Camp Countdown  


AFC West training camp preview: Key issues, players to watch


It might feel like the dog days of summer for football fans, but the 2017 campaign is rapidly coming down the pike. With training camps opening later this month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr, Kevin Patra and Marc Sessler are examining the key issues for each team in this division-by-division series. Here's the AFC West camp primer:

Denver Broncos

Training camp report dates: rookies (July 23) and veterans (July 26).
Location: UCHealth Training Center in Englewood, Colorado.

Most important position battle: Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch. Head coach Vance Joseph went from saying he was unsure Lynch was ready to stating his quarterback battle is a 50-50 toss-up. While the smart money is on Siemian, who has the respect of the team's two stud wide receivers and a firm grasp of the playbook, Lynch's measurables and arm strength will be hard to ignore for long. But given that Denver's offensive line (more on this unit just below) is relying on a rookie, a star center coming off dual-hip surgeries and a high-upside free agent, the unit might have a hand in deciding the quarterback competition. If protection is shoddy, the nod might automatically go to Siemian, who is already more proficient against heavy traffic in the pocket.

Newcomer to watch: HC Vance Joseph. The 44-year-old is the new face of the Denver Broncos at a time when the organization could really go in one of two directions. Gary Kubiak deservedly won a Super Bowl because of his ability to manage the offensive talent and personnel around him with an even hand. Joseph comes in with a fresh set of eyes on a dominant secondary and Von Miller, one of the best pass rushers in football. This is a unique -- but daunting -- proposition for a first-time NFL head coach. If the defense takes a step forward, the Broncos are still very much in contention despite the West being one of the league's toughest divisions.

Looming camp question: Can Matt Paradis pick up where he left off? One of the league's premier centers had surgery on each hip this offseason, but according to KUSA-TV's Mike Klis, he should be on the field participating once camp opens. This is huge for an offensive line that should be much-improved from last season -- even if it came together via free agency and is depending on the rapid development of first-round pick Garett Bolles. Ronald Leary was an overlooked part of Dallas' O-line success and could end up coming into his own with the Broncos -- something that will relieve the significant weight on Paradis' shoulders. This will not become an air-it-out passing team overnight.

Kansas City Chiefs

Training camp report dates: rookies (July 24) and veterans (July 27).
Location: Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Most important position battle: Patrick Mahomes vs. Tyler Bray (for the backup QB job). The Chiefs are obviously not concerned with Mahomes vs. Alex Smith just yet, but they would definitely love to see Mahomes blow the current second-string quarterback out of the water to save them a roster spot. We've seen teams in the past draft a quarterback-in-waiting only to see that player get beat out by a veteran for the backup spot. The problem then becomes taking up an extra roster space that would otherwise be used to aid the club's special teams coordinator. The Chiefs strategically made Bray the No. 2 heading into OTAs and minicamp with the hope that Mahomes would ascend quickly and by the book. Will that be the case?

Newcomer to watch: DE Tanoh Kpassagnon. Watching Kpassagnon's Villanova film is like going back to the early Create-A-Player days on "Madden" when you could pump a player's attributes up to something Herculean and set him loose on the mere mortal public. These players are as fun as anything to watch in training camp because, while raw, they are relying on the God-given gifts that brought them to the NFL in the first place. Typically, this results in some thunderous one-on-one drills. In Kansas City, that means premier matchups with talented tackles like Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher.

Looming camp question: How different might the Chiefs look toward the end of camp? The club just changed general managers less than two months before the league's first all-in-one cutdown day where rosters will be trimmed from 90 to 53 in the matter of a few hours. This will be chaotic for just about every GM in the league, but could it be even more so for Kansas City on Sept. 2? One thing working in the Chiefs' favor: They hired from within, promoting co-director of player personnel Brett Veach into the GM spot formerly filled by John Dorsey. Still, this new cutdown process will be an immediate test for the first-time GM.

Los Angeles Chargers

Training camp report date: rookies and veterans (July 29).
Location: Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa, California.

Most important position battle: Mike Williams' pursuit of a starting job. For as many rookie wideouts as we've seen over the past few years come in and change a franchise, we've also seen some high-profile busts. The Chargers have been challenging rookie Mike Williams throughout the offseason -- despite his limitations due to a back injury -- and will continue to do so during training camp. Williams doesn't necessarily have a free-and-clear path into starter's snaps, with Keenan Allen returning to health and Tyrell Williams fresh off a 1,000-yard season. Philip Rivers, like most veteran quarterbacks of his ilk, isn't going to waste time at this point in his career. He's going to want players up to speed.

Newcomer to watch: DC Gus Bradley. The steal of the offseason. Bradley might not be out of head coaching for long -- and for the moment, he can raise his profile with the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year (Joey Bosa) and a slew of recent first- and second-round picks across his defensive line. Training camp gives us the first real glimpse of Bradley's base defense in action, with an eye on how mobile he could end up making Bosa across the front. While Bradley's Jacksonville defenses suffered from the injury bug and a still-growing talent base, it seemed like the creativity and attitude were also missing. Can he find his groove in L.A.?

Looming camp question: Does Anthony Lynn continue to capitalize on the Us-vs.-World mentality? This is where former Rams head coach Jeff Fisher floundered a year ago. Despite a roster peppered with talent in spots, that team squandered its first season in a new city and failed to establish an identity. Lynn has spent his first few months as a new head coach talking up the Bolts' temporary micro stadium and lauding the challenge of establishing the organization in Los Angeles. The city is very much up for grabs right now, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a sneaky-talented Chargers team draw a bigger crowd of open-minded fans during practices.

Oakland Raiders

Training camp report dates: rookies (July 24) and veterans (July 28).
Location: Napa Valley Marriott in Napa, California.

Most important position battle: Austin Howard vs. Marshall Newhouse. While losing Menelik Watson doesn't seem like a death sentence for one of the best offensive lines in football, it does leave Oakland with some less-savory options at right tackle for the upcoming season. In camp, we'll need to gear up for the Howard-Newhouse battle with plenty at stake. The Marshawn Lynch experiment will work as well as the right side of the offensive line can kick out defensive ends and blitzing linebackers. General manager Reggie McKenzie is balancing a ton on his shoulders and had to make some difficult financial choices that included letting Watson leave in free agency. Now we'll see if his faith in Newhouse and Howard is well-placed.

Newcomer to watch: RB Marshawn Lynch. Lynch topped NFL jersey sales for the month of May. To say his presence in Oakland is a curiosity would be a serious understatement. The Lynch-Oaktown reunion will be one of the most heavily anticipated storylines of the season. Training camp will finally give us something more substantive than the Instagram clips and teasers, which have shown a seemingly ageless Lynch whipping through padless defenders. We are starting to imagine how much better Derek Carr could be with a top-five power running game.

Looming camp question: How Will Derek Carr look in extended action? By mid-April, he was confident telling reporters that his broken leg would not impact the remainder of the offseason and preseason. However, we've seen serious injuries like this resurface and re-aggravate before. Carr was clearly the lifeblood of the 2016 Raiders, leaving the entire offense punchless in his absence. The hope is to see him at full speed in late July.

Follow Conor Orr on Twitter @ConorOrr.



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