AFC WEST REPORT: Players are Feeling the Grind

Much can be learned about teams in their training camps and early on things are beginning to take shape as the preseason opener nears for all the AFC West combatants.

The best story of the season last year has to be that of Drew Brees, a quarterback that was going to be thrown out like Friday mornings garbage has emerged and become the leader of a San Diego Chargers team that returns all 22 starters from a season ago. After a long off-season Brees has looked great in camp so far and Phillip Rivers will just have to wait in the wings, but will find plenty of snaps this preseason.

How about the toughness of Brees? He admitted that he separated his non-throwing shoulder after the fourth game last year and played the rest of the season with the injury. After starting 2-2, the Bolts would only lose two more games the whole season while Brees played with the injury the whole time leading the Chargers to a 10-2 record before losing to the Jets in the playoffs.

Reporting earlier than most people thought, Shawne Merriman has inked a deal but will not likely play in the Chargers preseason opener at Green Bay on Thursday night. Merriaman had a toe stepped on in his first practice and then tweaked a hamstring. Merriman was expected to have had the big toe nail removed last night in what has to be a minor but painful injury. Marty Schottenheimer isn't to thrilled about the amount of time the number draft picked has missed and apparently still will.

Other injuries to note include linebacker Donnie Edwards who has an ankle injury but the extent is not known. Schottenheimer said Edwards would be ready for the nationally televised game this Thursday. Edwards hasn't missed a regular season game since October 1998 when he played for the Chiefs.

The Chargers list twelve linebackers on their roster but are down to less than two deep with seven guys participating in practice. Marquees Harris and Ben Leber are both currently sidelined. Harris with his back and Leber had surgery to remove a bone spur from his ankle.

With talks of the secondary being the weak link, Quentin Jammer feels the most comfortable that he has ever been in a Chargers uniform. He looks great in practice and he may pan out as the shutdown corner that the Chargers will desperately need in the division full of long balls. Schottenheimer seems optimistic calling his training camp play the best he's seen yet.

The only notable still missing from camp is Antonio Gates who looks to get Tony Gonzalez type of money. As much as his teammate want him in camp, LaDainian Tomlinson understands Gates situation, "He's obviously looking for a fair deal, but he's behind the eight-ball because he didn't get drafted. He has to kind of resort to you know, another tactic."

Vincent Jackson, the teams third round pick signed a five-year deal and has looked spectacular in practice so far. With Gates and Jackson in the line-up the Chargers will have two huge targets to throw at.

At Denver Broncos camp injuries are hitting at a fairly rapid pace to some big names.

Although Jake Plummer is expected to be okay he still has had a problem with a slightly hyper-extended knee. The same might not be said for Maurice Clarett. He had an MRI on his groin and is expected to sit out for a bit while he heels up. Clarett has shown some potential in practice laying the wood to some Denver defensive backs.

Champ Bailey still favors a hamstring injury and Gerard Warren has the same but both are expected to get some playing time in Saturday night's game at Houston. The Broncos will leave for Reliant Stadium after their practice this afternoon.

On a positive note for the Broncos, speedy running back Quentin Griffin looks good making big plays in practice up through Monday in Mike Shanahan's crowded backfield. With Rueben Droughns gone and Clarett finding yet another set back, Griffin is battling Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson for the starting job. Anderson is holding Bell off for the time being and he'll be hard to cut if he keeps his performance up. Anderson is an early favorite to be the starter at Miami on September 11th.

Ron Dayne has also become popular amongst teammates. He fits the Broncos style and may fit in with what the Broncos are trying to do. The Broncos use zone-blocking schemes similar to those at the University of Wisconsin. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner made the call to Dayne in the off-season.

With Courtney Browns dislocated elbow and Mario Fatafehi, Ebenezar Ekuban has been promoted to the first team. Before the game on Saturday night the Broncos will leave Dove Valley today and will engage with the Houston Texans on Wednesday and Thursday.

At Napa Valley, CA the Oakland Raiders offense is flowing as sweet as the California wine, but some of the grapes are a little damaged. Joey Porter won't see any action Saturday, and Ronald Curry probably won't while he's still recovering from his achilles tear last season, when the Raiders play the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night. Doug Gabriel will play after injuring his index finger last weekend.

The team seems fresh and LaMont Jordan will have to be, as he will get a heavy load as a starter on Saturday night. True Kerry Collins form won't be known until he gets a shot at a 49ers defense.

The Oakland Raiders defense may be one of the biggest surprises of training camp so far. Charles Woodson and Randy Moss have frequently squared off with one another, each holding their own. Coach Norv Turner seems to think it will benefit the Raiders in the future. Moss beat Woodson on one long ball for a touchdown but the Michigan alumni seems to live up to the challenge.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories