....and we're back! Today starts Chargers Mini Camp (not exclusively for rookies), which is just a short rest stop along this long journey through the long NFL offseason. It'll last three days, and in about three weeks will be another couple of rounds of OTAs (8 days of those total). You'll probably hear very little news during these team workouts, but here's what you should be keeping your ear to the ground for:
Strong Safety - Kevin Ellison has been asked by the team not to come and participate in the team's Mini Camp this week after being arrested for possession of far-too-many Vicodin just a few days ago. This doesn't necessarily mean that Ellison will be cut necessarily, but it's probably not a good sign. At the very least, it gives guys like rookie Darrell Stuckey and 2nd year special teams standout C.J. Spillman a good chance to take over the starting spot.
Nose Tackle/Defensive Line - Call me crazy, but the more I think about the Chargers defensive line in 2010 the more excited I get. Cam Thomas, although he dropped in the draft for a reason, does have starting potential and is working with one of the best defensive line coaches in the league in Don Johnson. Vaughn Martin was drafted as a "project", and we don't know exactly how ready he is. However, the idea of a young and talented core of Martin, Thomas and Luis Castillo excites me. Then you get to choose who and how much depth you have at each position from the group of Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Ian Scott, Ryon Bingham, Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson. I think the team only keeps 3 of those 5, but they might be careful and keep 4 if some guys come limping out of training camp again.
Running Back - Everyone is going to have their eyes glued on Ryan Mathews, but I'm more interested on the other end of the depth chart. I think there's room on this team, and maybe it's a spot that's inactive each week like Michael Bennett was last year, for a halfback behind Darren Sproles. I think that spot will be taken by someone who is a better "starting" replacement for Mathews than Sproles would be. Marcus Mason, Curtis Brinkley and Shawnbrey McNeal would seemingly be fighting for this spot (with Mason having the inside track). Whoever wins the spot could slide up to #2 on the depth chart if Sproles leaves in 2011, so it's worth watching.
Buster Davis - Is Buster ever not worth watching? If you haven't checked out Christopher Smith's article on Buster's potential for a break out year on Chargers.com, go do so now. Buster has the gifts: speed, hands, strength and toughness. The only thing he's struggled with is health and ,with what amounted to almost a full season off to rest his body, that should be less of an issue now than it was in the past. With the two starters in front of him playing on one-year deals, and Malcom Floyd possibly too old to get the long-term deal he's going to want, the team will be eager to see if Buster is able to finally fulfill that potential of his. I say yes.
Larry English - People are kind to rookies. The media and other players give rookies the benefit of the doubt. "He's learning and he's ALMOST THERE." Now we'll find out what English really is, and what his teammates and the guys covering him really think. Real quickly, right around the start of training camp, you'll hear one of two things: either that he's worked himself into even better shape and looks to be ready to make the leap, or he's "just trying to figure out how to get better." The first is preferable, but the second doesn't necessarily mean failure is imminent. As with the scenarios above, this is a make-or-break season for English playing behind Shawne Merriman.
Antoine Cason - I was going to shy away from predictions but I already laid it on the line for Buster, so here's my prediction for Cason: leading up to the season this guy is going to be the beast that everyone raves about. He's going to show up and be the guy that writers can't stop writing about ("He's in the best shape of his life!"), and then each day we'll hear about all of the interceptions in practice. Just watch. I think there's a fire lit under Cason right now, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they results in.