Brandon Hughes (5-foot-11, 181 pounds) has already won his first battle of the offseason. One day after the Chargers drafted Hughes, the team released corner DeJuan Tribble, a sixth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
So what is it about Hughes that makes A.J. Smith view him as an upgrade?
"Hughes is a very smooth athlete with excellent feet, quickness and easy acceleration," Marino said. "He's experienced, has supple hips and more than adequate plant-and-drive skills. His strength is press coverage, based on the fact that he is almost exclusively in this type of defense."
CB Brandon Hughes
The Chargers were often able to observe Hughes' skill-set up close. Scout.com draft analyst Chris Steuber confirmed the Chargers had a scout in attendance for at least four of Oregon State's games last season.
Throughout the season, the Chargers watched as Hughes recorded 35 tackles, 11 pass breakups and an interception. The numbers do not fully represent Hughes, but they do help paint a picture: Efficient but not spectacular.
"He is very thin and slight looking," said Marino of Hughes. "He's not particularly strong, a marginal tackler who did not secure well. He is also going to have to improve his ball skills and hands -- he's in position to make plays often but he doesn't."
Hughes will have some time to develop in San Diego. He projects as the No. 5 cornerback behind Quentin Jammer, Antonio Cromartie, Antoine Cason and Cletis Gordon. He'll have a chance to work his way up the depth chart in the near future, though, with Gordon scheduled for free agency after the 2009 season and Cromartie set the follow suit after the 2010 campaign.
But if Hughes is going to climb the ladder, he still has a long way to go.
"He is really going to have to work on his off coverage, since he has played almost exclusively in press," Marino said. "The other OSU corner (Keenan Lewis) who was drafted by Pittsburgh is very similar, but [Lewis] looks a lot bigger physically."
While Lewis develops his defensive skills, he'll have to earn his playing time on special teams. If he excels in kick coverage, he'll have a shot to be active on most game days. If not, he may be relegated to the inactive list or even the practice squad.
No matter what happens in 2009, the Chargers believe the future is bright for the latest in their never-ending line of cornerbacks.
"Hughes has a chance to become a starter within the league, but it will take some time," Marino said. "He's best suited to play in sub packages (nickel and dime). He needs physical maturity, but from an athletic standpoint, he's pretty darn good."
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.