Before the off-season coaching sessions end, before the long Dead Zone drought from mid-June to training camp, there is time to compare the list of fresh talent (draftees and free agents) to the 2008 roster. Most newbies won't stick, most veterans will.
But not all.
Departures like DE Igor Olshansky create some space for new blood, but there are always some players who don't take the leap to a new place. They get pushed. Linebacker Matt Wilhelm and strong safety Clinton Hart have been under scrutiny for a good while. But they are not the only ones on the bubble.
RB/FB Mike Tolbert was sensational in exhibition games, then faded progressively through the long season. PREDICTION: "Hello rookie RB Gartrell Johnson, we have a specific job for you... Goodbye, Little Bear" (Tolbert).
Offensive lineman Scott Murczowski has been groomed for a starter's crown for years, but, like greying Prince Charles, people are looking past him for younger princes, to lead Charger nation.
PREDICTION: Third round pick Vasquez is a near-immediate challenger to dethrone a starter, this year if not next. Linemen Corey Clark and Kynan Forney may not be cut, but they are on the bubble as starters.
PREDICTION: Buster Davis has had a suspicious amount of injuries and excuses, and in this observer's opinion, Davis will be in a limited but very successful role this season. He, not Floyd, will replace Chambers as the No. 2 wide receiver in a few years. It is special teams superstar Kassim "Cruise Missile" Osgood who will be gone.
The Chargers' brain trust has an insatiable hunger for improving a large linebacker pool. First found pick Larry English and free agent Kevin Burnett puts more pressure on the existing line backing corps, at least until Merriman moves to greener (and I mean, much greener) pastures.
Or Germany, wherever he needs to flog his energy drinks.
Aside from the much-maligned Wilhelm, Brandon Siler, Jyles Tucker, Tim Dobbins will have to bring it up another notch to beat back another wave of challengers. They all contribute very well to special teams, however.
PREDICTION: Stephen Cooper, Sean Phillips and Merriman set a high bar for any other linebackers who want to stick with the team, let alone start. The 2009 linebackers platoon, under Rivera's full tutelage for the first time, will have multiple candidates for the Pro Bowl.
PREDICTION: Mean, not-at-all-lean, but very green rookie and defensive end Vaughan Martin, with his raw Canadian football background, will not make the practice squad. He will make the team, and Martin will see action in specific roles as the season progresses.
Martin shows personal poise, intelligence and a weird comic book combination of Hulk strength and Spiderman agility.
"BIFF! ZAM! KA-RUMM!" The coaches want to exploit this JamCan's mutant abilities. He's also a 330-pound fullback.
A year from now, "Igor" will be fully replaced by "Frankenstein." In two years, Martin may seize the torch from legendary nose tackle Jamal Williams, when JM's knees give out like battle-scarred tracks on a mighty tank.