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Roster Struggles; Linemen

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Jul 24, 2009.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    By Curtis Egan
    <em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>

    <div class="alignright"><a href="http://cdn1.sbnation.com/imported_assets/156256/3502907124_be72d0c413.jpg"><img title="Chargers linemen" src="http://cdn1.sbnation.com/imported_assets/156256/3502907124_be72d0c413.jpg" alt="Chargers linemen" width="262" height="169" /></a></div>

    Beef! It is what is for drafting. Beef, it is what wins games, Beef! Beef! Glorious BEEF! How many times as draft day rolls around have we seen someone posting about beef. Are they in love with the top sirloin at Ruth Kris? No they are referring to the big boys on the line, the Linemen both offensive and defensive. The players that lock it up on every play, the players who do not have the highlight reels of the ‘skill' position players, but the ones who without we could not win the games. These men in the trenches, though not as well known as Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Linebackers, or Wide Receivers they are more important to the game than most credit.

    Your typical NFL fan will look past the struggles in the middle and watch the balls sail through the air, or the skillful way the RBs cut through the melee where the flotsam and jetsam of the NFL converge violently. However, it is in this small area where the biggest men of the field throw themselves at one another with reckless abandon that the games are truly won.

    So I thought today, in preparation for the season, and just days before the opening of training camp I would take a look at the <strong>BEEF</strong>. Today I will break down the line on both sides of the ball. I usually only look at one side of the ball at a time, but I thought this would be the position to try something different on.

    <strong>Pocket Protectors:</strong>
    No this isn't a flashback to 80's hit movie; Revenge of the Nerds, this is where we take a look at the offensive line. And don't call these behemoths geeks.

    The Chargers have added some young blood to the offensive line through the draft, including the Guard Louis Vasquez who weighs in at 325 pounds and stands 6 feet 5 inches. They also added Guard Tyronne Green through the draft.

    However the Chargers also lost Guard Mike Goff to free agency as he joined the division rival Kansas City Chiefs, and Center Jeremy Newberry who has joined the Atlanta Falcons.

    In 2008 the Chargers carried a total of 9 offensive linemen, 2 Centers, 3 Guards, 3 Tackles, and one player on the practice squad. This season, heading into camp we currently have 12 offensive linemen on the roster, including 4 Centers, 4 Guards and 4 Tackles. Now we have been light at the offensive line position, and depth is always a concern when you have people who are earning their money by throwing themselves at an opponent who wants to bury them.

    Now last year at this time, we had 16 offensive linemen on the roster, much more BEEF to choose from as it were. However the players will be competing for a total of 9 or 10 roster positions, with possibly one, at the outside two possible practice squad positions. So we have the makings of some training camp struggles as the players strive to catch the coach's eye and avoid the call to see the coach, and bring your playbook.

    The big boys of the line are going to be struggling to take the spot vacated by Goff. Louis Vasquez and Kynan Forney are the front runners for the position. Make no bones about it, the position is up for grabs. They will have to push each other, and in turn will be pushed as they line up across from one of the most talented young Defensive Ends in the game, Luis Castillo, #93.

    <strong>The Terrors in the Trenches:</strong>
    I love this part! One of my fondest memories as a Charger fan occurred against the Bengals. It is where a Cincinnati player was running up the sideline, looked like he was going to go all the way for the score. Then blazing in from off screen came this moving mountain of man flesh, who blew the hapless Bengal clean off the playing field. I am not sure if that poor guy has hit the ground yet- However the mountain of man flesh that hit the hapless Bengal on that day was none other than big boy Jamal ‘the Wall' Williams, Nose Tackle and someone who normally would not be found down field making a tackle on a ball carrier.

    The Chargers three front defensive linemen are incredibly strong, agile and talented. They truly are the BEEF that starts the Defense going the right way; they stop the run, pressure the passer and intimidate their opponents. They have the ability to instantly start crushing the pocket of protection the opposing Quarterbacks have, and take up one, two, sometimes three blockers allowing the Linebackers to come in and get the sack.

    If it sound like I love the defensive line, it is because I do! They make a defense, and when ours are doing their jobs right, they make our Defense GREAT!

    Last season the Chargers kept 11 Defensive Linemen 5 Defensive Ends, 4 Defensive Tackles and 2 on the practice squad. This season I don't see any reason for that to change. But this may be the location of one of the biggest camp conflicts we will see, as players strive to lay claim to the starting position vacated by Igor Olshansky, who left to join Wade Philips in Dallas.

