The former West Virginia corner battled multiple injuries at the collegiate level - including an ACL tear and a nagging shoulder that was often aggravated - to become a full-time starter and emerge as a team leader, especially among the defensive backs. Chestnut was often mentioned as an example of how to perform both on and off the field, and used as an example to younger players, both by his position coach and coordinator Tony Gibson.
Now, that reserve is being tested again as the rookie tries to break into a veteran San Diego secondary on a team with a revamped spirit under fourth-year head coach Mike McCoy. By all accounts, the recently completed mini camp had an undercurrent of toughness, personal responsibility and continual hustle for a franchise that amassed two 9-7 records and a playoff win before falling to 4-12 last year. There's little question the pressure is on for McCoy, and that has translated to his expectations for even the smallest detail of a practice session.
That's helped Chestnut in a way, as the Pottstown, Pa. native has never dodged the challenges, even with multiple injuries and bottoming out on the West Virginia depth chart midway through his career. But when his health returned, Chestnut's edge did as well, and he finished his junior and senior seasons playing in 12 games each year. He finished with 50 tackles and four interceptions - including three as a senior, one of which he returned for a score to jumpstart WVU's 49-0 road blowout of Kansas.
His performance led to interest from multiple NFL teams, and Chestnut was one of 20 free agents to sign with the AFC West team, including collegiate teammate Shaq Petteway, a linebacker whose situation is similar in that both are trying to find spots at positions of depth.
"The camp experience has been great," Chestnut said. "Being able to learn from all the vets has been incredible. It's been an honor to be a part of of Chargers organization and being able to work with so many great players."
The Chargers, which held their mini-camp last week, list 10 corners on the roster. Of those, three are rookies, including Chestnut, Oregon State's Larry Scott and Penn State's Trevor Williams. All three were signed as free agents in an attempt to make a team that brings back Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers as the starters. Verrett is a fourth-year player out of TCU, while Flowers is among the older NFL corners at 30 years old entering his 10th season. San Diego also returns its top two reserves in Steve Williams and Casey Hayward, a main reason the secondary wasn't a position of need during the draft.
Chestnut's best chance to make the regular season roster would be on special teams - he played most of his 2013 season at West Virginia on multiple special teams units - but even that is a difficult task at the NFL level. The main goal of now is to become a better overall player, and continue to gain experience during organized team activities to prepare for the opening of camp on July 30th. If Chestnut doesn't make the 53-man roster, he might be able to stay with the practice squad, or he could picked up by another team with more need if he is released.
"The guys on the team are outstanding players, but better people," Chestnut said. "They're really helping us rookies know what it takes to be a pro on and off the field."
Petteway is one of a whopping nine players listed on the current 90-man roster at outside linebacker. The Chargers play a hybrid 3-4 that often morphs on the front and back ends to create confusion. Thus, it's unlikely the team keeps any more than four to five at the spot. Petteway is currently listed as a third teamer at the right outside linebacker spot behind Melvin Ingram and Kyle Emanuel.