With a disappointing loss to the Jets in the divisional round of last years playoffs, the Chargers are looking to bounce back and make their first Super Bowl appearance since 1995. The first step in the process is selecting the 53-man roster. Here's a look at the guys who should be strapping up the bolted white helmet this season for the Chargers.
The players and depth at the QB position are predetermined before camp. Philip Rivers and his back-up, Billy Volek, will return for the 2010 campaign. They will be joined by newcomer Jonathan Crompton who was a fifth round pick in last year's draft.
The Chargers only carried 3 Half Backs on their 53-man roster last year in order to make room for Fullbacks and Tight Ends. I expect them to carry a fourth this year. Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews are locks to make the team, and Mathews should get the majority of the action. However, after one and two, the running back depth chart gets a little hazy.
Marcus Mason was just claimed off waivers this year from Washington, and has the early lead going into training camp. The former Youngstown St. Penguin saw limited action last season (32 carries 127 yards), but shined in the preseason leading the NFL in rushing. His past NFL experience should help him lock down the third spot, because the Chargers are going to be looking for a reliable back to fill in, in case of injury.
Curtis Brinkley will see his first action, after being on IR his whole rookie season last year with bullet wounds. While he will be given a good shot to make the team this year, his lack of experience in the NFL will hurt his chances to make the active roster, but he should still make it out of necessity. Expect to see him on the Chargers Practice Squad this season if not.
While Shawnbrey Mcneal, The rookie free agent, will try to make a name for himself after an impressive 2009 season in which he rushed for over 1,100 yards in a pass heavy June Jones offense at SMU. McNeal will more then likely end up on the practice squad.
The fullback position should look familiar to Chargers fans. With Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester returning, undrafted rookie Billy Latsko will have a tough time making it to Kansas City for week one. Look for Tolbert to get the nod as the starter, but expect to see Hester mixed into the shuffle, but also look for Tolbert and Hester to occasionally share the backfield in order to give the halfbacks a breather.
One of the most uncertain positions situations this season for the Chargers is wide receiver. The team will probably carry five, but which five?
Vincent Jackson is still holding out due to contract disputes, and I one is skeptical whether we'll see him play for the Chargers this season.
Malcom Floyd is the only sure lock as a starter for this season, he will look to continue to improve in 2010, as he did in 2009, when he hauled in 45 catches for 776 yards.
Legedu Naanee should be lined up with him this season, after showing flashes of brilliance in his first 3 years.
It will be a dog fight for the remaining 2 spots.
Josh Reed was just signed from Buffalo to add depth at wide receiver, but, due to his age and the potential of the younger guys at camp, it would not be a shock to see him only play a limited role.
Buster Davis should get a shot to prove that he is not a first round bust this year. Davis should see some time lined up in the slot. The Chargers hope that his speed and play making abilities, that he showed at LSU, will finally surface in the NFL. He should also get a chance to return kicks in the preseason. His first round contract, and AJ Smith's unwillingness to admit he made a mistake by drafting Davis, will also help keep him on the active roster.
Gary Banks has yet to play in a regular season game, but has been on the practice squad for the past two seasons. The former minor league baseball player, and Troy Trojan, is well liked by the San Diego staff, and has been noted for his work ethic. Look for him to find a roster spot and contribute on special teams.
Undrafted rookies Jermey Williams (Tulane) Earnest Smith (Baylor) Seyi Ajirotutu (Fresno St.) Richard Goodman (Florida St.) and Brian Walters will fight for the last spot. Look for Ajirotutu to get the last spot or get sent to the practice squad because he is 6-3, and the Chargers will be looking to keep a taller target to offset the lack of size from Davis, reed and Banks. Williams should find his way onto the practice squad also because he could potentially be valuable in special teams later on.
All-pro Antonio Gates leads the tight end corps. Kris Wilson will step into the hole, left by the departure of Brandon Manumaleuna, as the blocking tight end. The third spot should be awarded to the the newly signed, 9-year veteran Randy McMichael. However, 7th round pick Dedrick Epps will challenge McMichael for this spot, as will the undrafted rookie Dajleon Farr (Memphis).
