San Diego Chargers: Position Battles To Look Forward to During Camp

Michael CullenCorrespondent IMay 11, 2009

SAN DIEGO - MAY 03: Head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith of the San Diego Chargers watch practice during minicamp at the Chargers training facility on May 3, 2009 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Terrell/Getty Images)

After a turbulent 2008 season, there are several positions on the Chargers' roster that appear up for grabs: defensive end, inside linebacker, right guard, and strong safety.

Neither defensive end Igor Olshansky or right guard Mike Goff were resigned in the offseason, and both the inside linebacker and strong safety positions underwent personnel changes during the year.

In the offseason, a rookie right guard was brought in, as well as a free agent inside linebacker.


Defensive End

With Igor Olshansky now playing with the Cowboys, there seems to be three players fighting over his former RE spot: Ryon Bingham, Jacques Cesaire, and Vaughn Martin.

Both Bingham, 27, and Cesaire, 28, have sufficient experience due to the frequent injuries of both Olshansky and LE Luis Castillo. Bingham also has filled in at nose tackle for Jamal Williams.

However, fourth-round pick Vaughn Martin is the one who has gotten the most media attention of late. Born in Jamaica and raised in Canada, Martin played at the University of Western Ontario. He is raw and seen as a project by most.

Bingham nor Cesaire provide much pass rush, but that is of little concern right now as the Chargers have OLB studs Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips, and first-rounder Larry English.


Inside Linebacker

Stephen Cooper’s spot is his to lose right now. However the other ILB position is wide open.

Matt Wilhelm started the 2008 season as the other ILB. He has above-average hands for a linebacker but proved to be a timid tackler.

Tim Dobbins eventually took over. While Dobbins is much more fierce of a player than Wilhelm, he lacks some awareness of where to be when.

In the offseason the Chargers signed Kevin Burnett to a two-year deal. Burnett was used mostly as a third down linebacker with the Cowboys. The former second-round pick is still only 26 and should have the inside track to the job right now.

2007 seventh-round pick Brandon Siler could be the dark horse. He was standout leader with Florida

This looks to be the position that will provide the most drama in training camp.


Right Guard

Veteran Kynan Forney, who served as Mike Goff’s backup in 2008, will face fierce competition from rookie third-rounder Louis Vasquez out of Texas Tech.

There are questions though about Vasquez’s ability to run-block, as he played in the spread offense for a pass happy offense in college.

Forney was drafted in the seventh-round in 2001 but still managed to start eight games that season with the Atlanta Falcons. He started 87 games between 2001-07, and in 2005, was named as a Pro Bowl alternate.

He was cut by the Falcons before the 2008 season and immediately signed with the Chargers. On Feb. 25 of this year he signed a two-year, $4.8 million contract.
In an article with the San Diego Union-Tribune, coach Norv Turner stated that, “It will be very competitive,” in reference to the right guard position battle.

While Vasquez seems to be the future, Forney’s desire to once again be a starter should land him the starting position for 2009.


Strong Safety

Going by contracts, Clinton Hart was signed as the future starter to replace Marlon McCree before the beginning of the 2008 season. His contract runs through 2012. But, by the end of the season Steven Gregory was playing most of the downs at SS.

It is hard not to like Hart, who first played professionally in the af2 league, an arena football league, as both a defensive back and wide receiver. However, he simply seemed out matched and often lost in 2008.

Another thing going against Hart is his age. He will be 32 at the start of the season.
His performance in the 2008 season was no doubt affected by the injury he got in Week Two when he broke his hand. He played with a cast the next few weeks and never seemed to recover mentally.

He will be given the chance to prove himself, but will face competition from the younger Steven Gregory, who is 26. Although Gregory was signed as an undrafted free agent, he helped stabilize the pass defense at the end of 2008 and was a standout in college with Syracuse.

As for sixth-round pick Kevin Ellison out of USC, he is reported to have extreme athletic ability and the Chargers brass sees him as the future SS, but at this time he is still attempting to become fully healthy after knee injures coupled with three surgeries.

Second-string free safety Paul Oliver, 25, should also compete for the strong safety position. He was taken in the 2007 supplemental draft after learning he was academically ineligible to play his senior season at Georgia.

It seems as though there are more position battles this year than in years past, as the team tries to improve upon an 8-8 regular season.