With so much talent already on the roster, the San Diego Chargers typically aren't a team that needs to start their young players right away. Always "prepared for bear", as General Manager AJ Smith likes to say, the Chargers prefer to rely on their veterans to start, and will slowly work in their younger players as they mature in their development. However, there will be spots on the depth chart were heated battles will take place, and a rookie or two just might emerge from competition for a starting job for the Bolts.
Let's take a look at four rookies who have a legitimate shot at earning a starting job some point into the 2009 season:
1. VAUGHN MARTIN AT DEFENSIVE END
Vaughn Martin will look to compete for a starting job opposite Luis Castillo at the 5 technique. Physically, Martin is NFL-ready so the only obstacle to his accession up the depth charts will be how quickly he can pick up the defense. Martin knows what kind of challenge it will be to compete in the National Football League but as he said himself, "it's just a matter of getting in the playbook."
2. LOUIS VASQUEZ AT RIGHT GUARD
On the offensive side of the line, Louis Vasquez has impressed his coaches and has the physical tools to be a dominant blocker. He has the Right Guard position in his sights, but as it stands currently, Kynan Forney is penciled in as the starter. Forney has the advantage of being a 9-year veteran of the NFL, and since he spent 2008 on San Diego's roster, he should already know the playbook intimately. But as Coach Turner told me "It’s about endurance, understanding leverage and angles, your ability to work with the guy next to you. The right guard battle is shaping up to be a good one, but we’ve got several guys who will compete for backup spots, for roster spots and for the opportunity to be one of the 45 guys that dress on Sunday."
3. KEVIN ELLISON AT STRONG SAFETY
As far as the secondary is concerned, the front office and coaching staff made it very clear this offseason that they want to upgrade at the Safety position. They have been publicly pleased and encouraged with Eric Weddle's development, but do they feel Clinton Hart is on the downside of his career? If so, Kevin Ellison seems to be champing at the bit for a chance to compete and the coaches are really liking what they've seen out of him thus far. Says Head Coach Norv Turner, "He's moving around awfully well. Again, when the pads go on it will give him a chance to make that much more of an impression. I think he'll be a factor on our football team and has a chance to be in our nickel package early and could compete for a starting job."
4. LARRY ENGLISH AT SAM LINEBACKER
Larry English is the team's top draft pick but probably has the least chance of being a full-time starter at SAM linebacker. The Chargers, with almost an embarrassment of riches at outside linebacker, already have Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips playing full-time. English will, however, see the field...and plenty of it. Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera is working on a number of different packages in which he'll get Merriman, Phillips, and English on the field at the same time. With the established Merriman and Phillips likely drawing most of the attention, the Chargers are hoping to get English matched up in situations where he can bring heat on the Quarterback. Because of the stout defense around him, Larry English might only be a situational pass rusher but with enough sacks under his belt he could find himself in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race.
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