The San Diego Chargers are heading into a preseason full of questions about their roster. While some players have already locked in their spot as a starter (Philip Rivers, Eric Weddle, Vincent Jackson), others are still in the battle for a starting spot in their position.
Newly-minted draft picks and veteran free agents alike will compete for the right to start on the Chargers' squad; most of these positions, however, are stacked with talent.
This preseason will gauge the effectiveness of every Charger player, new and old. Which positions are up for grabs heading into the preseason.
Frontrunners: Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert
The San Diego Chargers' run game has been its weakness since LaDainian Tomlinson reached the end of his prime in 2009. Last season, the Chargers ranked 15th in yards carried, which may be due to the fact that Mathews could not get on the field -- and stay -- in his rookie year.
Mike Tolbert was a nice little surprise coming in off the bench, but he proved to be more of a plodder than a burner. He had decent, up-the-middle runs in 2010, but there's no reason to believe he'll duplicate that success in 2011; contrastingly, it's hard to tell if Tolbert might actually have a better season than he did last year.
Ryan Mathews is going to start the preseason ahead of Tolbert on the depth chart, but not by a lot -- Tolbert is only 25, so the Chargers know his prime is just ahead of him.
Projected Winner: Mike Tolbert. The Chargers love his energy and San Diego could use a tough, smash-mouth running back.
The Chargers already have Vincent Jackson locked up for the first wide-out position, but there are normally two or three wide-outs on the field; who are the competitors for the secondary receiver and slot receiver openings?
Front-runners: Malcom Floyd, Patrick Crayton, Kelley Washington
There's no doubt in anyone's mind that Malcom Floyd had to get re-signed by the Chargers. Outside of Floyd and Jackson, Rivers doesn't have a ton of receivers to throw to. You know Rivers is going to find his man regardless (he threw to 17 different receivers in 2010), but having some actual talent past your two wide-out options and your tight-end is always nice.
Floyd is clearly the front-runner of the front-runners, but he won't be guaranteed a spot. Patrick Crayton did reasonably well last season and word on the street is that he's now in a familiar position and is the incumbent slot receiver.
Kelley Washington received praise from local journalists and Chargers' fans for his performance in practice and his five receptions in 2010. He has solid chemistry with Philip Rivers, so it's possible that Washington keeps his work ethic high and sneaks into the slot position.
Projected winners: Malcom Floyd (2nd WR), Kelley Washington (slot)
Frontrunners: Jacques Cesaire, Corey Liuget
Jacques Cesaire has proven he's a nice defensive end to have in the Chargers' 3-4 scheme. He keeps offensive linemen occupied and keeps a good eye on runners coming out of the backfield.
Corey Liuget is of similar build to Cesaire, so it's not as if the Chargers picked him for his size. However, Liuget is a younger defensive end who is strong enough to hold his own and watch his gap (and chew bubble gum) at the same time.
The defensive line didn't have many troubles last season, so the competition between these two can only help.
Projected Winner: Jacques Cesaire. It's possible that the Chargers line Corey Liuget up in place of Cesaire in some situations.
Frontrunners: Shaun Phillips, Jonas Mouton, Antwan Barnes, Larry English
Shaun Phillips has pretty much locked in his position at left outside linebacker. Let's leave him alone, now that we've established this.
What's left is the right outside linebacker spot, where there's a three-man race.
Jonas Mouton is a rookie, so no one's sure how he'll play and adapt at the pro level; however, his college ball was pretty decent but he's still a raw talent.
Antwan Barnes is the incumbent and had a solid season for the Chargers after he was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles mid-season. He didn't shock anyone, by any means, but he did his job well enough to receive consideration as a starer in 2011.
Larry English is widely considered a bust and deservedly so -- he only recorded two sacks and 23 tackles in his rookie year and didn't see the field too often in 2010. He has been a huge disappointment, but he's still relatively young, so it's possible that he's improved over the past year.
Any one of these three may end up as an inside linebacker, too -- James Holt is untested, so it's possible that Jonas Mouton sneaks in there.
Winner: Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes
Front-runners: Antoine Cason, Marcus Gilchrist
Quentin Jammer has locked himself into the position of primary cornerback, so the battle for the second CB spot lies between Antoine Cason and rookie Marcus Gilchrist.
Cason played remarkably well in 2010, nabbing four picks and defending 17 passes while accumulating 57 tackles. He's going to be tough to dethrone. But if Marcus Gilchrist can show some huge strides in the preseason—he very well could since his ceiling is high—then Gilchrist could surprise a lot of people by showing up as No. 2 on the CB depth chart.
Odds are, though, Cason takes it. He's an extremely good corner who is versatile and plays well alongside Jammer.
Winner: Antoine Cason