Fourth in a series of training-camp reports.
Training-camp site: Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre, Englewood, Colo.
Training-camp report dates: Rookies, July 26; Veterans, July 31.
Key veteran arrivals: RB J.J. Arrington, ILB Akin Ayodele, DE Justin Bannan, DE Jarvis Green, CB Nathan Jones, QB Brady Quinn, RB Kolby Smith, NT Jamal Williams.
Key veteran departures: ILB Andra Davis, OG Ben Hamilton, RB Peyton Hillis, DE Vonnie Holliday, RB LaMont Jordan, WR Brandon Marshall, DE Kenny Peterson, TE Tony Scheffler, QB Chris Simms, C Casey Wiegmann.
Drafted rookies: (1) WR Demaryius Thomas, QB Tim Tebow; (2) OL Zane Beadles; (3) C J.D. Walton, WR Eric Decker; (5) CB Perrish Cox; (6) C Eric Olsen; (7) CB Syd'Quan Thompson, OLB Jammie Kirlew.
Offensive overview: One of the top tasks for head coach Josh McDaniels in training camp will be figuring out how to replace his top receiver from 2009, Brandon Marshall, who was dealt to Miami this offseason. Of the 341 passes Denver completed last season, Marshall caught 101 of them, so making up for his production will be no easy task. Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal are expected to start at receiver, but first-round pick Demaryius Thomas will get a chance to challenge them. McDaniels likely will spread the field with many three- and four-receiver sets, and he puts the onus on his quarterback to make a good decision and find the open man. Kyle Orton is expected to start under center, although Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow are waiting in the wings. Denver is transitioning to a power-blocking scheme, and has shuffled pieces on the offensive line to form a bulkier group. RBs Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter will handle nearly all of the rushing duties.
Defensive overview: Don Martindale was promoted from linebackers coach to replace Mike Nolan as coordinator, but major changes in the team's defensive philosophy aren't expected. Denver heads into its second season of running a 3-4 "D," and it added some veterans to the defensive line this offseason via free agency. DEs Jarvis Green and Justin Bannan and NT Jamal Williams are expected to contribute in the D-line rotation. Williams, a three-time Pro Bowler with the Chargers who played in only one game last season before landing on injured reserve, is expected to clog up running lanes, allowing ILBs D.J. Williams and Mario Haggan to flow to the ball. OLB Robert Ayers will get a chance to start opposite OLB Elvis Dumervil after a disappointing rookie campaign. The Broncos have added young defensive backs in the past two drafts, but the four starting spots in the secondary still belong to veterans in their 30s.
Battle to watch: Casey Wiegmann was released in the offseason, leaving a hole at center, and two inexperienced players will compete to win the starting job. Second-year veteran Seth Olsen will battle rookie J.D. Walton, a third-round pick, for the spot. The position could be a weak spot if neither man steps up.
Injury update: OLT Ryan Clady's rehab will be monitored closely during training camp. Clady, who is considered one of the finest left tackles in the league, partially tore a patellar tendon while playing basketball this offseason and he underwent surgery. The team is hopeful he'll be ready by Week One, but it wouldn't be a major surprise if he needs more time after such a significant injury. OLG Russ Hochstein, who is coming off a torn ACL, is expected to be ready for camp. Rookie WR Eric Decker, a third-round pick, appears to be recovering well from a Lisfranc fracture and should be ready before camp starts.
Fantasy sleeper: Gaffney is considered a lock to start at receiver, and he could be a decent pick to gamble on late in drafts. At worst, he'll be a solid fourth or fifth receiver in most leagues. He posted a respectable 54 catches for 732 yards last season and those numbers could go up with Marshall out of the picture.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Training-camp site: Missouri Western State University, St. Joseph, Mo.
Training-camp report date: July 29.
Key veteran arrivals: RB Thomas Jones, OG Ryan Lilja, DT Shaun Smith, WR Jerheme Urban, C Casey Wiegmann.
Key veteran departures: OG Andy Alleman, S Mike Brown, OG Mike Goff, TE Sean Ryan, RB Kolby Smith, OL Wade Smith, WR Bobby Wade.
Drafted rookies: (1) S Eric Berry; (2) WR Dexter McCluster, CB-KR Javier Arenas; (3) OG Jon Asamoah, TE Tony Moeaki; (5) S Kendrick Lewis, OLB Cameron Sheffield.
