Eight in the Box: Returning from injury

A look at key players for each AFC West team who are coming back from injuries:

Denver Broncos: Center J.D. Walton is coming back from a broken ankle. He was lost for the season after getting injured in Week 4 last year. Walton is a young, promising center. The 2010 draft pick started all 36 NFL games for which he was healthy. He is a tough, hard-nosed player who has solid potential. Walton was building a good working relationship with Peyton Manning when he was hurt. Now that he is healthy, it’s time to continue to build that relationship.

Kansas City Chiefs: Center Rodney Hudson broke his leg in Week 3 last year and was lost for the season. The injury was particularly frustrating for Hudson because he was just beginning his starting career. The 2011 second-round pick watched as a rookie. He had a strong training camp and he played well before his injury. Now, entering his third NFL season, Hudson in a lot of ways is still a rookie. There is no doubt he is a starting-quality player, but he is still learning the game as he now adjusts to playing in Andy Reid’s system and to playing with new quarterback Alex Smith. For Hudson, this is another learning year.

Oakland Raiders: Explosive receiver/returner Jacoby Ford missed all of last season with a foot injury. The same injury cost him six games the previous season. Ford has big ability as both a receiver and a returner. He has had some terrific games for Oakland. But I don’t get the sense this Oakland regime, which has never seen Ford healthy, is counting on him. The Raiders have several young, promising receivers and they just signed a similar player in Josh Cribbs. Yet, the group is a work in progress. If Ford can bounce back and stay healthy, there will be a place for him. The Raiders would happily give Ford a chance to contribute if the foot cooperates. If not, he could be on his way out in Oakland.

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers are counting the minutes to get receiver Vincent Brown back on the field. They think he can be a star. Brown came on strong toward the end of his rookie season in 2011 and then was outstanding in training camp. However, he broke his ankle in the preseason and was lost for the entire 2012 season. The Chargers’ offense badly missed him. He is now healthy, and the Chargers are going to unleash Brown. He should be a major focal point of the offense. Brown and quarterback Philip Rivers were building a strong chemistry, and they will continue to work on it in training camp.