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Chargers Defensive Line Depth Chart and Position Battles

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Now that Free Agency has died down and the Draft is past, our training camp roster is starting to clear up a bit. The guys we have now are probably the guys we are going to start camp with. The biggies from free agency are done, trades don't really happen in the NFL, and our draft choices are known. There is an outside chance that some veteran who has a few years left in the tank will be cut by a team who drafted someone to replace him and we could get some additional players through that method, but I think we can assume that what we've got is what we will have.

The defensive line was an area that looked thin before the draft. With the departure of Igor and the aging of Jamal, I felt we had a depth problem. I was sure AJ and Co were going to address it in the draft. Sure enough, we picked Vaughn Martin in the 4th round. We also picked up Rashaad Jackson as an UDFA who may contribute (or may be cut, you never know with UDFAs).

The more I thought about the drafting of Martin, the more worried I got. Don't get me wrong, I think Martin has a lot of upside and I fully expect him to have a long a productive career as a Charger, it's the short term that worries me. Martin came from Canada and played Canadian rules against vastly inferior competition compared to normal D1 NCAA football. He is going to have an adjustment period. I don't know, but I would bet he won't see significant time on the field until the 5th game or so and won't be in the normal DL rotation until mid-season. I'm a little worried that we might have a depth problem until then. What happens if Jamal's knees act up? What happens if (when) Castillo goes down for a few games?

Let's take a quick look at the guys we have now who are in the mix for the NT and DE positions:

Name Position(s) Years Experience Max Games Started in a Season Max Games Played in a Season Notes
Jamal Williams NT 11 15 16
Luis Castillo DE 4 15 15
Ryon Bingham DE, NT 4 2 16 Even though he didn't start, he got lots of playing time in the DL rotation
Jacques Cesaire DE 6 6 16 Even though he didn't start, he got lots of playing time in the DL rotation
Ian Scott DE, NT 6 14 15 Played in 4 games for the Chargers last year with no stats. Came over from the Panther in early 2008.
Keith Grennan DE 1 0 1 Practice Squad for half of 2008, got some PT in the Indy regular season game
Vaughn Martin DE, NT R -- -- 4th Round draft pick
Ogemdi Nwagbuo NT 1 0 0 Practice Squad
Andre Coleman DE 1 0 0 Practice Squad
Rashaad Jackson DE R (UDFA) -- -- UDFA 2009

more after the jump

Position Battles

Nose Tackle - Jamal Williams

Left Defensive End - Luis Castillo

Right Defensive End - Here is where there will be a battle. Ryon Bingham and Jacques Cesaire will compete for the starting spot. Cesaire has typically been the first guy off the bench at this position, but Bingham was the primary backup for Jamal and also spent lots of time in the DE rotation. In addition, both got lots of time in the nickel and other specialty packages. I think we will be OK with either starting and I have no idea who will win this battle. I'm inclined to say Cesaire will start because he has played the most at that position and Bingham is a more versatile backup, since he can play NT if Jamal goes down. Whoever doesn't start will be the first off the bench for either DE position.

In the rotation - I think Vaughn Martin will be mixed in slowly. I wouldn't expect to see him a lot until mid-season and then I would expect him to be in the rotation, seeing 20-30% of the defensive snaps. Ian Scott will probably be the primary backup for Jamal. Plus, we have whoever loses in the Cesaire/Bingham competition.

On the edge of the rotation - Keith Grennan got some PT last year in a key game. He was also the first DL pulled off the practice squad when we needed some depth. That indicates to me that Grennan will be in the mix if any injuries occur. He may even get some time early in the season until Martin gets up to speed. Once Martin gets into the rotation I would think Grennan would be on the 53 man roster but inactive week to week, depending on injuries.

X-Factors / Camp Fodder - Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Andre Coleman, and Rashaad Jackson. Nwagbuo and Coleman were on the practice squad all year, its hard to say how much AJ likes them, but they haven't been cut. Jackson has some potential, but also didn't get drafted, so he is an unknown.

Depth Analysis

We have the right number of players for our defensive line positions. If Cesaire starts and Bingham is the first guy off the bench for any of the DL spots, then I feel pretty good with those 4. If Bingham starts and Cesaire is the first of the bench for the DE positions and Scott is Jamal's backup, then I am OK with that. On paper we're looking pretty good.

However, we typically run the DL in a rotation. Last season Cesaire and Bingham got a lot of PT even though they weren't starters. This was true even though Jamal had his healthiest season since the bronze age, Igor didn't miss any games, and Castillo started 15 games. Now that Igor is gone, we've got one less player in that mix. Who steps up? More to the point, who steps up weeks 1-8 (or so) until Martin gets his head around the NFL? Is it Ian Scott? He's got the experience, but he was discarded by two teams (Bears in 2007 and Panthers in 2008) and only was active for 4 games for us last year. Is it the young Grennan? I suspect AJ and Norv like him, but there are a lot of unknowns. And that just handles the starters and the rotation. What happens when Jamal's magic pixie dust runs out and his knees start acting like 33 year old nose tackle knees? Now we're counting on Scott and/or Grennan to contribute. What happens when Luis gets his inevitable injury and what happens if his is at the same time as Jamal's? Are we comfotable with Bingham/Scott/Cesaire with Grennan and Martin in the rotation? These are not improbable situations. Jamal is getting older and Castillo has missed 6 games in two of the last three seasons.

Last year, Igor made the numbers work out. As bad a year as he may have had, he could at least be counted on as a veteran body. This year, we are down one veteran and may have to rely on some unproven young guys. I suspect AJ and Norv will count on the young guys. The good thing about that is that there might be some hidden potential in those guys that a little PT might bring to the surface. The bad thing about that is that it is a huge unknown.