Coach Norv Turner typically keeps only five defensive linemen active on game days. The first four, when healthy, are locked in: Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire and Ryon Bingham. In the fifth spot will be either fourth-round pick Vaughn Martin or seven-year veteran Ian Scott.
Martin is being groomed for a starting role in the near future, but he may not be ready for such prominent placement in 2009. He is adjusting not only to the increased competition in the NFL, but to the rule changes. One notable difference is that in Canada, there is a 1-yard buffer between the line of scrimmage and the defensive team. Eliminating that buffer will completely change how Martin gets off the ball and disengages from blockers.
|DE Vaughn Martin|
"He's an outstanding athlete with a great upside," said General Manager A.J. Smith of Martin. "He's a big, strong guy with a nice motor and a mean streak. He's got a lot to learn, but it's going to be interesting to see how quick his development grows. He's smart."
Martin (6-foot-4, 327 pounds) has the size, strength and athleticism to develop into a force on the defensive line. However, he also has enough inexperience to be labeled a boom-bust prospect. Rare physical skills do not guarantee success in the NFL, as Chargers fans know all too well from the Courtney Van Buren experiment in 2003.
"I've always been a fast learner, so it's not something I'm worried about," Martin said.
Perhaps the polar opposite of Martin is Ian Scott, who is more about productivity than potential. Between 2004 and 2006, Scott started 33 of 38 games for the Chicago Bears, racking up 93 tackles and 13 pass breakups during that span.
A couple members of San Diego's coaching staff had front-row seats for Scott's superb three-year stretch. Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was the coordinator in Chicago from 2004 to 2006, and Chargers defensive line coach Don Johnson held the same position with the Bears in 2005 and 2006.
Scott (6-foot-3, 302 pounds) has the versatility to play inside or outside, which only helps his case to stay off the inactive list on game days.
So which player will snag the last spot on the active roster? The answer may be different in September than it will be in November.
A.J. Smith has said the Chargers will be patient with Martin, so it's very possible Scott will steal the final spot in the rotation early in the season. However, Martin's unique skill-set is too enticing to keep on the bench for very long. He should work his way into the rotation by the time the Chargers return from their bye in Week 5.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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.