Step On Up

The Chargers added over a dozen veterans this offseason, but the team's success relies upon its young players continuing to develop. We examine four young players being thrust into larger roles and explain why they are key to San Diego's success.

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LG Tyronne Green

Green made significant progress in 2011, allowing just one sack in eight starts. He also became more consistent with his run blocking. There are reasons to believe he will be even better in 2012, including: 1) he is in fantastic shape after implementing a new diet and exercise routine, including attending the renowned O-Line Academy in Avon, Ohio; 2) he is able to focus exclusively on playing guard after spending some time at tackle in the past; and 3) he is in a contract year.

The Chargers want Green to succeed but he does not have a lot of room for error. Rex Hadnot, an eight-year veteran who started 16 games for the Arizona Cardinals last season, is waiting and ready to step in if Green stumbles.

CB Marcus Gilchrist

Gilchrist played significant snaps as a rookie, although he delivered an uneven performance. He will have to be much more consistent in his sophomore campaign as he steps into the nickel back role vacated by the since-departed Dante Hughes. Gilchrist spent a lot of time matched up against slot receivers in college, so this isn't foreign to him.

There is not a lot of depth at cornerback, although Shareece Wright is coming on strong and pressing for playing time. In reality, Gilchrist and Wright both need to elevate their games, as starting CBs Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the season. The 2011 draftees need to show something to prove they are the future of the position.

SS Brandon Taylor
Jake Roth/US Presswire
SS Brandon Taylor

Taylor is engaged in training camp's hottest battle as he competes with veteran Atari Bigby for the starting job at strong safety. Although San Diego is hesitant to insert a rookie into an already shaky secondary, Taylor certainly has the necessary skills. He is a big hitter with range and underrated coverage abilities. Communication should not be a problem, either, as he quarterbacked LSU's immensely talented secondary.

It is not a question of whether Taylor is good enough, but of how fast he can get game-ready. If he is unable to win the starting job, the Chargers will enter yet another season with a journeyman at strong safety.

WR Vincent Brown

It seems odd to put a No. 4 receiver under the spotlight. This is different, however, since it is all but certain No. 2 receiver Malcom Floyd will miss time with some sort of nagging injury. Also, No. 3 receiver Eddie Royal is primarily a slot receiver with some injury concerns of his own. It is really a matter of when, not if, Brown will be called upon to be a major contributor.

Brown came on late last year to make a surprising impact. He appears to have built on that success and has been one of the stars of training camp. The key for Brown is to carry that success to Sundays by carving out a niche in the offense. He will have every opportunity to do so, as Philip Rivers will be forced to spread the wealth now that former No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson is with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Which other players need to step on up? Talk about it inside 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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