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AFC WEST
Paul Zimmerman
August 29, 1988
The Denver Broncos have a tradition that was born in the mid-1970s, when an outstanding crop of defensive players came together. The showpiece players were linebacker Tom Jackson and end Lyle Alzado, who were wild, freewheeling types, and the rock was noseguard Rubin Carter. That defense set the tone for a decade.
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August 29, 1988

Afc West

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Their defense, led by the best pair of safeties in football—Vann McElroy and Stacey Toran—will be good enough to keep them in most games, assuming the offense can score.

After a disastrous '87 season the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS replaced both its offensive and defensive uncoordinators, and now the staff is laced with Super Bowl experience. Rod Rust, the new defensive guy, ran the Patriots' 1986 Super Bowl defense. He will get the Chiefs out of the 4-3 that finished 27th in the NFL last fall and into a 3-4. George Sefcik was the Bengals backfield coach in the '82 Super Bowl. He will coach the Kansas City offense.

Bill Kenney is now the No. 1 quarterback, with no one looking over his shoulder. Steve DeBerg, who arrived by way of a trade with Tampa Bay, replaces Todd Blackledge, who was dealt to the Steelers, as the backup. Tom Bettis, who coached the Chiefs' defensive backs to both their Super Bowls (was it really 19 and 22 seasons ago?), is back in the same capacity.

Knowledgeable Chiefs watchers say that the team has plenty of talent, most notably the superlative secondary of Deron Cherry, Albert Lewis, Lloyd Burruss and Kevin Ross. It's just that, offensively and defensively, everyone was on the wrong page. The draft has produced lots of people who will make the squad, which is what happens when you finish 4-11. The seventh-round pick, linebacker Troy Stedman, is an interesting sleeper, but for the draft to be termed a success, the No. 1 pick, Neil Smith, must come through.

The SAN DIEGO CHARGERS have a sorry quarterback situation: Mark Malone backed up by Babe Laufenberg, or maybe vice versa. But it is likely to last only one year. The Chargers should be in a position to draft the No. 1 collegian, UCLA's Troy Aikman. The team's best offensive lineman, tackle Jim Lachey, said he wanted to go home to the Midwest. So Owner Alex Spanos told his general manager, Steve Ortmayer. "You've got 48 hours to get him out of here." So Lachey was traded to that great heartland of America, Los Angeles; to the Raiders, same division, no less. In return, the Chargers got 320-pound John Clay, who immediately came down with a hip flexor injury.

Linebacker Chip Banks staged one of his usual training-camp holdouts. On Monday, Aug. 8, Spanos told him to report to camp by Thursday or Spanos would withdraw his contract offer. Thursday came and went. Banks was still a holdout. Stay tuned.

It's tough for anyone to operate effectively in such an atmosphere, and Ortmayer and Al Saunders know how to get things done. But sadly, the Chargers, who opened 8-1 last year and closed 0-6, have too many holes to fill now that Dan Fouts is gone. Defensive line, cornerback, offensive line—you name it.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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