Positional breakdown: Defensive line

The San Diego Chargers' defensive line is a one-unit tale of the haves and the have-nots. The top end of the rotation is brimming with talent, as all three starters have Pro Bowl potential. Unfortunately, the entire unit is not so skilled. The highest drafted reserve is former seventh-round pick Ryon Bingham, and the lack of investment in quality back-ups is painfully obvious.

The most accomplished player on the line is Jamal Williams, a 348-pound mountain of a man whose efforts sponsor the success of all his defensive teammates. He constantly demands double-teams – freeing up the players behind him to make plays – and still manages to collapse the pocket and make plays in the backfield.

Williams has been named a starter in each of the last two Pro Bowls, yet he is no longer the most dominant player on the line. That honor goes to Luis Castillo, an elite two-way lineman the likes of which has not been seen since Michael Strahan was in his prime. In 2006, Castillo totaled 37 tackles, seven sacks and an interception despite playing in just 10 games. If he can stay healthy, he is a safe bet to end the 2007 season in Hawaii.

"The biggest thing for us now is taking that next step," Castillo said. "We're obviously a good team with the success we had last year, and we have everybody back. Now, it's about turning into a Super Bowl team."

The third starter is Igor Olshansky, an elite run-stopper who is making slow but steady progress as a pass-rusher. He is as strong and technically proficient as any lineman in the league, but needs to stay healthy to continue his development. He has been limited by injuries each of the last two seasons.

The top reserve is Jacques Cesaire, who can provide quality snaps off the bench but is in over his head when forced into the starting line-up. He is a blue-collar overachiever, but lacks the athleticism and explosiveness to be more than a role player.

The other back-up end, Derreck Robinson, will have every chance to leapfrog Cesaire in the rotation. Robinson is more consistent than Cesaire against the run and has flashed the ability to get after the quarterback.

Robinson hardly played as a rookie in 2005 before breaking into the rotation last season. He believes that being brought along slowly has helped his development.

"It just warmed me up, and I knew that when the time came I had to be ready to go. No ‘Maybe I'm in, maybe I'm out.' Now, I'm ready to go," Robinson said.

The reserve nose tackle is Ryon Bingham, who would be ideal for the gig were it not for his lack of girth. At 303 pounds, he struggles to clog running lanes and fails to command double-teams.

The defensive line is the most top-heavy unit on the San Diego roster. But, so long as the starters stay healthy, the Chargers should be able to get away with it.


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