The NFL world is buzzing with the start of training camps around the country.
And even though the regular season is still five-plus weeks away, it's time to take a lap around the division and get a few beat reporters together to catch up on the AFC West.
Here's what Kansas City's Matt McMullen, Denver's Aric DiLalla, The Athletic's Vic Tafur (Raiders) and Eric Smith (Chargers.com) had to say:
What's the biggest lesson your team learned from 2022?
McMullen: I think the biggest lesson the Chiefs learned last season was that they always have a chance no matter their circumstances or what the chatter is saying on the outside. Kansas City employs the best head coach and quarterback combination in the NFL, and as long as they're together, the Chiefs will always be in the mix. I think the guys who have been around for a while already knew that, but it was a special thing for Kansas City's young players to experience it firsthand last year.
DiLalla: There were some tough lessons from last year, but the biggest may be that potential doesn't automatically result in wins. The Broncos may have won the offseason in 2022, but they struggled to a 5-12 record when the season arrived. New Head Coach Sean Payton has taken the opposite approach since taking over, as he's emphasized hard work, discipline and the importance of building culture. Hype and proclamations through the media have taken a backseat to that work, and it seems like the team has bought in to that mentality.
Tafur: That Josh McDaniels and Derek Carr could not get on the same page and McDaniels needed someone well versed in his offense. Plan A was Tom Brady. He retired. For good this time, apparently. Plan B was Jimmy Garoppolo.
Smith: That the Chargers are right there on the cusp of doing something big. By all accounts, the 2022 season was a grind — both mentally and physically — with the amount of injuries the team sustained. Even still, the Bolts persevered to a double-digit win season and a playoff appearance. Nearly the entire roster is back from a season ago, and the expectation for the Chargers is that they will once again be in the mix to make a deep postseason run in 2023.
What's the No. 1 storyline around your team as camp opens?
McMullen: One of my favorite storylines surrounding this year's camp is the Chiefs' second-year players' attempt to take the next step in 2023. Kansas City fielded a ton of rookies last year on both sides of the ball, including wide receiver Skyy Moore, tailback Isiah Pacheco, cornerback Trent McDuffie, defensive end George Karlaftis, cornerback Joshua Williams, safety Bryan Cook and cornerback Jaylen Watson among others. Each of those guys had a significant impact on the Chiefs' run to a championship last year, and if they can collectively continue to improve, there's a case to be made that this is a better team than the one that won the Super Bowl last year. That's exciting, but the guys have to put the work in during camp to get there.
DiLalla: I think a lot of fans are just wondering what this team is going to look like. The Broncos have adopted the idea of being "anonymous donors," which means there were no behind-the-scenes videos or minicamp highlights during the offseason. For that reason, there's a bit of unknown surrounding this team. Most people, I'm sure, also want to know how Russell Wilson is going to fit in Payton's offense and if he can get back to playing like he did in Seattle.
Tafur: Garappolo passed his physical Sunday after offseason foot surgery. So that's not it. Running back Josh Jacobs will skip training camp after he and the Raiders couldn't agree on a long-term deal so that's not it. (He will likely show up for Week 1 because it's hard to walk away from the $10.1 million that the franchise tag gets him.) So now, all eyes are on how long first-round pick Tyree Wilson is out with a foot injury that scared some teams in the draft.
Smith: Justin Herbert's contract extension is obviously a talking point, but there's little reason to believe the two sides won't come to an agreement there. On the field, I'll be watching whether or not J.C. Jackson is practicing after suffering a serious knee injury last year. If Jackson is healthy and can return to his elite form, the Bolts secondary could be among the league's best units.
Give me a player (non-rookie) you're excited to watch.
McMullen: Veteran wide receiver Richie James, who signed with the Chiefs during the offseason. James had a breakout season with the Giants last year, recording 57 catches for 569 yards and four touchdowns. He has looked really good in camp thus far and could be a real weapon in the Chiefs' offense this season as a versatile playmaker. I'm excited to see what he can do.