Offensive overview: After calling plays himself last season and watching the Chiefs rank 25th in total offense, head coach Todd Haley hired Charlie Weis to be his coordinator. The owner of three Super Bowl rings as the Patriots' offensive mastermind, Weis is expected to implement a balanced attack, spreading the field to exploit matchups through the air while also utilizing the team's strong backfield. The centerpiece of the unit will be RB Jamaal Charles, a quick, shifty, agile runner who finished 2009 like a man possessed. To split work with the undersized Charles, the Chiefs brought in veteran ex-Jet Thomas Jones, who is coming off a career year. QB Matt Cassel struggled in his first season in K.C., but Weis' presence should help him develop. The leader of his receiving corps, Dwayne Bowe, is coming off a down year, but he is in better shape entering 2010. Chris Chambers gives the club a deep threat, with Jerheme Urban and rookie Dexter McCluster sharing the slot. The addition of ORG Ryan Lilja bolsters a shaky O-line.
Defensive overview: Clancy Pendergast lasted just one season as defensive coordinator, ousted after his unit ranked No. 30. Replacing him is Romeo Crennel, another former New England coordinator, who will build upon the 3-4 scheme installed last year. The run "D" was the area that suffered most in '09, but the team did not make any changes in the front seven, bringing back the same starting group from last season. OLB Tamba Hali was a revelation in his first year at the position, but K.C. will need increased QB pressure from its other linebackers and better play from its D-line. Considering RFA S Jarrad Page is still unsigned, the Chiefs could be very young in the secondary, with rookie safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis slated to start. Third-year CBs Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr have been above-average players and will remain in the starting lineup.
Battle to watch: ILB Corey Mays started 13 games last season, but Derrick Johnson — the Chiefs' former defensive leader who was relegated to the bench for most of '09 — will give him a fight in training camp.
Injury update: Charles missed offseason work following shoulder surgery, but he's expected to be at full strength when camp begins. TE Brad Cottam remains sidelined after having neck surgery late in '09.
Fantasy sleeper: Chambers exceeded expectations after joining the Chiefs midway through the '09 season, catching 36 passes for 608 yards and four TDs in nine games. The squad's new offense is likely to frequently utilize his deep speed, making him a rare older player with upside whom you can snag late.
Training-camp site: Napa Valley Marriott, Napa Valley, Calif.
Training-camp report date: July 28.
Key veteran arrivals: RB Michael Bennett, QB Kyle Boller, QB Jason Campbell, RB Rock Cartwright, DE Quentin Groves, DT John Henderson, OLB Daniel Loper, TE John Owens, OLB Kamerion Wimbley.
Key veteran departures: LB Jon Alston, DE Greg Ellis, RB Justin Fargas, OT Cornell Green, MLB Kirk Morrison, QB JaMarcus Russell, DT Gerard Warren.
Drafted rookies: (1) ILB Rolando McClain; (2) DE Lamarr Houston; (3) OT Jared Veldheer; (4) OT Bruce Campbell, WR Jacoby Ford; (5) CB Walter McFadden; (6) ILB Travis Goethel; (7) CB Jeremy Ware, S Stevie Brown.
Offensive overview: The Raiders hired Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator in January and he already has been credited with energizing the offense. Jackson, who previously served as the Ravens' quarterbacks coach, will call plays. While no starting quarterback has officially been named yet, it's believed ex-Redskin Jason Campbell will get the nod over Bruce Gradkowski. Campbell will work with a group of young receivers — led by Darrius Heyward-Bey, Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy — and should get a chance to show off his arm strength, as the Raiders want to spread the field and throw deep. TE Zach Miller has led the team in receptions for the past two seasons and is a dependable target in the short-to-intermediate passing game. RBs Michael Bush and Darren McFadden are expected to split carries behind an offensive line that is unsettled at a couple positions heading into camp.
Defensive overview: It's believed that the Raiders will continue to use the 4-3 as their base defense, although they appear to have the personnel to operate out of a 3-4 alignment as well. Oakland focused on defense early in the draft, and plugged in an immediate starter with first-round pick ILB Rolando McClain. Their hope is that McClain will be a better run stuffer than Kirk Morrison, who was traded to Jacksonville in April after making 116 tackles or more in each of his first five seasons. SLB Kamerion Wimbley, who was acquired from the Browns in an offseason trade, and WLB Trevor Scott are expected to start. Richard Seymour, Matt Shaughnessy, rookie Lamarr Houston and Jay Richardson will be involved in the rotation at defensive end, while former Jaguar John Henderson, Tommy Kelly and Desmond Bryant take snaps at tackle. The Raiders didn't make any significant changes to their secondary, which is led by CB Nnamdi Asomugha.
