Training camp primer: Defense/Special Teams

The San Diego Chargers are banking on a run defense that has been dominant over the last two years and an improving secondary to lead them to a playoff berth. Also, the team has acquired a special teams standout each of the last four years through the NFL Draft to add a threat to the kicking and return game.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -LE Luis Castillo, DT Jamal Williams, RE Igor Olshansky. Backups - Jacques Cesaire, Ryon Bingham, Derreck Robinson.

Williams finally earned his long overdue Pro Bowl berth last year. Castillo, in his second year, supplied production as a run-stopper and pass-rusher. Olshansky is usually seen just on the early downs; he's a big reason the run defense was No. 1 last year. Depth, though, could be a concern here, especially with the untested Bingham playing behind Williams. LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Steve Foley, ILB Donnie Edwards, ILB Randall Godfrey, OLB Shawne Merriman, Backups - Shaun Phillips, Matt Wilhelm, Stephen Cooper, Marques Harris, Tim Dobbins, Carlos Polk.

Merriman, the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year, was a monster last season and should build on that foundation. Foley is returning from an abdominal strain which limited his production last year - those two, along with the speed-rusher Phillips - can cause opposing quarterback fits. The inside spots are solid with Edwards - the team's leading tackler in each of the past four years - and Godfrey - an 11-year pro who had 78 tackles and three fumble recoveries last year. Depth here is keen - Cooper and Wilhelm could possibly start elsewhere.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Quentin Jammer, RCB Drayton Florence, FS Marlon McCree, SS Terrence Kiel. Backups - Bhawoh Jue, Clinton Hart, Hanik Milligan, Antonio Cromartie, Markus Curry, Andre Lott.

Long the Achilles' heel of the defense, the secondary is hoping to improve with the addition of McCree and the drafting of Cromartie in the first round. Jammer is a lightning rod for criticism and for good reason - the former fifth overall pick has but two interceptions the past two years. Florence is up-and-down; he had but one pick last year, too. The free spot should be strong with McCree, although the team is still tinkering on where to play him. Kiel needs to rebound from an ankle injury and Jue had a complicated knee surgery over the offseason, but could be in the mix for Kiel's spot, along with Clinton Hart.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nick Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, LS David Binn, KR Darren Sproles, PR Eric Parker.

Kaeding has had a solid first two years; the team drafted Smith to possibly handle kickoffs. Scifres is a charitable bounce or two away from being a Pro Bowler. Sproles gives the team a burst on kickoffs; he's been shaky on punts, which forced Parker into that role. The team would rather keep Parker exclusively for the passing game, so Sproles will get another look. Another possibility is Cromartie and McCardell.


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