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Around the AFC West: protecting Justin Herbert

As the preseason gets underway, let’s see what’s happening around the division.

Los Angeles Chargers training camp for the 2022 season begins Photo by Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

As the Kansas City Chiefs get ready to travel to Illinois for Saturday afternoon’s preseason opener against the Chicago Bears, let’s see what is happening around the rest of the AFC West.

Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos open their preseason with a home game against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. (Arrowhead Time). The game will be carried live on NFL Network.

Position battle to watch

Tight end Noah Fant was part of the trade package sent to the Seattle Seahawks for quarterback Russell Wilson. So now, the battle to become the team’s No. 1 is between Albert Okwuegbunam, Greg Dulcich, Andrew Beck, Eric Tomlinson and Eric Saubert.

On the first Broncos depth chart of the season, Okwuegbunam (a 2020 fourth-round draft pick) is listed first. Now is the time for him to make a name for himself.

But Okwuegbunam has never had more than 33 catches in a season — and has only three touchdowns during his two years in the league. So the production isn’t yet there — but we could see improvement in camp to make him the Week 1 starter.

Dulcich — a rookie — might be Okwuegbunam’s closest competitor. We will have to see what he does during Saturday night’s game.

Must-see tweet

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders will look to add another win to their preseason after defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-11 in the Hall of Fame game — but they’ll have to wait until a week from Saturday, when they will be on the road against the Miami Dolphins.

Position battle to watch

The Raiders’ running backs group has been banged up for the last two seasons. Despite Josh Jacobs’ decline in production in 2021, he should still be the No. 1 back. There are, however, some questions about his backup. Kenyan Drake was brought in last year to be his backup (or split the reps), but ended up with a fractured ankle against the Washington Commanders.

Drake had just five carries for nine yards against the Jaguars — but due to his injury, that was expected. Zamir White led the way with 11 carries for 52 yards and shined, taking most of the workload. Austin Walter was right behind White with 8 carries for 49 yards.

If we don’t see more production from Drake in camp or the preseason, White and Walter could be fighting for the second or third spot on the depth chart.

Must-see tweet

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers will host the Los Angeles Rams in their shared stadium, opening both team’s preseason campaigns at 9 p.m. Saturday.

Position battle to watch

If the Chargers want to contend for the AFC West title, protecting little brother — third-year quarterback Justin Herbert — will be a must. That’s why we need to see who will win the team’s right tackle job. Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins are currently battling for the starting position. By the end of the week, we might be able to see who is the favorite.

Norton signed with the Chargers in 2020. After Bryan Bulaga got hurt in 2021, he took over the right side, getting an extended look with 15 starts. Last season, Pipkins was primarily a backup to rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater Jr. — but was able to start two games.

Both players are entering their fourth season in the league, so they should have things figured out by now. This is an interesting battle because both players were backups last season; technically, Norton never won the starting job.

Norton might have the upper hand right now, but Pipkins’ move from left tackle to right tackle may make him a dark horse to win the job.

Must-see tweet

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