Marcus McNeal is still holding out, like Vincent Jackson, due to contract issues. But it seems as if a deal will get done for McNeal before the season gets underway, so look for him to continue to protect River's blindside.
Look for McNeal to be joined by returning tackle Jeromy Clary and the versatile tackle/guard hybrid Brandyn Dombrowski.
Newly signed former Pro-Bowler Tra Thomas will join the Chargers, and is a good insurance policy in case the McNeal negotiations take a turn for the worst. Rookie Ryan Otterson should be a non-factor, but Nick Richmond is a project and could turn some heads this training camp. If he is able to grasp the Chargers offense quickly, he could easily take the final roster spot over Corey Clark. If he does not make the team expect to see him on the practice squad, if he clears waivers.
At guard the Chargers should have some more familiar faces. Louis Vasquez returns for his second year, and will be accompanied by Chris Dielman, who is coming off of his 3rd straight pro-bowl season.
Nick Hardwick will be back to continue to lead the line at center. He will be backed up by Scott Mruczkowski.
1. McNeal/ Clary
1. Vasquez/ Dielman
Their appears to be no real competition for the specialists. Expect the same as last season.
The defensive line situation for San Diego is about as unsure as its wide receiver position. Jaques Cesaire and Luis Castillo will return as the book ends for the 3-man line, but the rest is up in the air.
Rookie Cam Thomas has a serious chance to start at DT, but he will have to compete with veterans Antonio Gary and Ogemdi Nwagbou, who will have a head start on the rookie coming into camp. There may not be enough room for all 3 of them on the 53- man roster, so look for Gary to be the odd man out.
Ryon Bingham looked good last season in training camp, but got hurt before the season even started. Look for him to come back with a vengeance and make an impact at both the DT and DE position.
Vaughn Martin is still a project for the Chargers coaching staff. I think it is still to early for the Chargers coaches to give up on Martin, but there will be so many capable players fighting for the last roster spot, that Martin may not make the team this season.
Travis Johnson will be Martin's main competitor for the final two spots, and I expect to see Johnson and Martin to come away with the final two spots because of Johnson's ability to play all of the positions on the line and Martin's potential.
Derrick Jones and Alfonso Boone will loose the battle for the final two spots and will be left off the 53-man roster.
1. Castillo/ Cesiare
Shaun Philips and Shawne Merriman play outside linebacker and will headline a linebacking group that should be the heart and soul of the Chargers defense. They will be joined by Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett on the inside.
Former first round pick, Larry English, will look to try and get more playing time this season, now that he has a better grasp of the Chargers defense and the speed of the NFL game.
Donald Butler, the third round pick out of Washington, solidified himself as the primary backup to the inside linebackers, and could possibly crack the starting lineup later in the season.
Brandon Siler also returns to add experience to the linbackers. The battle for the final two roster spots will be between Darry Beckwith, Antwan Applewhite, James Holt, and Jyles Tucker. Applewhite and Tucker will have the upper hand going into camp, but the James Holt, in his rookie season, showed tremendous upside not only on defense, but in kick coverage as well. He will surprise some people and take one of the last spots, and should be joined by fellow special teamer Applewhite.
The Chargers secondary could make or break this season.
In a secondary filled with new faces, one of the enduring spots has been Quentin Jammer who is back for his 9th season in San Diego. Former first rounder Antoine Cason will get his chance to start with the Antonio Cromarte in New York. Free Agents Nathan Vasher and Donald Strickland will provide badly needed depth at the position, and should be the backups to Jammer and Cason. The fifth spot will be go to either Dante or Brandon Hughes (no relation) or rookie free agent Trye Simmons out of Minnesota. Expect Brandon Hughes to take the final spot, because he is younger then Dante, and has yet to truly show his potential because he was injured all last season.
5. B. Hughes
The safeties should be the same as last season with the only changes being the addition of rookie Darrel Stuckey, and the subtraction of Kevin Ellison.
Weddle and Gregory will be the starters, but Stuckey has a strong chance of taking Gregory's spot by the end of training camp. Paul Oliver and CJ Spillman will fill out the rest of the depth chart at safety.