Chargers hope for defensive returns

Ask Chargers management what they considered a priority heading into the offseason and it was clearly labeled as "the pass rush." They had hoped they accomplished that goal but the future seems cloudy after certain obstacles arose.

The Chargers made a defensive splash through the draft, selecting defensive linemen with their first two picks.

But it remains anyone's guess if either of the youngsters, linebacker Shawne Merriman and lineman Luis Castillo, will contribute this season.

Merriman, uncertain the Chargers would negotiate in good faith in case of an injury, declined to participate in the offseason workouts. The Chargers were eager to try out the former Maryland star at either outside linebacker or at an end spot, but learned little about the draft's 12th overall pick with his offseason inactivity.

Castillo has been worked out primarily at end; how he transform from playing inside at the NFL remains to be seen. He held up well during his first minicamp with the team and the Chargers were encouraged by the burst he showed up the field.

He remains the most likely candidate to usurp Jacques Cesaire from the starting lineup.

The Chargers are bent on improving the NFL's 31st-ranked pass defense. They hope to do it in two ways: by improving the pass rush, and supplying more competition in the secondary.

Quentin Jammer is secure at one cornerback spot, but the Chargers are hopeful the competition between Drayton Florence and Sammy Davis opposite Jammer makes them both better.

At free safety, the Chargers signed free agent Bhawoh Jue to push veteran Jerry Wilson. Clinton Hart, another veteran, could also be in the mix.

The run defense needs little tinkering, after finishing with the NFL's third-best ranking.

But the pass defense is another matter, and no matter what Merriman's reasons, it's obvious he'll enter training camp well behind other rookies.

Lightning Quicks:

Five Chargers recently visited the USS Tarawa off the Southern California coast. LB Donnie Edwards, a huge military buff, was among the Chargers. "Any time I get a chance to be a part of training and interact with the warriors, I do," he said. "This is what it is all about."

The NFL Rookie Symposium, which was held in Florida this year, will return to San Diego next year.

While the first full squad training camp workout will be July 29, coach Marty Schottenheimer's physically demanding Oklahoma drill will be conducted on July 30.

The Chargers are considering holding two night practices during camp. And like in years past, they also plan on working out one afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium, instead of their team facility.

"When you have a winner, there is a lot of interest," general manager A.J. Smith said on the expected large turnouts for the team's upcoming training camp practices at Chargers Park.

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