The San Diego Chargers added a ton of depth to their defense this offseason with a few new additions on offense as well, but not every one of them is guaranteed a spot on the roster. Position battles will start to heat up in training camp, and that's a positive situation for a defense that really underperformed in 2011.
The Chargers really focused on defense in the draft this year, but some of the drafted offensive players have a chance to make this team as well.
The Chargers will need all the help they can get after producing a surprising 8-8 season in 2011. Not only has the AFC gotten better, but the AFC West is no longer there for the taking.
There will be a lot of new faces sporting the lightning bolts this season, so why not take a moment to predict what the 53-man roster is going to look like at the start of the season?
Here are my predictions for the 53-man team on offense, defense and special teams.
Starter: Philip Rivers
No surprise here. Philip Rivers may have had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2011 but that won't prevent him from turning things around in 2012. Rivers is still one of the elite quarterbacks in the AFC, and the Chargers won't go anywhere without a big year from him.
Backup: Charlie Whitehurst
After a brief stint with the Seattle Seahawks, Charlie Whitehurst makes his return to San Diego in a familiar backup role to Rivers. Whitehurst was talented enough to be considered for the starting job in Seattle, which raises his value to the Chargers this time around.
Starting Running Back: Ryan Mathews
This season should be a breakout year for Ryan Mathews in his third term with the Chargers. Mathews hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2011, and his receiving numbers jumped up from 22 receptions in 2010 to 50 receptions last season.
The one area of improvement for Mathews has to be ball security, with 10 fumbles in his first two seasons. If he can stay healthy, Mathews definitely has all the makings to be the next great Chargers running back.
Backup: Curtis Brinkley
With Mike Tolbert gone, Curtis Brinkley slides into that backup role as San Diego's No. 2 in the backfield. Brinkley is nowhere near the type of bulldozer the Chargers had in Tolbert, but the former Syracuse running back has some athleticism to him.
Third String: Edwin Baker
2012 seventh-round draft pick Edwin Baker rounds out San Diego's backfield of small, powerful running backs. This former Michigan State Spartan wasn't at the top of many teams' draft boards, but his highlights speak wonders about his hard-nosed running style.
Starting Fullback: Le'Ron McClain
At last, Mathews finally has a traditional lead blocker in Le'Ron McClain. In the past, the Chargers relied upon smaller fullbacks like Jacob Hester after the Lorenzo Neal era ended, and the end results haven't come close to what they used to be.
McClain is a big 260-lb back capable of blowing up linebackers in the hole to free up Mathews. It should be exciting to see how much more room Mathews has with a true fullback leading the way.
Backup: Jacob Hester
Jacob Hester's playing time is going to take a hit with McClain in the mix, but he should see the field on passing downs. Hester is an average pass blocker, but he's got some nice hands out of the backfield. In 2010, Hester caught 22 passes for 145 yards and nine first downs.
Wide Receiver 1: Malcom Floyd
The better half of San Diego's towering tandem at wide receiver has moved on to Tampa Bay, but Vincent Jackson's role as a jump ball specialist can be filled by Malcom Floyd.
The 6'5" Floyd has a great vertical leap, and he's been improving as a complete receiver for Philip Rivers. Floyd had 43 receptions for 856 yards and five touchdowns in 2011.
Wide Receiver 2: Robert Meachem
The pickup of former New Orleans Saints receiver Robert Meachem was huge after news of Jackson's exit from San Diego. Meachem caught six touchdown passes from Drew Brees despite the Saints' vast array of targets.
It will be interesting to see how San Diego uses Meachem, and whether or not he spreads the field like he did with New Orleans.
Wide Receiver 3/Slot Receiver/Punt Returner: Eddie Royal
Former Denver Bronco Eddie Royal is yet another great addition to a weak receiving corps. After receiving minimal attention in an offense dominated by Tim Tebow, Royal will more than likely get his fair share of touches with San Diego.
Royal should also prove useful in the slot, a role that was left by Patrick Crayton.
Fourth String: Vincent Brown
Vincent Brown shined in his rookie season catching 19 passes and two touchdowns. The former San Diego State Aztec should continue to develop and fit right in with San Diego's receiving corps.
Fifth String/Punt Returner: Roscoe Parrish
After two previous season plagued by wrist and ankle injuries, longtime Buffalo Bills receiver Roscoe Parrish will attempt to play his first full season since 2007. The speedy Parrish was primarily used as a slot receiver in Buffalo's offense, but it will be tough to win back that job with Royal above him.
Parrish will get some time here and there on offense, with most of his time being devoted to special teams. He is a skilled punt returner, but he could end up splitting that role with Royal as well.
Sixth String/Kick Returner: Richard Goodman
Richard Goodman's forte will be in the kick return game for sure. In just his second season, Goodman returned the majority of San Diego's kicks for nearly 1,000 yards and a 27.5-yard average.
Seventh String/Kick Returner: Michael Spurlock
Michael Spurlock's kick-return production sputtered last season after returning 44 kicks for 1,129 yards in 2010. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer will compete with the less experienced Goodman for the kick returner job.
Tight End 1: Antonio Gates
Tight end Antonio Gates is still doing his thing in a Chargers uniform despite a constant battle with plantar fasciitis. Even after missing three games in 2011, Gates still made his eighth straight Pro Bowl appearance.
Reports are that Gates is feeling healthy for the 2012 season, which is great news for Philip Rivers and the Bolts.
Tight End 2: Randy McMichael
Veteran tight end Randy McMichael has been doing all the little things for San Diego on offense, in addition to producing when Gates can't go. McMichael's leadership is much appreciated in the locker room and on the field.
