San Diego Chargers 2009 Roster Breakdown: DEs
Kicking off the defensive side of our roster preview will be San Diego's defensive ends for 2009. This area has developed mild concern after Igor Olshansky left in free agency and vacated the right spot to a depth chart will little or no proven talent.
The left side, however, should see a renaissance now that Luis Castillo is truly healthy and benefiting from the outstanding pressure created by linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips.
Here's what to expect from the unit this coming season:
Castillo's long-term, big dollar contract extension in the summer of 2008 raised some eyebrows just because it came before the likes of say, Shawne Merriman, LaDainian Tomlinson or Philip Rivers.
Even more troubling was Castillo's lack of production that following fall. Playing in 15 games (an encouraging stat for someone with Castillo's injury track record), the Brooklyn native managed only 39 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception.
However, Castillo (like the rest of the defense) was hampered by the loss of Shawne Merriman, which meant more attention on him from opposing linemen. He returns in 2009 as the starting left end.
Pros: Explosive jump off snap, dedicated pass rusher as well as run stopper, big enough to handle double teaming, fast enough to get around backfield protection, has excellent awareness as to where ball is on field.
Cons: Can he stay healthy? Has only one season in which he's played in all 16 games, has yet to prove seven-sack 2006 season (in just 10 games) was not a fluke, proved to be next to ordinary without Merriman in lineup, needs to prove $41 million contract extension was good investment.
2009 Season Outlook: Chargers coaches are banking that Castillo's production will go up now that the team has a formidable pass rushing trio in Merriman, Phillips and Larry English. If he stays healthy, he'll most likely replicate the 2006 form that led to him being named a Pro Bowl alternate.
Acquired from Houston for an undisclosed 2010 draft pick, Johnson was brought in to shore up a defensive line that lost Igor Olshansky to free agency and was mostly populated by second-tier talent after Jamal Williams and Luis Castillo.
The former first-round draft choice played in 15 games last season, tackling 28 adversaries and recording one sack. He'll compete for playing time at the right end position, as well as moving into the defensive tackle spot for nickel and dime schemes.
Pros: Fills two positions with equal effectiveness, ideal for a flexible scheme such as San Diego's 3-4, will get chance to show off speed and improve sack total at end, showed to be effective run stopper in time at Houston.
Cons: Has never really justified pedigree of first-round selection, only obtained one sack in lone season at defensive end, has had injury problems in past, will probably see more playing time towards middle of the season, as he needs to learn team's playbook.
Season Outlook: Johnson was brought in to fight for the starting job at right end in 2009. Sensing a lack of depth at the position, Johnson could very well start soon. Until then, he'll platoon with Cesaire and Martin.
With the recent acquisition of Travis Johnson, yet another obstacle has been thrown in Jacques Cesaire's long road to being a full-time starter in the NFL. The most dependable backup on San Diego's defensive line, Jacques has consistently filled in for every starter in San Diego since 2004.
In 2009, he'll battle for the right end starting job with Johnson, and rookie Vaughn Martin.
Pros: Has produced results in extensive play time at either side of the line, durable, resistant player with good ball instincts and tackling skills, quick first step and strong finisher.
Cons: Seems to work better spelling someone else or working in a platoon situation than flat-out starting, needs to work on better run stopping, works better as a "gang" tackler, than wrapping up ball carriers solo.
Season Outlook: Cesaire has worked through mini-camp and the preseason as the consensus No. 1 choice at right end. However, that might change now that Travis Johnson has joined the fold. He should start the first few weeks and platoon from there on out.
Chargers GM A.J. Smith was so enamored with the big lineman's raw skills and potential that he drafted him in the fourth round of the 2009 draft despite Martin never playing a Division I snap.
Martin becomes the first Canadian-born player to be drafted by San Diego since Mark Montreuil in 1996. Said to be eventually groomed to succeed defensive tackle Jamal Williams, Martin is athletic enough to play end as well.
Pros: Huge size and wingspan combine with deceptive speed and explosiveness off end, was noted by several scouts to have "big upside" in regards to development, gets in backfield very quickly, usually resulting in sack or tackle behind line of scrimmage.
Cons: Needs to work on his footwork, will now be challenged at the pro level by bigger, faster players, has to adapt to the pro environment and a detailed defensive playbook, may be two or three years away from creating real impact on field.
Season Outlook: Martin has been hampered a bit by injuries this preseason, which has resulted in a less than impressive first impression. Make no bones about it, he is a work in progress and will most likely see spot action in 2009 before coming back for a bigger role in 2010.
Keith Grennan latched on to the San Diego team as an undrafted rookie in 2007. Initially a member of the practice squad, Grennan made his debut against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 23, injuring himself in the process and missing the rest of the season.
This year, he'll be thrown into the fold as another option at defensive end, most likely a substitute.
Pros: Strong, resilient player with great motor, in brief action last season, recorded a tackle in very limited time, displaying great ball awareness and ability to get off linemen, displays ideal size and height for position.
Cons: Health is a concern, has difficulty coming off multiple blocks that linemen usually see in 3-4 system, may not amount to more than a backup/insurance policy.
Season Outlook: If Grennan can stay healthy, he can certainly battle Vaughn Martin and Andre Coleman for one of the backup spots on the team. If not, another stint on the practice squad may be possible.
Name is the only similarity to former Chargers WR/KR Andre Coleman. While the wideout was a short, petite player by NFL standards, there's nothing small about the lineman's 6'3", 287-pound frame.
A former All-American, Coleman went undrafted out of Albany and signed on with the Chargers in 2007.
Pros: Goes after the QB on every play, displaying excellent speed and footwork, not easily overpowered by linemen, big hands facilitate batted balls.
Cons: Not the best run stopper, needs more strength training and time in the weight room, could eventually blossom into a starter, but most likely a backup.
Season Outlook: Look for the Chargers to fill about four spots on the depth chart with pure defensive ends. Coleman is probably currently fourth or fifth on that list. This week's game against the 49ers will be huge for him.