DiLalla: Let's go with Javonte Williams. He suffered a serious knee injury in October and yet was able to participate in the offseason program. It appears like he'll avoid starting training camp on P.U.P., and that seems like a great sign for his Week 1 status. When healthy, Williams was a bruising player who could run over just about anybody. I'm excited to see if he still shows that same ability in training camp and — if he gets snaps — in the preseason. Williams was mentioned as a possible breakout star heading into 2022. I'm interested to see if he makes that happen a year later.
Tafur: I always thought big target Cam Sims was underutilized at Washington.
Smith: Running back Isaiah Spiller has a chance to carve out an important role for himself on offense. The 2022 fourth-round pick didn't play much as a rookie but had a strong offseason and is primed to get some carries in Kellen Moore's offense this year. Spiller, of course, will have to earn those touches and battle with Joshua Kelley for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Austin Ekeler.
Check out the best photos of the 2023 Chargers arriving for the start of Training Camp
How about a rookie you have your eye on?
McMullen: I like the Chiefs' draft class a lot, but I'll go with undrafted rookie running back Deneric Prince. He has been one of the standouts of camp so far as a versatile tailback who can catch passes out of the backfield, but he'll also be a guy competing to be the Chiefs' primary kick return man.
DiLalla: I'll go with Marvin Mims, Jr. The Broncos traded up to select the Oklahoma wide receiver, and he's got impressive speed. Denver already has a great route runner in Jerry Jeudy and a pair of physical receivers in Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick. KJ Hamler, though, will start training camp on the Non-Football Injury list, which means Denver may need Mims to shine early to help stretch the field. He had a strong final season at Oklahoma, and I suspect he may play a role early.
Tafur: Defensive tackle Byron Young, who I hear should be able to be an immediate contributory both on the inside and the outside of the Raiders' defensive line. He is starting camp on the PUP list with an undisclosed injury.
Smith: The Chargers first two draft picks — Quentin Johnston and Tuli Tuipulotu — are both in similar spots. Neither will be asked to be a Day 1 starter in the NFL, but both will provide depth and play a key role on their respective sides of the ball. Johnston will hav the chance to learn from Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as he assimilates himself into the offense. And Tuipulotu can soak up knowledge from Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa as he tried to win the third edge rusher job on defense. If both players pick things up quickly, they could each be vital pieces as rookies for the Bolts.
Finally, which camp battle are you excited to see play out?
McMullen: The battle for the last few wide receiver spots will be an interesting one. The Chiefs' have a bunch of players who are each capable of contributing, but only so many roster spots to go around. A few names to know would be Justyn Ross, who was a high-profile undrafted free agent signee last year, and veteran John Ross, among others. I'm curious to see who emerges as the Chiefs' fifth and sixth receiver during camp.
DiLalla: Wide receiver will definitely be an interesting one, but I think safety is going to be fascinating to watch. I'm not sure it's a traditional competition, but the team has both Caden Sterns and Kareem Jackson on the roster along with Justin Simmons. Sterns is a third-year player with plenty of potential and a knack for creating turnovers, while Jackson is a hard-hitting veteran player who Denver brought back in May. Jackson has started alongside Simmons for the last four years, so the chemistry between the two is a factor, as well. Both players are talented enough to see the field, so I'll be watching how the rotation plays out — no matter who is starting.
Tafur: The Raiders signed veteran CB Marcus Peters this week, but the other starting job and backup spots are up for grabs. Nate Hobbs has proven to be tough at the slot, but the staff wants to see what he can do on the outside. Maybe to make room for Tyler Hall.
Smith: Let's talk special teams! The Chargers don't have a ton of open starting spots available, as the camp battles are mostly centered around depth positions. But there's only one kicker spot up for grabs, meaning the race is one between Dustin Hopkins and Cameron Dicker. Each had a fairly strong spring but the battle will soon heat up with camp practices and preseason games. The Bolts are in a good spot here with two kickers, as one will earn the job and the other could be traded for draft capital.
Check out some photos of the Chargers rookie class arriving for the start of Training Camp 2023
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