Training Camp: Quiet Contributors

With all their rookies signed and their depth chart mostly complete, the Chargers can finally focus on polishing the product on the field. Could there be a hidden contributor on offense? What about a bounce-back player on defense? Which group of rookies is facing impossible odds? We break it all down in our latest training-camp roundup.

Just for Depth?

Sometimes, a move to add veteran depth can turn into something much more. That was the case last season, when the Chargers added CB Dante Hughes to the active roster -- twice -- after releasing him at the end of training camp. Hughes proved worth the multiple looks, winning the nickel-back job and earning a new two-year contract in the process.

The latest veteran fringe player, WR Laurent Robinson, has a chance to make a similar impact. Snaps are up for grabs behind projected starters Vincent Jackson and Patrick Crayton, opening the door for Robinson to climb as high as the No. 3 receiver, which would net him ample playing time.

Robinson has good speed, soft hands and run-after-the-catch ability. If he stays healthy, something he has struggled to do the last couple seasons, he could make an impact. Ironically, an injury to another receiver -- rookie Vincent Brown's quad strain -- is giving Robinson even more opportunities to show his wares.

A Fresh Perspective

DE Luis Castillo
C. Hanewinckel/U.S. Presswire
As detailed in this North County Times story, Shaun Phillips is looking forward to playing with a deeper linebacker corps this season, which will allow him to rest more and stay fresh later into games. The same could be said for Luis Castillo.

Entering his seventh year, Castillo comes off a season in which he led the team's D-linemen in snaps played … and it wasn't close. Part of that was a product of his strong play and part of it was out of necessity. But this year, with the addition of newly signed first-round pick Corey Luiget and the development of Vaughn Martin, the defensive line should be deeper and stronger.

Castillo posted 7.0 sacks in 2007 but has just 8.5 sacks in the four years since. Perhaps by playing fewer snaps and working alongside more athletic teammates, he can be more of a presence in opposing backfields in 2011.

The Land of Opportunity

Undrafted free agents often see San Diego as a land of opportunity. The Chargers have kept at least one undrafted rookie on their opening-day roster for 14 straight seasons, the longest such streak in the NFL. If that streak is to hit 15, one thing is for certain -- the UDFA who makes this year's roster will not be an offensive lineman.

San Diego boasts the NFL's deepest O-line. While the starting five is lauded, the versatile reserves make this unit special. Brandyn Dombrowski is the top backup at both tackle spots and has also started a couple of games at guard. Tyronne Green started seven games at guard last season, playing well enough to push starting RG Louis Vasquez, yet Green also offered snaps at left tackle. And Scott Mruczkowski, who started 13 games at center in 2009, was also the top backup guard until Green arrived on the scene.

The Chargers have eight O-linemen they are comfortable inserting into the starting lineup. If the team keeps a ninth, it will either be sixth-round pick Steve Schilling or a returner from last year's practice squad (Nick Richmond or Ryan Otterson). That means undrafted rookies Colin Baxter, Hutch Eckerson and Bo Thran better make the most of their preseason playing time, as they will be doing nothing more than auditioning for other teams.

What kind of impact will Robinson make this year? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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