The strain his body has endured has already started to unfold as he also underwent knee surgery during the off-season. Now more than ever, it is more important to establish a reliable backup behind him.
Brandon McKinney enters his third year with the Bolts after a breakout campaign in 2007. After spending the first half of his rookie season on the practice squad, McKinney appeared in 14 games last season and even recorded two starts. He registered 21 tackles- six of which came in Week 14 against the Tennessee Titans.
At 6'2" and 324 pounds, the unyielding nose tackle knows how to use his massive body at the point of attack. He has surprising quickness to side-swipe blocks along with the aptitude to disrupt plays in the backfield. Unlike Williams, McKinney lacks the leverage to defeat double-teams. But on the upside, McKinney has the speed to hunt down screens and disrupt runs on the backside of plays.
NT Lamar Divens
With Lamar Divens of Tennessee State signed as an undrafted rookie free agent, McKinney must be prepared for an intense vie. At 6'3" and 333 pounds, Divens is equipped with the massive body and positive attitude to push McKinney aside.
Divens transferred from Vanderbilt to Tennessee State before his junior year and marked six tackles in the first three games. But that was the extent of Divens' field time that season after undergoing a paperwork mishap.
Here's how he explained the snafu to SDBoltReport.com:
"I had played the first three games of the season and we were playing Vanderbilt in the fourth game. I had practiced all that week, and on the Thursday before the Saturday game, Vanderbilt faxed a letter to the Tennessee State saying that they had made a mistake with my eligibility because of my grades, and I was supposed to be ineligible. They didn't say anything about it for the first three games, but just before we were scheduled to play them, they finally decided to send the letter over. I was out for the rest of the season."With a positive attitude and diligent work ethic, Divens recorded 48 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and six sacks as a senior with the Tigers. Divens is a great run-stopper and offers an unconditional force in the middle. He has incredible strength and a knack for chasing down plays from behind.
Although Divens needs to focus on better directional changes, he is talented and athletic enough to stick. Armed with the knowledgeable tools and body control, he can be coached to sharpen his already impressive skills. He recognizes the significance of the opportunity to play behind a three-time Pro Bowl selection who is considered one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL.
"I'm going to seize the opportunity, because I know that opportunity doesn't come any time I'd like. I'm going to do the best I can to make the best of the situation," he said.
Looking ahead, the player who buffers Williams this season will most likely be expected to slide into a more permanent role once Williams finds the sideline for longer than three games.
Both players have the raw skill to get the job done on a limited basis, but neither is in Williams' class. Look for McKinney to maintain his post because of his playing experience, and expect the Chargers to reinforce the position next off-season.
--Click here for an exclusive interview with Divens.
--Click here for a Q&A with Divens' defensive line coach from Tennessee State.
--Click here to learn if McKinney is the heir apparent at nose tackle.