LAST YEAR: Peyton Manning had best season of his unparalleled career, leading offense that was best in NFL history before injury-depleted Broncos were blistered by Seattle in Super Bowl.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DE-LB DeMarcus Ware; WR Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer; S T.J. Ward; CBs Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: CB Champ Bailey; WR Eric Decker; LB Wesley Woodyard; S Mike Adams; RB Knowshon Moreno.
CAMP NEEDS: Broncos need defensive stalwarts Von Miller (ACL), Chris Harris Jr. (ACL), Kevin Vickerson (hip) and Rahim Moore (leg) to return to form after watching Super Bowl from sideline. With LT Ryan Clady (foot) back and Zane Beadles gone, Broncos juggled O-line, moving Chris Clark to RT and shifting Orlando Franklin inside to LG. That gives them more muscle for ground game led by second-year pro Montee Ball as they strive for better balance in 2014. EXPECTATIONS: As Chris Harris Jr., said, ”It’s Super Bowl or bust for us this year.” He meant winning it. Broncos could be even better on offense with Sanders and Latimer replacing Decker, and Ball replacing Moreno. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is relieved to get back so many injured players and work in bevy of thumpers GM John Elway signed to add nastiness Broncos witnessed – and Manning felt – against Seahawks in Super Bowl.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-5)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, Missouri Western, St. Joseph, Missouri.
LAST YEAR: After going 2-14 two years ago, Chiefs overhauled roster under new GM John Dorsey and rebounded to win first nine games. They scuffled down the stretch but earned wild card before blowing 28-point lead in 45-44 loss at Indianapolis.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: OL Jeff Linkenbach; LBs Dee Ford and Joe Mays; DT Vance Walker; CBs Chris Owens and Phillip Gaines; RB De’Anthony Thomas.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: OLs Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz; WR Dexter McCluster; FS Kendrick Lewis; CB Brandon Flowers; LB Akeem Jordan; DE Tyson Jackson.
CAMP NEEDS: Chiefs need to settle on starting offensive line, particularly RG, where Rokevious Watkins has been suspended four games for violating league’s substance abuse policy. Competition at WR figures to be stiff behind Dwayne Bowe, and jobs at FS and CB will be up for grabs. Watch for contract negotiations involving QB Alex Smith and LB Justin Houston; both can become free agents after season. Houston skipped all voluntary and mandatory offseason workouts.
EXPECTATIONS: Chiefs lost three Pro Bowl players, three starting offensive linemen and several veterans who provided valuable depth. They made modest moves in free agency due to salary cap situation. Second-year coach Andy Reid believes everyone having a year in his system will help. But with more difficult schedule, many believe a .500 record will be successful.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (9-7)
OPEN CAMP: July 24, San Diego.
LAST YEAR: Under new coach Mike McCoy, Chargers recovered from midseason slump to win final four games to end three-year playoff drought. Bolts lost at Denver in divisional round after beating Bengals in wild-card game. QB Philip Rivers had big bounce-back season to win Comeback Player award, RB Ryan Mathews had career year.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: CBs Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett and Brandon Ghee; RB Donald Brown.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Charlie Whitehurst.
CAMP NEEDS: Improving pass defense, among worst in NFL in 2013. Biggest competition should be at cornerback, where free agents Flowers and Ghee will compete with Shareece Wright and top draft pick Verrett. Bolts also looking to sort out depth chart at OLB, where Dwight Freeney returns from injury-shortened season and Jerry Attaochu joins team as second-round draft pick. Chargers eager to see how rookie NT Ryan Carethers does. At RB, Brown and rookie Marion Grice join mix with Mathews and Danny Woodhead.
EXPECTATIONS: Chargers should return to playoffs, although they’ll again be chasing Peyton Manning and Denver in division. That’s why they loaded up on defensive players in draft. Plus, they play the tough NFC West.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-12)
OPEN CAMP: July 25, Napa, California.
LAST YEAR: Raiders posted second straight four-win season under coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie as team lacked playmakers and depth. Defense allowed second-most points per game (28.3) in franchise history. Offense was plagued by porous line and inconsistent play at quarterback from Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin and Matt Flynn. Added up to 11th straight season without winning record or playoff berth.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QBs Matt Schaub and Derek Carr; LB Khalil Mack; DEs Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley; DT Antonio Smith; WR James Jones; RB Maurice Jones-Drew; CBs Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers; OLs Donald Penn and Austin Howard.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: OT Jared Veldheer; DE Lamarr Houston; QB Terrelle Pryor; RB Rashad Jennings; CBs Tracy Porter and CB Mike Jenkins; DT Vance Walker.
CAMP NEEDS: Raiders are hoping Schaub can solidify quarterback after being run out of Houston following rough 2013. If he struggles at all, second-round pick Carr could push for playing time. Offensive line needs to mesh with only C Stefen Wisniewski expected to return to spot he played last season. Defense must integrate at least six new starters led by No. 5 overall pick Mack.
EXPECTATIONS: With McKenzie finally having money to spend, he made significant upgrades to weak roster. While many newcomers such as Tuck, Woodley and Jones come with Super Bowl pedigrees, most of them are also at least 29 years old, likely on downside of careers. Oakland also has difficult schedule – five games against last season’s conference title participants, four more against playoff teams. But owner Mark Davis is getting impatient.
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