    Ryon Bingham and Jacques Cesaire figure to conduct a reenactment of Clash of the Titans as they have what I believe will be the battle of the camp. They will be striving to take the starting vacant Defensive End spot, They will not have it easy though, as rookie Vaughn Martin at 6 foot 4 inches and 327 pounds could enter the mix before camp is over. If I were a betting man, I would hedge my bets on Cesaire who has the experience and physical skills.

    In camp right now are a group of 10 defensive linemen trying to show the coaches they are good enough to avoid the dreaded Turk.

    There seems to be room for all here, when you add in the possible practice squad spots. However the big prize is the aforementioned starting position. That is what the young men will be striving for.

    So who are the ‘shoe ins' for the team? Most of us know them, but you never know with the NFL, Pro-Bowl players have found themselves cut the following year in the past, as was the case with Hanik Milligan, who was a Chargers Pro-Bowl Special teams player in 2005, and found himself cut and playing for the Cardinals in 2006.

    We can almost count on the fact that the following players will be back, it is neigh inconceivable that they would be cut, even given the hectic and unforgiving nature of the NFL:

    <em>As always I want to thank the staff of Chargers.com for the player bio information.</em>

    <strong>CONCUDAN'S SHOE IN'S</strong>
    <em>Offensive Linemen</em>

    <strong>#61 Nick Hardwick, C, 6 year veteran</strong>
    Nick Hardwick returned from injuries last season to turn in another solid performance. Hardwick is a key cog in the offensive line. In addition to his responsibilities as a run blocker, he plays a huge role in pass protection and calling out the blocking signals for the entire offensive line. A starter since his rookie season of 2004, he helped the Chargers rush for more than 2,000 yards his first four seasons in the lineup, including a team-record 2,578-yard season in '06. With Hardwick leading the way, LaDainian Tomlinson was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player during that same '06 season and won NFL rushing titles following the '06 and '07 seasons.
    Hardwick's route to the NFL is not a common one. A standout prep wrestler, he enrolled at Purdue intent on wrestling for the Boilermakers. That all changed however after former Chargers QB Drew Brees led the Boilermakers to the 2001 Rose Bowl and Hardwick saw the excitement that it generated on the West Lafayette, Indiana campus. The following fall, he decided to walk on to the school's football team. A year after earning a spot as a defensive tackle on the scout team, Hardwick became the team's starting center and earned all-conference honors. In 2004, the Chargers made him a third-round draft pick and he's been a starter ever since. Wife, Jayme, is also a former Boilermaker, having played soccer for Purdue's women's team.

    <strong>2008:</strong> He was a Pro Bowl third-alternate-Inactive for weeks 1-3 while recovering from offseason foot surgery-returned to starting lineup Week 4 at Oakland-left KC game Wk 14 in 3Q after suffering concussion...returned to starting lineup following week when Philip Rivers threw career-high four TDs in 41-24 win at TB Dec. 21-anchored team-record 289-yard rushing performance in AFC West clinching win over Denver Dec. 28 -blocked for 167-yard rush night in Jan. 5 AFC Wild Card Playoff win over Indy as Bolts scored GW TD on 22-yard run in OT.

    <strong>#63 Scott Mruczkowski, C, 5 year veteran</strong>
    Now Mruczkowski (type that 5 times fast!) has been a guard in seasons past, this year the Chargers have him listed as a Center. He is making a switch to the new position and is an early favorite to be the primary backup.

    <strong>2008:</strong> 2008: Started Wk 12 vs. Atlanta at LG for Kris Dielman, who was late scratch due to stomach virus- took over for Dielman in 2Q of KC game Dec. 14 after he was ejected for throwing phantom punch...Chargers trailed 21-10 in 4Q of Chiefs game and rallied for 22-21 win, with OL giving Philip Rivers time to complete 19 of 25 for 199 yards with two TDs.

    <strong>#65 Louis Vasquez, G, Rookie</strong>
    In the third round, the Chargers took Louis Vasquez, a three-time All-Big 12 selection who started 35 games during his collegiate career. Vasquez should have no problem fitting in with San Diego's high-powered offense as Texas Tech featured the NCAA's fourth-ranked offense in 2008. Vasquez will help fill the void left by right guard Mike Goff, who signed with Kansas City as a free agent this offseason.

    Now you might wonder what a rookie is doing on this list, but we did not take a young man with such potential to wave him. He will be on the team.

    <strong>#68 Kris Dielman, G, 7 year veteran</strong>
    Dielman is a throwback. He's tough and nasty. Three hours in the trenches against Dielman is like a 15-round heavyweight title fight. A former defensive lineman in college, he made the move to the offensive line shortly after joining the Chargers as an undrafted free agent and hasn't looked back.

