Three positions jump out from the rest in this year's version of camp, mostly because the winners will earn ample playing time next season.
1. Strong Safety: Marcus Gilchrist, Brandon Taylor, Darrell Stuckey
When Chargers GM Tom Telesco arrived in San Diego, his first order of business was to stretch the team's limited salary cap. In doing so, seven-year veteran Atari Bigby was among the first to go, leaving the team without an experienced strong safety in 2013.
Among the possible candidates in competition for the job are converted cornerback Marcus Gilchrist, special teams captain Darrell Stuckey and 2012 third-round pick Brandon Taylor.
Gilchrist played in all 16 games for the Chargers last season primarily at the slot corner where he recorded 48 tackles on the year. Of the three candidates, Gilchrist is the likely favorite given his experience playing in the secondary.
Head coach Mike McCoy explained his decision to move Gilchrist on chargers.com:
"We’re trying to find the best players to go out there and play,” said McCoy. “He’s played obviously there before. During the offseason when we got here we talked about position flexibility and possibly putting him back there. So we let him work there for a while and see how comfortable he is and see what we think as a football team. He’s done a nice job so far."
Gilchrist did split first-team reps at strong safety with Stuckey during OTAs, but the Chargers' prized special-teamer has little experience actually playing in the secondary.
The next candidate to follow in the position battle after Gilchrist will probably be the 73rd pick of the 2012 draft—Taylor. After suffering an ACL tear in his first career start against the New York Jets on Dec. 23, the former LSU captain was placed on injured reserve, and his future as a starter was immediately put on hold.
Taylor underwent surgery this past January, and he's hopeful to be ready by training camp according to U-T San Diego's Michael Gehlken.
When Taylor was selected in the draft last year, the Chargers moved up to take him with expectations that he would eventually be the team's permanent starter alongside Eric Weddle. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that Taylor was a product of the now forgotten A.J. Smith era.
Telesco has expressed before that his preferred method of building a team is through the draft, but clearly Taylor was not one of his draft choices. Therefore, if Taylor does not succeed in becoming the starter, Telesco isn't at fault.
The winner of this position battle will more than likely be decided among these three, but one dark-horse candidate to keep an eye on is undrafted free-agent Jahleel Addae—a player Telesco did bring in.
2. Wide Receiver: Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown
After Danario Alexander, the Chargers don't have an exact plan of attack as to who will start opposite "DX" next season.
Malcom Floyd has been one of Philip Rivers' most reliable targets the past four years, but the up-and-coming Vincent Brown has been receiving high praise from his coaches.
After Brown was forced to miss the entire 2012 season with an ankle injury, it was expected that he'd be greeted with open arms in 2013, but it's turned out to be much more than that early on.
In just his second full season with San Diego, Brown is expected to have an increased role on offense according to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, which could translate to a starting position opposite Alexander.
In terms of experience, Floyd clearly has Brown beat, but the hype surrounding the Chargers' younger receiver is reaching new heights heading into next season.
While this position battle has been encompassed between these two players, that hasn't stopped third-round draft choice Keenan Allen from expressing his desire to start as well according to U-T San Diego's Kevin Acee.
3. Return Specialist: Eddie Royal, Keenan Allen
Last season, the kick and punt return duties were handled by a collection of players that included Richard Goodman, Micheal Spurlock, Eddie Royal, Chris Carr, Curtis Brinkley and even San Diego's $40 million Pro Bowl safety, Eric Weddle.
Seeing as how it might not be the brightest idea to send out your best player on defense to field punts, the Chargers will have to appoint return duties to a less valuable asset on the roster—Eddie Royal and rookie wideout Keenan Allen come to mind.
Royal excelled as a returner with the Denver Broncos in his heyday, but sadly, that success hasn't carried over to his most recent team. The 27-year-old fielded just 12 punts last season for a grand total of 64 yards. Keenan Allen, meanwhile, accounted for 212 yards and a touchdown in punt returns for Cal in 2012.
To give you a sense of what Allen can do in the return game, check out this highlight against Southern Utah last season and try to forget the fact that he muffs the punt:
The smartest move for San Diego would be to keep Richard Goodman on the roster to handle the return load, but the issue of cuts during training camp could force the Chargers to make a decision between Royal and Allen.
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