San Diego is a team that has prided itself on overcoming injury. Despite a host of injuries, including three separate defensive tackles going on IR, the team put up an impressive 13-3 record in 2009 before succumbing in the divisional playoffs.
The team’s great depth is a tremendous asset, but something it may be forced to cut into when a host of players under contract are staring down free agency in the upcoming year.
What can the team do in order to address that concern? The answer may just lie within the team’s existing roster.
Several players are currently aligned at positions where they may be extraneous, but have the potential to go elsewhere.
The first such player is 2009 draft pick Vaughn Martin.
The addition of 330-pound Cam Thomas gives the team a sizeable clog in the middle while players like Ogemdi Nwabuo, Ian Scott, and Aaron Garay can fill out the rotation.
Martin is an athletic 320 pounder with a big wingspan and virtually no technique. At the lynchpin position of nose tackle, he wasn’t quite big or strong enough to overcome that lack of polish, so where does he fit into San Diego’s plans?
The answer could lie at defensive end. Martin’s strength and wingspan could be a much greater asset along the outside, where he can get a paw on a running back trying to get around the outside or push around linemen more used to dealing with defenders 20-30 pounds lighter than Martin.
At either position he is still a project, but in his raw state, an attempt to convert him would probably not be much of a setback in his learning process. Also, he can begin learning the position behind the comfort of a three-man rotation ahead of him.
Not only is defensive end a concern, but also running back.
Ryan Mathews has secured himself as the primary back as the 12th overall selection in this year’s draft. But behind him it grows sketchy.
Darren Sproles is a versatile scatback who is solid in a variety of arenas, but after a pair of tags gave the speedster over $13 million across the 2009 and 2010 seasons, San Diego may have priced itself out of Sproles’ services beyond that.
Marcus Mason was picked up off the waiver wire, but it remains to be seen if he will fit into the team’s plans any more than Michael Bennett did in 2009.
So who is going to spell Mathews? Again the team could look within.
Jacob Hester and Mike Tolbert are a pair of fullbacks who split time at a position San Diego has made less use of in the post Marty-era.
Both are power running backs who were asked to step into the guise of FB for San Diego, and their college roots are evident in play style.
Neither is a polished blocker, and much more suited to playing with a football in hand.
Tolbert especially showed well in flashes during 2009, when he ran for nearly six yards per carry and tacked on 17 receptions for nearly 200 yards.
Given the skillset Tolbert has shown, converting him back into the running back position could be a solid option that both addresses the redundancy at fullback, and depth at running back.
As a downhill runner with nice hands and two years as a fullback to give him more of a blocker’s mindset, he could evolve into something of a Chester Taylor (Vikings years) role that can do a lot of things for San Diego either on third down, or just in spelling Mathews for a handful of carries.
With these positions filled from within, San Diego is left much more open in the upcoming draft to seek out replacements for any starters that may depart, or look for upgrades at existing positions. Tolbert and Martin are young and talented, but somewhat hamstrung by limited openings at their given positions.
Attempts to convert either should be relatively seamless, being that neither would be asked to do so in a starting role and both have skillsets that may just make them better suited to the new position anyway.
When trying to sort out a host of contract concerns finding economy is key, and in these two players, San Diego may just land an economical solution to what could otherwise be difficult areas to fill.
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