    <strong>2008:</strong> Pro Bowl starter-AP second-team All-Pro ...All-AFC by PFW and PFWA-OL had outstanding night vs. NE Wk 6, not allowing sack, while Philip Rivers threw for 306 yards and three TDs-INA for Wk 12 game vs. Atlanta as late scratch due to stomach virus-ejected in 2Q of KC game Dec. 14 for throwing "phantom" punch...line only allowed one sack while Rivers threw career-high four TDs in 41-24 win at TB Dec. 21-OL blocked for team-record 289-yard rushing performance in AFC West clinching win over Denver Dec. 28-bettered previous mark (287 yards, Oct. 13, 1963)-blocked for 167-yard rushing night in Jan. 5 AFC Wild Card Playoff win over Indianapolis, including GW 22-yard TD run in OT.

    <strong>#73 Marcus McNeill, OT, 4 year veteran</strong>
    The Chargers stole McNeill in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft and his rookie season was one for the storybooks. He helped the Bolts rush for a team-record 2,578 yards and according to the coaches grading system, allowed only two quarterback sacks in 494 total pass plays. McNeill earned All-Pro and All-Rookie honors, and became just the third rookie offensive lineman in NFL history to be selected to the Pro Bowl.
    McNeill earned his second trip to Hawaii in February '08 following a strong sophomore campaign in which he helped running back LaDainian Tomlinson capture his second-consecutive NFL rushing title. McNeill's long arms and quick feet also helped him keep pass rushers at bay as he served the crucial task of protecting Philip Rivers' blindside.

    <strong>2008:</strong> Pro Bowl third-alternate-INA Wks 1-2 with neck injury-returned to starting lineup Wk 3 vs. NY Jets-.OL had outstanding night vs. NE Wk 6, not allowing sack, while Philip Rivers threw for 306 yards and three TDs-line played huge role in 4Q comeback Dec. 14 at KC, allowing Rivers time to complete 19 of 25 for 199 yards with two TDs as team rallied from 21-10 deficit for 22-21 win-OL pass protected for Rivers to throw career-high four TDs in key 41-24 win at TB Dec. 21-line closed out season, blocking for team-record 289 yards in AFC West clinching win over Denver Dec. 28-OL keyed 167-yard rushing night in Jan. 5 AFC Wild Card Playoff win over Indy, including GW TD on 22-yard run in OT.

    <em>Defensive Linemen</em>

    <strong>#74 Jacques Cesaire, DE, 7 year veteran</strong>
    Jacques Cesaire is one of the most versatile players on the Chargers' defensive line. He's a player who can capably defend the run or rush the passer from either side of the line. Cesaire saw action in every game in 2008 and was called upon to start twice.

    <strong>2008:</strong> Threw key wedge-block during Darren Sproles' team-record-tying 103-yard KOR TD Wk 2 at Denver-Wk 10 at Pittsburgh, two 3rd-down sacks before leaving in 4Q with knee injury.

    <strong>#93 Luis Castillo, DE, 5 year veteran</strong>
    Chargers starting left defensive end Luis Castillo was a nightmare for opposing right tackles as a rookie in 2005, he is only the second Dominican player to be drafted and start in the National Football League. He comes off a 2008 season in which he recorded a career-high 53 tackles and eight tackles for loss. After a pair of injury-plagued seasons in 2006 and '07, Castillo broke free from the injury-bug in 2008 and started 17 games, including both of the Chargers' playoff contests. Castillo has 14.5 career sacks and will look to add to that total in 2009.

    <strong>2008:</strong> 1.5 sacks vs. Oakland QB JaMarcus Russell Wk 4, including 3rd down sack on series after Chargers had taken lead in 4Q-injured groin late Wk 10 at Pittsburgh and sat out Wk 11 vs. Indy-chased down Antonio Bryant for 1Q tackle and FF Week 15 at TB-later in game, strong pass rush led to 4Q intentional grounding call against Jeff Garcia, who was INT on next play-INT pass during Dec. 28 AFC West clinching win over Denver.

    <strong>#76 Jamal Williams, DT, 12 year veteran</strong>
    The National Football League has finally taken notice of what football fans in San Diego have known for a long time. Jamal Williams is the best 3-4 defensive tackle in the NFL today.

