AFC West Report: Training Camps Await

With the preseason just weeks away, the importance of mini-camp increases. Most teams have about 20 days left before live game experience. With all the changes in the AFC West this off-season, reps have become all that much more important.

The primary question in San Diego is their new starting quarterback, Phillip Rivers, who inherits the role of the departed Drew Brees. Rivers has some big shoes to fill after Brees had two highly productive seasons for San Diego over the last two years.

Rivers has acted like the consummate professional this off-season, saying all the right things to the media and gaining confidence from his teammates at mini camp.

In years past LaDainian Tomlinson anointed himself the leader for the Chargers, making remarks about never wanting to leave San Diego. Now, Rivers looks like he wants to assume that role. That should allow Tomlinson to concentrate on football, meaning he could have his best season ever in 2006.

For the Oakland Raiders, their mini camp gave new head coach Art Shell the chance to evaluate his quarterbacks. According to Shell, he has three potential starters. Although Marques Tuiasosopo has been a career backup and many in the Oakland media insist that it is laughable to think he could be the starter, Shell said the position is open. He hopes to have a quarterback named by the beginning of training camp.

One would think that free agent Aaron Brooks would be the logical choice for the starter, but that isn't etched in stone by any means. The Raiders held most of their mini camps behind closed doors and the media was not allowed. What is known is that it's safe to say that the coaching staff is getting a good look at second-year player Andrew Walter.

Walter stands 6'6" and has the arm strength to go down the field. That's a great skillset when you have receivers like Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. Owner Al Davis is also a big Walter fan, and as we've seen throughout Raider history, whatever Al Davis wants, Al Davis gets. Add in the fact that the Raiders passed over Matt Leinart in the draft and there may be a big secret behind closed doors in Oakland.

In Denver, head coach Mike Shanahan has been impressed by a pair of young players at mini camp. Wide receiver Darius Watts stood out on offense and Shanahan praised his speed and ability to get open.

Watts will have even more opportunities to shine in the pre-season as Shanahan plans to sit out Javon Walker in the July 6-8th mini camp. He continues to mend after undergoing off-season knee surgery.

When asked about Ashley Lelie, Shanahan refused to comment. Lelie has not lived up to expectations and has been a no-show for Broncos training sessions so far. With the improvement of Watts and a solid mini camp by rookie Brandon Marshall, Lelie may become expendable.

On defense, rookie Elvis Dumervil has impressed the Broncos coaching staff by becoming somewhat of a utility defensive player. Dumervil has been rotating to different positions on the defensive line, playing both ends and nose tackle. That has increased his study time but Dumervil has accepted the challenge with open arms, feeling he still has a lot to prove to his doubters.

Email your AFC West questions to steve@tailgateplayers.com.

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