Dancing Bear on a tear

The Chargers are perhaps the league's most star-laden team, boasting more big names than a Polish phonebook. But while flashy players like LaDainian Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman steal the headlines, Luis Castillo has flown under the radar and has quietly become arguably the best defensive end in the NFL.

Castillo was a first-round pick in 2005 and had a stellar rookie season, after which he was named to several All-Rookie teams. Rather than resting on his laurels, Castillo spent the offseason shedding weight and improving his already impressive agility. Now, in just his second season, he is virtually unblockable.

After posting 3.5 sacks in 2005, Castillo has bested that total in this season's first five games. He also tacked on his first career interception against the 49ers.

"I've been playing this game for twelve years and that's my first pick," he said. "I think that as things turned out, that play changed the entire tempo of the game."

Castillo has no business putting up the numbers he has thus far. As a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, his primary responsibility is to occupy opposing blockers so that the linebackers behind him are free to flow to the football.

Luckily for the Chargers, Castillo has remained as disciplined and selfless as ever. His primary focus is still stopping the run, as evidenced by the fact that the Chargers defense is currently the league's third best run-stuffing unit.

It seems that every season, coach Marty Schottenheimer campaigns for one of his players to make the Pro Bowl. In 2004, he was pushing for then-rookie Mike Scifres to make the team. Last season, Schottenheimer made certain that Jamal Williams was rewarded for his strong play with a trip to Hawaii. This year, Castillo appears to be as good a candidate as any.

He certainly helped his case with his play in San Francisco. With Schottenheimer placing an emphasis on finishing strong, it was Castillo's six-yard sack that ended the 49ers final offensive drive.

"That was a fitting way for our defense to end the game - with a sack," Castillo said. "Early on, they were able to take advantage of our aggressiveness with screens and plays like that. But in the second half, we were able to make some adjustments and shut them down."

Castillo has been shutting down opposing offenses all season long. His play is a huge reason why the Chargers have the league's top-ranked defense through six weeks of play.

There are many great defensive ends in the NFL: Julius Peppers, Adewale Ogunleye, Richard Seymour and others, too. So, maybe it is a bit premature to label Castillo the league's best in just his second season. Then again, maybe not.


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