    Year-in and year-out, the Chargers' defensive line has been one of the NFL's best. 2008 was no exception as the Chargers ranked 11th in the NFL in run defense, missing out on cracking the top 10 by just 1.3 yards per game. In seven of Williams' 12 seasons in San Diego, the Chargers have ranked in the league's Top 10 in rushing defense, including league-leading seasons in 1998 and 2005. Only twice during his Chargers' tenure has the unit ranked below 11th in the league's final rankings.

    Williams has been a warrior throughout his career. In 2008, he played in all 16 games and made 15 starts. Since 2003, he's only missed four games due to injury, despite playing one of the most dangerous and physically demanding positions on the field. To understand his toughness, one only needs to look back at the 2007 season when he had arthroscopic procedures done on both of his knees during the team's bye week and missed just one game following the operations before returning to the field. Williams also battled through a high ankle sprain during the '07playoffs that would have kept most players out of action. Instead, he was right in the mix helping the Chargers advance to the AFC Championship Game.

    Despite being one of the most experienced veterans on the team, Williams takes nothing for granted. Every year in training camp, the mammoth defensive tackle refuses to post a nameplate on his locker stall at Chargers Park. In an old ritual, Williams refuses to have his name on his locker until he's officially made the team, forcing the team's equipment staff to re-order a new nameplate for big No. 76 at the start of each regular season.
    Williams is widely regarded as one of the toughest and most physically-imposing defensive tackles in the NFL. It's natural, considering he comes from a family in which he was the second oldest of seven boys all raised by his mother, Harriet, a single parent. She is now retired, but spent years working as a correctional officer at a juvenile facility in Louisville, Kentucky. Jamal is the only player on the roster who carries a dumbbell with him to every team meeting so he can knock out a few curls while watching tape and studying his playbook.

    Williams nearly had a familiar face in the locker room a few years ago as younger brother, Kwesi, who played cornerback at Morehead State, had a free agent tryout with the Chargers in 2006.

    <strong>2008:</strong> Chargers co-MVP, Defensive POY and Lineman of Year-Chargers Alumni Defensive POM for October-season-high three TFLs Nov. 9 vs. KC as Chargers held Chiefs to just 76 yards on ground-dominated line in Nov. 23 NBC SNF game vs. Indianapolis, matching season-high with seven TTs, including tackle for no gain, one for loss and five-yard sack, while holding Colts to 91 yards rushing...huge season-saving play to stop Larry Johnson for NG on 3rd-and-one with 6:12 left in 4Q Dec. 14 at KC-Chiefs opted to punt and did not see ball again until 36 seconds remained after Chargers scored twice to erase 21-10 deficit and take 22-21 lead in game with playoff implications.

    <strong>#97 Ryon Bingham, DT-DE, 5 year veteran</strong>
    Ryon Bingham had a breakout year in 2007. He racked up a career-high 58 tackles and was rewarded with a three-year contract extension thru 2010. The Sandy, Utah native has carved his niche as a regular in the team's defensive line rotation, a role that should again continue to grow in 2009.

    <strong>2008:</strong> Closed out 3Q goal-line stand Wk 6 NBC SNF against NE with sack of Matt Cassel on 4th-and-goal at one.

    <strong>ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN</strong>
    <em>Offensive Linemen</em>

    <strong>#60 Ryan McDonald, C, UDFA out of Illinois</strong>
    Number 60 has not been god to Charger players of late. Last year's #60 is a fading memory. He was brought in to see if he can be quality depth or just camp fodder.

    <strong>#72 Ben Muth, G, UDFA out of Stanford</strong>
    This is another person who has to prove themselves in the short weeks ahead. He has the opportunity, and he will have to make every moment count.

    <em>Defensive Linemen</em>

    <strong>#78 Andre Coleman, DE, UDFA out of Albany</strong>
    Coleman was with the team last season, but has to truly fight to remain with them this season. It is not a good thing that there is no bio for the man at Chargers.com, could that be the sound of the Turk behind you Andre?

    <strong>#91 Ogemdi Nwagbuo, DT</strong>
    Believe it or not, I have it on good authority that Dan Deirdorf and Phil Simms have championed a petition to have this young man cut from the team, seems they don't want to have to try and pronounce his name on the air. Who can blame them? Me I am rooting for this young man to struggle and carve a place on the roster for himself.

    Players will compete for their professional lives here. Some will be looking to live the life long dream, if only for one season. Others will look to continue with a San Diego team that has a true chance at having a truly special year. They will have various reasons to want to be here, but the bottom line is they will have to fight to be here. That is good for us, the fans. That is good for our team, the Chargers.

    That is my opinion, what is yours?

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