Linebacker Battle Surprise?

An interestinging subplot could be developing in Chargers camp and it is sure to be the talk of the San Diego Chargers camp. Last year Ben Leber surprised - could Matt Wilhelm do the same this year?

onder if coach Marty Schottenheimer is planning another July surprise, when his linebackers trot out for the first training camp practice.

That's just what Schottenheimer did last summer, when he surprised everyone by plopping a rookie into the first unit, and dumping two-year starter Orlando Ruff.

Ben Leber, a third-round pick from Kansas State, was the wildcat of the corps, settling into the strongside spot which many thought was going to be manned by Donnie Edwards. That's what Schottenheimer had led everyone -- including Ruff -- to believe, anyway.

But after the minicamps and offseason workouts, Schottenheimer decided to go with Edwards in the middle, and trust his instincts with Leber.

Schottenheimer's move paid off, as Leber made most of the All-Rookie teams and finished with 49 tackles and five sacks.

This year, it's another rookie, Matt Wilhelm, whose name is finding its way to many Chargers' lips. He comes off three years of starting for the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.

"We love him as a football player," general manager A.J. Smith said. "He's a smart kid. I know he's not a great player -- that's what everybody says; that was all we heard.

"But we had our own feelings on it, and that's why we took him in the fourth round."

A peek at the depth chart at middle linebacker, though, shows Wilhelm behind Zeke Moreno and Carlos Polk. The battle between Moreno and Polk is expected to be among the juiciest in camp.

Moreno, who started three games last year in place of Seau, was a middle linebacker for two years at USC.

Polk, who to date has made his mark on special teams, held down the middle spot for four years at Nebraska.

"We knew it was going to come to this, but we're supportive of each other," Moreno said.

While Moreno, Polk and Wilhelm wrestle for the middle spot, Edwards has been moved once again. This time to the weakside position, left vacate by the trade of 12-time Pro Bowler Junior Seau to Miami.

Edwards, a first-time Pro Bowler last season, is set at the weakside. And it doesn't figure Leber will go anywhere, not after faring well his first year and the team expecting him to grow even more in Year 2.

But with Schottenheimer, one never knows. Although another surprising summer rerun isn't expected.

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