San Diego Chargers: 5 Rookies to Keep an Eye on This Season
With the gloom of the lockout done away with and the initial flurry of free agent activity winding down, it is finally time to start assessing how players will perform on the field rather than in business negotiations.
This time of the NFL year is perhaps no more tumultuous than it is for the NFL rookie. This is especially true for this year's crop of rookies who enter their training camps with an enormous amount of information to learn and digest in an extremely limited time as the Saints and the Packers kickoff the season on Sept. 8th.
Needless to say the amount of high impact rookies will be inordinately low than it usually is given the lack of assimilation by rookies and expectations from coaches, who will most likely turn to veterans to fill holes rather than start a host of rookies, opting to have them ride the bench and learn while playing sparingly and in situations that maximize their skills and abilities.
This is certainly true for a veteran team like the San Diego Chargers who have already signed two expected defensive starters on defense in LB Takeo Spikes and SS Bob Sanders, while the offense will most likely return all but one starter from a year ago.
The Chargers are also still on the lookout out for added depth in the form of veteran free agents and are expected to at least sign two linebackers in the coming days.
All this being said, the Chargers will sport a class of rookies who figure to contribute immediately in some way or another and figure to play a vital role in the team's run at the Super Bowl.
Here are five of those rookies you should be paying attention to as the preseason fast approaches us.
5. CB/S Marcus Gilchrist
Marcus Gilchrist was taken in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft as the 50th overall pick and recently agreed to a deal with the Chargers, ensuring he will participate in a solid chunk of training camp.
Gilchrist is a tad undersized at 5'10" and 190lbs. but he more than makes up for it with his athleticism and intangibles, but what ultimately won over San Diego was his versatility.
Gilchrist started at cornerback and safety during his career at Clemson where he excelled at covering the slot receiver. This is the position where Gilchrist figures to makes his biggest impact with the Chargers.
Gilchrist will also replace the newest New Orleans Saint, RB Darren Sproles, as the Chargers main punt and kick returner where he flashed big play ability in college.
4. DE Corey Liuget
The Chargers selected Illinois defensive lineman Corey Liuget over higher profile guys like the Saints Cameron Jordan and the Buccanneers Da'quan Bowers but he may figure to have a bigger impact in his rookie season in San Diego than either of those men.
Liuget fits the bill as a 3-4 DE with his 6'2" 300lbs frame and is expected to start, or at the very least, receive the majority of playing time at the position opposite Luis Castillo, despite the re-signing of incumbent Jaques Cesaire.
While at Illinois Liuget proved to be a stout round defender with enough speed and agility to rush the QB consistently.
The Chargers have craved a defensive end who can collapse the pocket and free up room for Shaun Phillips to wreak havoc, and Liuget definitely fits the bill.
He will be given every opportunity to start by the coaching staff as new Chargers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky installs his defense.
3. RB Jordan Todman
Projected as a third-round pick by multiple analysts, UConn's Jordan Todman was a surprise sixth-round pick of the Chargers in this April's draft.
Todman enters the NFL coming off two impressive and consistent seasons as the starting running back for the University of Connecticut, posting an average of 5.1 yards per carry and 14 rushing TDs in back-to-back season while also rushing for over 2,800 yards.
Todman joins the Chargers' roster as the third running back on the depth chart behind the human bowling ball Mike Tolbert and last year's first-rounder Ryan Mathews.
Despite being a third-string running back Todman is expected to receive at least, if not more carries than recently departed Darren Sproles who ran for 257 yards on 50 carries in 2010.
The San Diego Chargers expect that Todman will help to fill the void left by the dynamic Sproles in the hopes of forming a potent backfield trio.
2. WR Vincent Brown
Many Chargers fans rejoiced in the drafting of the former San Diego State Aztec not only because Brown represents local talent, but because he is an ideal fit as a slot receiver in the Chargers offense.
While Brown lacks top-end speed he is extremely agile and possess great acceleration. Brown also has tremendously reliable hands and is also a precise route runner, it has been reported that Chargers WR Coach and Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner came away very impressed after his performance at both the combine and Senior Bowl.
Given his alma mater, Brown had the unique opportunity to practice with his teammates this offseason as he was able to attend the Philip Rivers run practices earlier in the offseason, allowing for Brown to have learned some of the playbook and have built a relationship with Rivers.
Expect Brown to take some of the pressure off of star TE Antonio Gates this season in the Chargers short-to-mid passing game, especially on third, as the team hopes to ease Gates back in as he continues to recover from plantar fasciitis.
1. ILB Donald Butler
Admittedly Donald Butler isn't a true rookie as he was drafted in the 2010 draft. However Butler missed all of last season after he suffered an Achilles tendon injury during last year's training camp.
Butler was considered by some as a major steal following the 2010 draft after the Chargers selected him in the third round, and the Chargers were reportedly extremely high on Butler before his injury.
It appears they have remained so one year later as they backed off of pursuing last year's starter Kevin Burnett and seem content on not bringing back ILB Stephen Cooper, opening the door for Butler to start along the newly acquired Takeo Spikes.
If Butler is indeed the starter vs. the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 11th then he will most certainly have by far the best opportunity to be the Chargers highest impact rookie, as the ILB in the 3-4 system in an absolute vital and productive asset to the defense.
Butler boasts a strong 6'1", 245 lbs. frame and is extremely athletic and fluid. During his years at Washington, Butler was able to play both the run and the pass very effectively.
If that skill set can translate to the pros, the "addition" of Butler will surely mitigate the loss of the highly productive Burnett.