Competition is strong

The second day of the draft may be where teams are built, but day one is where starting jobs are thrown up for grabs. This is certainly true for the Chargers, who selected potential starters in each of the first two rounds. Now, through both the draft and free agency, the Chargers have three starting spots to be determined via open competition. A.J. Smith and his three-deep tactics are visible here.

Left Tackle: Roman Oben versus Marcus McNeill

Oben is the veteran leader of the offensive line, and if he is healthy he will probably start. That is a big if, however, as he is coming off two foot surgeries during the offseason. He has never been a dominant run blocker, but his ability to protect his quarterback's blindside could be a key aspect of Philip Rivers' development.

The Chargers plan to run the ball more this season, so it seems somehow, someway, the gigantic (6-foot-8, 336 lbs.) and powerful McNeill will get on the field. He may be a rookie, but he was a four-year starter at Auburn, playing in the ultra-tough SEC. Like Oben, he can hold his own in pass protection, as he did not allow a sack during any of his 43 collegiate starts at tackle.

Strong Safety: Terrence Kiel versus Marlon McCree versus Clinton Hart

Kiel is the incumbent, and has been a starter for over two years now. He is dynamite against the run (averaging 78 tackles per 16 games played), but has struggled to author many game-changing plays in pass defense.

McCree was the team's sexiest free agent acquisition, and so would appear to be the favorite here. He share's Kiel's prowess against the run, but McCree is a better defender against the pass, averaging three interceptions per 16 games played.

Hart could be the dark horse in this race. He was the Chargers' biggest playmaker at safety last season, scoring two touchdowns on defense, and has the versatility to play strong or free safety. He signed a new three-year contract in the offseason.

Cornerback: Drayton Florence versus Antonio Cromartie

Florence is entering his fourth year in the league, and his third as a starter. He has excellent ball skills and unwavering confidence, but he tends to lose focus at times and can be inconsistent in coverage. He has also had problems staying healthy, missing six games over the last two years.

If you take away the Chargers' game against the Colts last season, Cromartie finished the 2005 season with as many interceptions as Florence and fellow starter Quentin Jammer combined - zero - and Cromartie did not play last season, on any level. That fact alone shows why the Chargers so coveted Cromartie. He is the best athlete in the secondary, and possesses tremendous upside. Once his rust is shaken off, his starting cap will likely be put on.


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