AFC West Training Camp Questions

July 29, 2012

The beginning of the NFL season always brings with it the promise of a fresh start, but it also provides its share of questions. Here are some of the top issues facing the teams of the AFC West:

Denver Broncos

1) What is the status of Peyton Manning's neck?

Everyone knows Manning missed the entire 2011 season after undergoing multiple surgeries on his neck. Although Manning has been throwing with the team during OTA's this offseason, it remains to be seen just how his neck will respond when hit for the first time by an opposing defender.

2) Are the defensive tackles improved from last year?

The Broncos used their first pick in this year's draft to select Derek Wolfe out of Cincinnati. He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season, recording 9.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles-for-loss. If Wolfe can bring the same ability to create penetration to the NFL, the defensive tackle rotation should be significantly improved from last season.

Oakland Raiders

1) Does Carson Palmer have anything left in the tank?

After Jason Campbell went down with a broken collarbone last season, the Raiders gave up first round picks in 2012 and 2013 to acquire Palmer from the Bengals. His performance with the Raiders left a lot to be desired.

Palmer has now had an entire offseason to fully digest the playbook -- albeit from a new coaching staff -- as well as to workout with his new teammates. With this in mind, if Palmer's struggles continue into 2012, the speculation that Palmer's career is on its last legs will continue to mount.

2) Who will backup Darren McFadden at running back?

Darren McFadden has proven to be a top-flight NFL running back when healthy. The problem is that he has missed significant playing time due to injuries in each season of his professional career.

Last year Michael Bush replaced McFadden when he went down and performed at a high level. Bush signed with the Chicago Bears as a free agent, however, leaving several unproven backs, including Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson, to battle for carries should McFadden suffer another injury.

San Diego Chargers

1) Can the defense generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks?

General Manager AJ Smith drafted outside linebacker Melvin Ingram out of South Carolina with the #18 overall pick in this spring's draft. Ingram recorded 10 sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss during his final year at the University of South Carolina. Training camp will give the coaches an opportunity to see if Ingram is ready to add an element of pressure the defense was lacking last season.

2) Is Ryan Matthews ready to be a feature back?

Since joining the Chargers in 2010 out of Fresno State, Matthews has flashed immense potential, but has also displayed a maddening tendency to spend significant time on the sidelines due to injury. If healthy, it's fair to expect Matthews to eclipse his 1,091-yard and 6-touchdown performance of 2011.

Kansas City Chiefs

1) Will Dontari Poe be the stout fixture in the middle of the defense needed to stop the run?

In recent seasons, the Chiefs’ defense has struggled to slow down opposing running backs. However, there is hope throughout the organization that Poe's freakish combination of strength and athleticism will be just what the defensive line needs. Poe recently signed with the Chiefs and will report on time to the start of camp.

2) Is Jamaal Charles recovered from his torn ACL?

In 2010, Charles exploded on the scene as the feature back in Kansas City's offense, rushing for a league-leading 1,467 yards. However, his 2011 season ended before it got started, as he tore his ACL in the first game.

The Chiefs are fairly confident in Charles' recovery, as they let last season's leading rusher, Jackie Battle, walk this winter. If Charles can regain his 2010 form the Chiefs offense has the potential to be as potent as any in the division.

By Chris Harker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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