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Aging Raiders top fading division
The AFC West is having trouble getting jump-started.
The Oakland Raiders, who won it last year, staged a walkout during a preseason rules session with NFL officials in protest of the infamous "tuck rule" that knocked them from the playoffs in New England. The Raiders are lamenting the bad old days.
The Denver Broncos bade farewell to running back Terrell Davis, who helped lead them to back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997-98. The Broncos are longing for the good old days.
Neither the Kansas City Chiefs nor San Diego Chargers could sign their No. 1 draft choices in time to count on much help for at least the first half of the season. The Chiefs and Chargers are dreading the present days.
But Bill Romanowski is trying to clear things up. The former Denver bad boy linebacker is now fulfilling his destiny and playing with the Raiders.
"We will win the AFC West," Romanowski promised.
His new coach, Chicago native Bill Callahan, no doubt appreciates the vote of confidence. San Diego also has a new coach in Marty Schottenheimer, an old-timer who won the division three times when he coached at Kansas City.
Callahan has been taking it relatively easy on his veteran team in training camp and the exhibition season. As an assistant to Jon Gruden the last four years, he noticed a disturbing trend of fading in the stretch. The Raiders lost their last three games of the regular season last year, two of the last four the previous two years, and five of their last six the year before that.
Good: Defensive rookies Phillip Buchanon at cornerback and Northwestern's Napoleon Harris at linebacker have rejuvenated a unit that also is getting help from veteran defensive tackles John Parrella and Sam Adams, Romanowski and safety Rod Woodson. Quarterback Rich Gannon was the top-rated passer in the AFC, and receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice are being pushed by young Jerry Porter.
Bad: At some point, old guys wear out. Callahan is hoping Trace Armstrong can boost the pass rush while coming off a torn Achilles' tendon at 36. He'll be 37 in October, two months older than Gannon and still younger than Rice, who will turn 40. Tight end is a problem.
It's difficult enough for Brian Griese to follow John Elway. To have to do it without running back Terrell Davis borders on unusual punishment. Not even Elway could win a Super Bowl until Davis came along. Coach Mike Shanahan's challenge is to win without either Elway or Davis. Bringing back loquacious tight end Shannon Sharpe could help answer questions.
Good: Trevor Pryce moved from defensive tackle to end and tore up training camp. The development of fast linebacker Ian Gold made Romanowski expendable. The return of receiver Ed McCaffrey from a broken leg is welcomed by standout receiver Rod Smith. Griese made an extra off-season effort to get stronger and develop more camaraderie with teammates.
Bad: Rookie running back Clinton Portis looks good, except for those three fumbles in one exhibition game. Running back Olandis Gary is still recovering from a broken leg, but the situation is not dire enough yet for Shanahan to switch fullback Mike Anderson back to tailback. The secondary is shaky, not a good omen against Brown and Rice. Ex-Bears tackle Blake Brockermeyer is recovering from shoulder surgery.
Unable to make No. 1 draft choice Ryan Sims or No. 1 offensive target Tony Gonzalez happy with their contracts, the Chiefs appear content to keep selling out Arrowhead and teasing the faithful. Coach Dick Vermeil still thinks quarterback Trent Green is better than his league-high 24 interceptions.
Good: Priest Holmes led the league in rushing, total yards and obscurity last season. He gets help from ex-Detroit receiver Johnnie Morton and former New Orleans left tackle Willie Roaf. Green has looked better this preseason than he did when he pressed much of last season.
Bad: Losing linebacker Donnie Edwards to San Diego leaves a void, although the Chiefs were a dismal 27th against the run. If second-round defensive tackle Eddie Freeman shows the same fight he demonstrated against teammates, it could help, but the defense was counting on Sims. The Chiefs' 31 sacks were an AFC low.
Second-year quarterback Drew Brees is Schottenheimer's choice over Doug Flutie, who will be 40 next month. That there was any discussion on a 5-11 team is ominous. Of more concern is the failure of the Chargers to sign their No. 1 pick, cornerback Quentin Jammer. Can a team with six victories over the last two years afford not to sign players?
Good: Linebackers Junior Seau, Donnie Edwards and rookie Ben Leber are fast and good. Chicagoan Rodney Harrison probably is the NFL's hardest-hittingsome would argue dirtiestsafety. As a rookie, LaDainian Tomlinson started fast and nearly wore himself out carrying the team.
Bad: Brees doesn't have much of an offensive line, not a good thing for any quarterback, let alone a brand new one. Ex-Bear Curtis Conway remains the No. 1 target after the loss of another ex-Bear, Jeff Graham, and tight end Freddie Jones. The Chargers are counting on fast little Tim Dwight as a starter