San Diego Chargers: Positional Weaknesses Going into 2009

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San Diego Chargers: Positional Weaknesses Going into 2009
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

With the kickoff to the 2009 NFL Season still more than three months away but most of the important off-season dates past us, initial assessments regarding a team's potential performance will slowly snowball towards full-blown previews and predictions by the end of August.

In the case of the three-time defending AFC West champion San Diego Chargers, it would seem at first glance that any preview would focus on the positive aspects of this talent-loaded team.

However, some definite cracks in the facade can be seen, as evidenced by their 8-8 record last season. Staying away for the most part from the free agent market, the Chargers looked to get stronger through the draft, and thus drafted mainly out of need.

But did they cover all their needs completely? Here are the most pressing needs that San Diego will need to monitor closely in this upcoming season if they are to be successful:

 

Safety

San Diego's underachieving safeties were part of the reason teams lit them up through the air. FS Eric Weddle's inability to put a hand on the ball in the last play of Week One against the Panthers cost San Diego a win, for example.

SS Clinton Hart wasn't scaring many wide receivers last season, as teams went to the middle of the field routinely against the Chargers. For next season, at least one of those two players figures to be a full-time starter next season with only one real threat to their jobs added to the team.

That threat is USC product Kevin Ellison, who was drafted in the sixth round by the team in this year's draft.

Despite being described as a chiseled athlete who devours film and is a frequent visitor to the weight room, Ellison has struggled mightily with injuries. Surgeries for a torn ACL and knee injuries were performed on him in college, and he also fractured his left leg.

These injuries could severely limit his shelf life in the brutal NFL.

 

Defensive End

RE Igor Olshansky left the team via free agency to Dallas in the off-season. Despite a weak 2008 season, Olshansky was the only proven starter for the team in that position.

With a depth chart that includes Jacques Cesaire and Ryon Bingham, the Chargers decided to add another player to that mix, drafting Vaughn Martin with the 113th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Martin, a physical freak who is versatile enough to play defensive end and defensive tackle, will face a steep learning curve in the league after facing off with far inferior competition at Canada's University of Western Ontario.

He might be a year or two away from reaching his potential, but, with no established replacement signed as of yet, the job might be his to lose.

 

Defensive Tackle

Despite relying on stud NT Jamal Williams in San Diego's 3-4 defensive scheme for years now, the three time Pro Bowler will be 33 going into this season with only the aforementioned Vaughn Martin being groomed as a potential successor.

An injury to Williams would be devastating, as the 3-4 requires a solid nose tackle in order to counter an opponent's inside running game and allow pass rushers to use their speed to get to the quarterback.

Ron Rivera, San Diego's defensive coordinator, used a 4-3 formation with great success at Chicago.

Should he decide to switch the Chargers' defense over to that strategy, will have slim pickings for that second spot, having to choose between a who's who of no names that include Rashaad Jackson, Bingham, Ian Scott, Ogemdi Nwagbuo and Martin.

 

Lesser Areas of Concern

Guard: With the dependable Mike Goff gone thanks to free agency, it'll be up to nine-year vet Kynan Forney and two rookies, Louis Vazquez and Tyrone Green to replace him.

Inside Linebacker: Last season, a revolving door of players including Derek Smith, Matt Wilhelm and Tim Dobbins paraded next to the solid Stephen Cooper in search of locking down the other spot. Dobbins prevailed, but former Cowboy Kevin Burnett was brought in to provide more depth should he falter.

Fullback: Jacob Hester improved towards the end of the season, but will he be the dominant blocker that LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles and Gartrell Johnson needs? If he can't, Mike Tolbert will get a crack at the job.

 

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