Positional breakdown: Cornerbacks

The Chargers have invested mightily in the cornerback position and are counting on the payoff coming this season. Quentin Jammer was a top-five pick in 2002; Drayton Florence went in the second round a year later; and Antonio Cromartie was a first-rounder last year. After making strides in 2006, this group will be expected to crank it up a notch this season.

Quentin Jammer is coming off a critic-silencing campaign in which he posted 78 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass break-ups. By December, opponents completely avoided his side of the field, the ultimate compliment for any cover man.

The key to Jammer's improvement was cutting down on the penalties. That forced receivers to earn their yards against him, something most struggled to do. Along with his improved coverage, Jammer maintained his title as the best run-stopping corner in the league.

"I feel like I have always been a good football player. I know there are a lot of people who have criticized me, but I really worked hard last offseason and I think I took a step up," Jammer said.

Opposite of Jammer is Drayton Florence, the biggest risk-taker in the secondary. Florence picked off three passes in 2006 and had about a half-dozen others slip through his hands. He made his mark in weeks 11 and 12, helping defeat the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions.

Florence has an unshakable swagger and goes into every season with the same high expectations.

"My goal is to get at least 10 interceptions, and I have to take at least four of them back for touchdowns. As far as I'm concerned, they don't really count unless you return them for touchdowns," he said.

The issue with Florence continues to be consistency. Too often he loses focus in coverage, and his temper leaves his him prone to foolish penalties.

Florence may be pushed for his starting job by Antonio Cromartie, who now has a clean bill of health and a year's experience under his belt. Cromartie is arguably the best athlete on the team; he has the instincts, recovery speed and vertical to put him in an elite stratosphere.

Cromartie will be helped by the arrival of new secondary coaches Bill Bradley and Kevin Ross, a pair of disciplinarians who will help refine his raw talents.

"We've been getting to know each other a lot more," Cromartie said. "We've all adjusted to each other, spending time in the film room and on the field."

Behind the top three corners is a group of former undrafted free agents, including Cletis Gordon and Steve Gregory. Both of those players are solid special teams contributors but are not ready to see significant time on defense.

If Jammer, Florence and Cromartie all stay healthy, the Chargers will get plenty of production out of their cornerbacks. If not, then General Manager A.J. Smith will re-familiarize himself with the waiver wire in a hurry.

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