Camp battles: The lines

When A.J. Smith took over as general manager of the Chargers, his goal was to create a roster three-deep with talented players at every position, and to let competition during training camp bring out the best in each of them. Then, it would be up to head coach Marty Schottenheimer to decide which 53 to take into the season.

Although the Chargers may not be three-deep across the board, the desired depth and competition certainly appear to be there. It must be noted, though, that talent and production alone do not always decide who wins these competitions. Other factors such as age, contract status and durability can be issues as well. With that in mind, here is a look ahead at a few of the major competitions which will take place in San Diego this fall.

Adrian Dingle vs. DeQuincy Scott
Battle for the final position in the defensive end rotation

It is unfortunate this has to happen, as these are two of the most respected leaders on the Chargers' defense. Because the Chargers have drafted bookend defensive ends the last two years in Igor Olshansky and Luis Castillo, and because young reserves Jacques Cesaire and Dave Ball have shown admirable upside, these two veterans are likely fighting for one spot.

Both of these men are better suited for the 4-3 defense the Chargers played prior to last season. Scott is vastly undersized at 260 lbs., but he may be the best pure pass rusher on the defensive line. Dingle is also a strong pass rusher, and has the size and discipline to hold up against the run. The knock on him is his questionable durability.

If Dingle is fully healthy, expect him to win the spot. If not, Scott should be given a chance to return. Also, there is a very real chance that a player like Robert Pollard could beat them both out if the team wants a younger and cheaper player for the last spot in the rotation.

Jerry Wilson vs Bhawoh Jue vs Clinton Hart vs Hanik Milligan
Battle for starting free safety position

This competition is trickier to dissect, because each player brings something to the competition. Wilson brings experience; Jue offers the best pure coverage skills; Hart provides excellent range; and Milligan brings the big-hit intimidation factor.

As an unbiased observer of this competition, I would say that Jue will win the job. The Chargers clearly like his game, having made him their sole free-agent acquisition. He has a good amount of experience, and possesses the speed to provide help to the cornerbacks over the top, which is essential.

Admittedly, however, no one's opinion regarding this competition is unbiased. Personally, I would like nothing more than to see Milligan win the job. With both he and Terrence Kiel roaming the interior of the secondary, the Chargers would be able to punish opposing receivers for crossing the middle of the field. Critics say this would make the secondary too young, but while that may have been true two years ago, that excuse is now getting old.

Shane Olivea vs Courtney Van Buren and
Leander Jordan vs Wesley Britt
Battles at the right tackle position

There are two battles here at the right tackle position. One is for the starting job, the other for the reserve post. At the starting spot, the Chargers must make a philosophical choice. Do they want to stick with Olivea, who they know to be a steady and solid player; or do they want to go with Van Buren, who is more of an enigma but undoubtedly has greater upside.

At the backup spot it is a battle of two different styles. Jordan is a mauler who can dominate in the running game, but his growth as a pass protector has been hindered by the fact that he has endured so many coaching changes during his young career. Britt, meanwhile, is a player with excellent size but questionable agility and durability. Having just been drafted in the fifth round by the Chargers, Britt would be a hard cut to make.

How it should unfold is that Van Buren will win the right tackle job, with Olivea moving inside to guard, where he would be a backup this season behind the older Mike Goff and soon-to-be free agent Toniu Fonoti. Jordan should win the backup tackle job, and Britt would then be signed to the practice squad.

How it will likely go is a bit different. Olivea will likely keep his job at tackle, as the team looks to minimize change on the unit after having seen coach Houck defect to Miami. Van Buren will backup Roman Oben on the left side, as he has the athleticism to do so. Jordan will likely be cut in favor of the recently-drafted Britt.

As I had mentioned, lots of things are taken into consideration when making these decisions, which explains why what the team should do is not always what the team will do. But it will be what the team does do when making these decisions this fall that will shape their 2005 season before it ever starts.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@SanDiegoSports.net

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