Third String: Ladarius Green
For right now, 2012 fourth-round draft pick Ladarius Green is purely a work in progress for San Diego. I wouldn't expect him to be on the field much next season unless injuries become a problem. Green is raw with a ton of potential, but blocking is his Achilles heel at the moment.
Left Tackle: Jared Gaither
Marcus McNeil wasn't able to maintain his job on San Diego's offensive line, but when the opportunity presented itself, Jared Gaither stepped right in at left tackle after being claimed on waivers last season. Philip Rivers' blind side is in good hands with Gaither taking over in his first full season with the Chargers.
Left Guard: Tyronne Green
There are some awfully big shoes to fill at left guard after the retirement of Kris Dielman. Tyronne Green is the next name slated to fill those shoes, but it's a toss-up if he's the answer at left guard.
Center: Nick Hardwick
Nick Hardwick returns to anchor San Diego's offensive line after contemplating retirement, and that's some very good news for fans and players alike. Hardwick is undoubtedly the leader of this inexperienced line, and when he's on his game, then the whole line is at its best.
Right Guard: Louis Vasquez
Louis Vasquez isn't one of the premiere guards in the NFL, but he gets the job done for the Chargers. San Diego is going to need Vasquez to perform well and open those lanes up for Ryan Mathews.
Right Tackle: Jeromey Clary
Like Vasquez, Jeromey Clary won't raise any eyebrows, but he's the best option San Diego has right now.
Reserve Tackle: Brandyn Dombrowski
Brandyn Dombrowski has the most familiarity of all the reserves playing on the San Diego line, and his versatility makes him quite the asset.
Reserve Center: Colin Baxter
Reserve Guard/Center: Rex Hadnot
Reserve Guard: Steve Schilling
Left Defensive End: Corey Liuget
Former 2011 first-round pick Corey Liuget didn't show us too much in his rookie season, but more is being expected from him in his second season. If he doesn't start producing soon, then he may lose his starting job to a lurking Luis Castillo, who has a history with the Chargers.
Nose Tackle: Antonio Garay
Antonio Garay returns to the middle of San Diego's defensive line with more help on a struggling defense. He's no Jamal Williams, but he's been making a name for himself recently with the Chargers.
Right Defensive End: Vaughn Martin
Vaughn Martin will probably see a lot of playing time at defensive end with the possibility of splitting time with second-round pick Kendall Reyes. It's been a while since San Diego had so much depth on defense, but it's great to see a rotation in progress for this defense.
Reserve Defensive End: Luis Castillo
Reserve Defensive Tackle: Cam Thomas
Reserve Defensive End/Defensive Tackle: Kendall Reyes
Reserve Defensive End: Jacques Cesaire
Left Outside Linebacker: Shaun Phillips
Shaun Phillips has quickly established himself as one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL, and that's exactly how he'll play in 2012. San Diego is extremely lucky to have two veteran players in Phillips and Takeo Spikes as a part of its linebacking corps. Not a big sack year from Phillips last season with just 3.5 sacks, but he'll back stronger in 2012.
Reserve: Melvin Ingram
San Diego's first overall pick this year should be getting a good chunk of playing time this season. Chances are that San Diego will be rotating a lot of its pass rushers on defense to keep offenses guessing and keep guys as fresh as possible during games.
I am very excited to see Melvin Ingram develop under Phillips and be that pass-rushing monster San Diego has been looking for.
Left Inside Linebacker: Takeo Spikes
A true veteran at his position who works hard every game and is a lead-by-example type of player. Takeo Spikes racked up 106 total tackles in his first season with the Chargers. We should see more of the same from him in 2012.
Reserve 1: Jonas Mouton
Right Inside Linebacker: Donald Butler
Donald Butler really started coming into his own last season, and yet another season of playing alongside Spikes is going to be what makes him improve more in 2012. Butler had 96 tackles and two sacks for San Diego in just his second season.
Reserve 1: Demorrio Williams
Right Outside Linebacker: Jarret Johnson
Primarily known as being a run-stuffer in Baltimore, Jarret Johnson gives San Diego yet another veteran on its defense. Johnson feels like a perfect fit already, but he'll prove that on the field next season as well.
Reserve 1: Antwan Barnes
Reserve 2: Larry English
Cornerback 1: Quentin Jammer
Quentin Jammer has been a staple of the Chargers secondary for quite some time now. Whether or not you believe he lived up to his first-round expectations is another thing, but he's improved over the years in the secondary.
Reserve: Shareece Wright
Cornerback 2: Antoine Cason
Antoine Cason has fit in rather quickly since being drafted in 2008. We're still waiting to see more from Cason before we make a judgment on his worth as a first-rounder, but he brings it as a starter every game.
Reserve: Marcus Gilchrist
Free Safety: Eric Weddle
Eric Weddle had a career-high seven interceptions in 2011, which shows he's getting more involved in the passing game. Combine that with his hard-hitting mentality in the box, and you have a pretty good safety developing in San Diego.
Reserve: Darrell Stuckey
Strong Safety: Brandon Taylor
I realize it's a little surprising to see the rookie Brandon Taylor starting so soon, but he was a big target in San Diego's draft. I think he's talented enough to win the job over a veteran like Atari Bigby.
Reserve: Atari Bigby
Kicker: Nate Kaeding
Watching Nate Kaeding go down with an injury in the very first game of 2011 was a tough sight for Chargers fans, but his return this season is a good sign of things to come in 2012. Kaeding needs to stay healthy, and something tells me he won't be concentrating too much on making tackles during kickoffs.
Punter: Mike Scifres
One of the best in the game goes to work again for the Chargers.
Long Snapper: Mike Windt