The Chargers were openly disappointed with the immediate contributions of their 2010 draft class. Ryan Mathews struggled with injuries and fumbles; Cam Thomas played a small role in the rotation; and no other draftee made a sizable impact.
This year's rookie crop has a chance to start with a bang, although much will be determined over the next two weeks. Marcus Gilchrist could emerge as the nickel back or he could be pushed out of the dime package in favor of Dante Hughes and Steve Gregory.
Jonas Mouton could be the top backup at both inside 'backer positions, in addition to starring in short-yardage situations, or he could be relegated behind a veteran like Stephen Cooper (biceps willing) or Kevin Bentley.
Vincent Brown could be the No. 4 receiver and make plays in spread formations. Or he may be stuck behind '10 undrafted gems Seyi Ajirotutu and Richard Goodman.
All eyes will be on the three rookies during the last two preseason games as they look to climb as high up the ladder as possible. The hope is at least two of the three will join first-rounder Corey Liuget as instant rookie contributors.
DE Luis Castillo
C. Hanewinckel/U.S. Presswire
Castillo, who recorded seven sacks in 10 games in 2006, has finished with fewer than three sacks in each of the four years since. Nonetheless, he shined throughout training camp and is creating a buzz once again.
There is reason to believe this buzz is more than background noise. The Chargers have improved depth on the defensive line, thanks to the addition of Liuget and the development of Vaughn Martin and Thomas. That should allow Castillo to play fewer snaps and stay fresher.
Also, new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky favors an attacking style that will give Castillo more chances to push the pocket rather than take on two blockers and play gap-control.
When Mathews showed up to camp out of shape, fans fretted last year's No. 12 overall pick was in for another disappointing season. Instead, it could be the best thing that has happened to No. 24. He has been busting his butt ever since and has impressed coaches and teammates with his powerful, decisive running. He has also made great strides in pass protection and ball security.
The term X-factor is overused, but it applies to Mathews. He has the ability to be a 1,500-yard back. But with Mike Tolbert there to steal carries and the offensive line struggling to create running lanes, that ceiling may not be approached. But he could still be heading for a big season -- especially if he picks up most of the catches that used to go to Darren Sproles -- and should top 1,100 yards from scrimmage.
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Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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.