Three to Watch: Sophomores

With training camp weeks away, identifies three players primed to emerge from the shadows in their sophomore years. Although none of these players graced a box score last season, they are all capable of shouldering significant loads in 2008. Read on to learn who they are and what they will deliver next season.

1) ILB Anthony Waters, Clemson

The Chargers drafted Waters in the third round of the 2007 draft with an eye on 2008. Now, the time has come for Waters to justify the selection.

A physical inside linebacker, Waters has the power and sideline-to-sideline speed to stifle opposing running games. He is relentless in getting off blocks and chasing down running backs before they build up a head of steam.

The only thing that held Waters back last season was the lingering pain in his surgically repaired left knee. The rehabilitation process was frustrating at times, but Waters stayed with the regimen and worked his way back to 100 percent.

"I was always told that God won't put you through anything you can't handle and I always believed that," Waters said. "I always thought that God was doing that just to test me or whatever. I just try to stay focused and keep my eye on the prize."

This year, the prize is an opportunity to start on opening day. Incumbent Stephen Cooper is suspended for the first four games of the regular season, so Waters will compete with veteran Derek Smith to fill the vacancy.

Click here to read more about the training camp battle between Waters and Smith.

2) CB Paul Oliver, Georgia

Like Waters, Oliver was drafted with plans for 2008. The Chargers drafted Oliver in the fourth round of the 2007 supplemental draft, pegging him as the heir apparent to Drayton Florence. That plan was scrapped when the Bolts tabbed Antoine Cason in the first round of this year's draft, leaving Oliver without a defined spot in the rotation.

Now, Oliver will take his playing time wherever he can get it. He'll compete with Steve Gregory for the top backup safety position. He'll also get some run in the dime defense, typically as a corner over the slot receiver. Additionally, he'll play a prominent role on special teams.

It's a vast difference from last season, when Oliver failed to escape the inactive list.

Click here for more on Oliver's role in the secondary.

3) TE Scott Chandler, Iowa

Chandler is buried in one of San Diego's deepest positions. Antonio Gates is the NFL's best pass-catching tight end, and Brandon Manumaleuna may be the best blocking tight end in the League. That leaves little opportunity for Chandler, a complete tight end who lacks the ability to dominate like the players in front of him.

Chandler's chance may finally come early this season, as Gates has been slow to recover from off-season toe surgery. That may open the door for Chandler to step into the starting lineup, allowing Manumaleuna to remain in his specialist role.

"He's got a lot to learn," said Coach Norv Turner of Chandler. "We have a specific set of things we want Scott to do to get better, and I think he's doing them. When we get into training camp, we'll see how far he's progressed."

The former Hawkeye has the ability to exploit linebackers who pay too much attention to RB LaDainian Tomlinson. Chandler is a tall receiver (6 foot 7, 265 lbs.) with soft, sure hands, making him an inviting target over the middle.

Chandler gave a glimpse of what he could do last preseason, catching seven passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. As a sophomore, he'll be expected to make it happen on Sundays.

Click here for more on what to expect from Chandler in his second season.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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