Battle to watch: ORG Cooper Carlisle, who has started 16 games in four of the past five seasons, will face a challenge from rookie Bruce Campbell for a starting spot. Evaluators say Carlisle's performance has declined in recent years. He'll turn 33 on Aug. 11. Campbell, a fourth-round pick, is athletic for his position and is making the transition from playing tackle in college.
Injury update: OLG Robert Gallery, who underwent back surgery that ended an injury-plagued 2009 season in December, participated in offseason activities and should be ready for training camp. Schilens, who was initially thought to be out until camp after undergoing offseason foot surgery, made an early return to the field in June. Gradkowski has guaranteed that he'll be ready for camp after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
Fantasy sleeper: Whether Schilens starts or not, and there's a good chance he will, he has the potential to become a decent fourth or fifth fantasy receiver in most leagues. At 6-foot-4, Schilens has the size and athleticism to become a red-zone threat. He could have a breakout season if he can stay healthy.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Training-camp site: Chargers Park, San Diego, Calif.
Training-camp report date: Rookies, July 25; Veterans, July 30.
Key veteran arrivals: TE Randy McMichael, WR Josh Reed, CB Donald Strickland, OT Tra Thomas, CB Nathan Vasher.
Key veteran departures: RB Michael Bennett, CB Antonio Cromartie, ILB Tim Dobbins, S Kevin Ellison, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, WR-ST Kassim Osgood, DT Ian Scott, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, QB Charlie Whitehurst, NT Jamal Williams.
Drafted rookies: (1) RB Ryan Mathews; (3) ILB Donald Butler; (4) S Darrell Stuckey; (5) DT Cam Thomas, QB Jonathan Crompton; (7) TE Dedrick Epps.
Offensive overview: Head coach Norv Turner and coordinator Clarence Shelmon return to help guide a Chargers offense that finished in the top 10 last season. While personnel situations have caused Turner to lean toward the pass in recent years, he'd prefer to run a more balanced attack. The unit's clear leader is QB Philip Rivers, who has posted two prolific seasons in a row and has become one of the most efficient passers in the league. His favorite target is TE Antonio Gates, a freakishly athletic player who can both stretch the field and snatch balls in traffic. A three-game suspension to start the season and the likely holdout of WR Vincent Jackson, who posted career numbers in 2009, severely downgrades the team's cast of wideouts. The giant Malcom Floyd will be forced to take over the No. 1 spot, with Legedu Naanee, free-agent addition Josh Reed and perennial disappointment Buster Davis rounding out the corps. RB Ryan Mathews was taken in Round One to replace the departed LaDainian Tomlinson and bolster a running game that ranked 31st in '09. He'll be the primary back, with lightning bug Darren Sproles as the passing-down specialist. San Diego's solid O-line could take a major step back if anchor OLT Marcus McNeill follows through on his threat to hold out.
Defensive overview: The defense made considerable strides in '09 in coordinator Ron Rivera's first full season on the job. Rivera likes to run an aggressive 3-4 scheme that disguises looks and brings pressure from all over the field. The strength of the "D" is the linebacking corps, led by OLBs Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman. Phillips is extremely quick and can get to the QB with the best of them. Meanwhile, Merriman played hurt last season but still has exceptional pure talent. Inside, Stephen Cooper is a tackling machine who cleans everything up. DE Luis Castillo is a big, disruptive player up front, but the Bolts will be looking to replace mammoth NT Jamal Williams, who was cut in the offseason. Veteran CB Quentin Jammer and FS Eric Weddle hold down the fort in the secondary, which will feature a pair of new starters in '10. Third-year CB Antoine Cason will take the place of Antonio Cromartie, while rookie Darrell Stuckey and Steve Gregory will fight for the strong safety spot vacated by Kevin Ellison.
Battle to watch: Gregory is a versatile vet who has played well at a number of positions, but fourth-rounder Stuckey stood out in offseason practices. Their competition to start at SS should be the club's best of camp.
Injury update: A number of Chargers underwent offseason surgery, but most of them have already fully recovered or will have by the time training camp begins, including Naanee (foot) and ILB Kevin Burnett (neck). Gates, however, could be limited in camp after being diagnosed with a minor form of plantar fasciitis in May.
Fantasy sleeper: If Jackson is indeed out of the picture for most or all of 2010, somebody has to replace his production. That man very well could be Floyd, a big-play threat who had 45-776-1 last season. His tremendous potential makes him well worth a mid-round fantasy pick.
You can learn even more about each team in the Volume XXV, Issue 6 print edition, with training-camp previews that address additional topics, such as juiciest story line, burning questions and fearless prediction for every team. The Issue 6 print edition goes on sale this week at retail outlets, or you can buy a PDF or print copy online at PFWstore.com.