY POSITION BATTLES

Denver: Dayne and Bell are the front runners competing for the starting running back job, and there are enough question marks with both players to possibly leave the spot in doubt into the season. Cedric Cobbs and Mike Bell are also going to be in the mix.

Kansas City: Pollard is going to provide a serious challenge to Sammy Knight for the starting strong safety job. Turley will compete with Kevin Sampson and Jordan Black for the starting right tackle job once occupied by Welbourn.

Oakland: Brooks enters camp as the starting quarterback, but Andrew Walter will be ready to step in if Brooks shows the erratic form that sent him packing from New Orleans. Howard and Darnell Bing will challenge Sam Williams for a starting spot at outside linebacker.

San Diego: Cromartie will make a strong push for Drayton Florence's starting cornerback job. A three-way battle is shaping up at strong safety between Jue, incumbent Terrence Kiel, who has rebounded from an ankle injury, and Clinton Hart, who shows promise as both a run-stuffer and in coverage.

THE EARLY READ

The Broncos and Chiefs look as if they've made the most strides to end up in a two-way battle for the division crown.
Walker should give the Broncos a consistent playmaker in their passing game, provided Jake Plummer is able to rebound from a poor performance in the AFC Championship Game and avoid being distracted by the presence of his eventual replacement, Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt).

The Chiefs still have offensive firepower, but they're likely to be more effective with Johnson carrying the load in a power-oriented approach. With Edwards setting the proper tone of toughness and aggressiveness, and Hali making an immediate impact, the defense should also be stronger.

It's hard to get a handle on the Chargers when there is no telling how their starting quarterback will perform. LaDainian Tomlinson's running and a strong defense are certainly capable of picking up the slack, but Rivers won't get away with spending the season as an innocent bystander. At some point, he will need to make plays, and his development this summer is crucial to that end.

With a new coach and a new quarterback, the Raiders are a work in progress. Shell's hard-nosed approach should result in a noticeable improvement, but will it be enough for this team to be in the hunt? Expecting Brooks to become a far better and more consistently effective quarterback than he was with New Orleans this year could be asking too much.
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Old 07-19-2006, 08:56 PM   #2
CHENZ A! CHENZ A! is offline
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If all we have to worry about is the departure of Marc Boerigter, and our WR's, we will be better than I originally thought.
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