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CHARGERS: Battle ground: Talented Chargers feature few positions up for grabs

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Concudan, Jul 24, 2009.

  1. Concudan

    Concudan Meh... Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 5, 2006

    The Chargers aren't hiring these days, and it has nothing to do with the economy. The team simply has some of the best men for each job, which leaves little room for new faces or upward mobility.

    While the depth chart can be largely written in ink on this talent-laden roster, keep a pencil handy for a few key spots. Question marks hover around the inside linebackers, strong safeties, offensive guards and defensive ends, positions that will be filled during the trials of training camp.

    The fight starts on Monday for rookies and gets going in earnest on Friday, when veterans report and embark on a journey the Chargers realistically hope ends in a Super Bowl win.

    To avoid last season's 8-8 embarrassment, however, they'll have to get production from positions where there is no clear-cut starter. Those battles will go down between raw talent and experience, veterans searching for redemption and unheralded players looking for a chance to shine.

    Strong safety

    Clinton Hart vs. Kevin Ellison

    The Chargers thought they had security at this spot when they gave Hart a five-year contract in April 2008. But this heavy hitter struggled in pass coverage and proved to be a liability in a secondary that was exposed without a steady pass rush.

    In Hart's defense, he had to deal with a broken hand early in the season and neck and shoulder problems later on. That hampered his ability and robbed him of playing time during the Chargers' final push for the playoffs.

    Hart must prove that he can produce when healthy, or Ellison will take that starting spot. Ellison was drafted this year in the sixth round out of USC, where he developed a reputation as an aggressive force who can defend the run and pass. Though his draft stock fell due to a series of knee surgeries during his college career, Ellison has impressed the Chargers, and he might play his way into a starting spot.

    What to expect: Hart will be the starter early on, but Ellison will get playing time and could take over if Hart slips up.

    Right guard

    Kynan Forney vs. Louis Vasquez

    This spot is up for grabs after the Chargers let Mike Goff leave via free agency. Goff manned his post for five seasons, but the well-documented problems with the right side of the offensive line foreshadowed his departure.

    That left Forney, who spent last season with the team but didn't play in a game. While it seems odd to reward such a player with a contract extension, the Chargers recognized his track record. He was a full-time starter with Atlanta from 2002-2007 and was an alternate for the Pro Bowl in 2005.

    But experience alone won't secure Forney a starting gig, especially after Chargers coaches have gotten a look at Vasquez. A third-round pick from Texas Tech, he's a strong, physical presence who could make an immediate impact. He was primarily a pass blocker in the Red Raiders' spread offense, but Vasquez has shown the ability to run block as well, an valuable trait for a side of the line that let rushers down last season.

    What to expect: Forney has talent, but Vasquez is a long-term solution at guard who will earn a starting spot.

    Inside linebacker

    Tim Dobbins vs. Kevin Burnett

    Stephen Cooper will occupy one of the inside spots, but his wingman hasn't been determined. Dobbins filled that role at times, but he was far from spectacular.

    That's why the Chargers brought Burnett in from Dallas. Their lone free-agent signing is a special teams stalwart with an underwhelming track record as a starter, but he has earned high praise for his ability in coverage.

    Dobbins was serviceable and has proven to be a sure tackler, but the team might be looking for something more dynamic. Former starter Matt Wilhelm has been underwhelming and must perform well during camp to stay on the roster.

    What to expect: The Chargers will run several sets with three outside linebackers ---- especially on rushing downs. When teams are expected to pass, look for Burnett to step in and help out.

    Right defensive end

    Ryon Bingham vs. Jacques Cesaire and Vaughn Martin

    Igor Olshansky was invisible at times last season. That's why the Chargers let him leave via free agency without an heir apparent.

    The Chargers still don't have one, but they have a few quality linemen to fill gaps, occupy blockers and make room for other pass rushers. Bingham played well in 2007 and again last season in a backup role, and will have the opportunity to take the starting job with a quality training camp.

    Cesaire has long been a quality backup at both end and tackle, but hasn't been thought of as a long-term starter. Martin could be the long-range solution, but the Canadian has to develop before that can pan out.

    What to expect: Both Cesaire and Martin will see significant playing time, but Bingham will start.

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