Double his production from last season: CB Antoine Cason
Inexperience is no longer an issue for Cason. After starting all four seasons at Arizona, Cason saw oodles of playing time last season as the nickel back for the only defense in the AFC to face more than 600 pass attempts (605). Cason responded by breaking up 14 passes and creating three turnovers, including an interception he returned 59 yards for a touchdown. With some NFL experience under his belt and a revamped pass rush in front of him, Cason could easily force half-a-dozen takeaways in his sophomore season.
FB Jacob Hester
Score five-plus TDs: FB Jacob Hester
A.J. Smith traded up for Jacob Hester because he was a "football player," pure and simple. Now, after a year in Norv Turner's offense, the Chargers have a better idea how to utilize Hester's versatile skill-set. Hester should be the starting fullback for all 16 games this season, a distinction he only inherited in the second half of last season. That, combined with strong inside running skills and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, should make him a dangerous red-zone weapon in one of the NFL's most potent offenses.
Fall off the map: FB Mike Tolbert
Tolbert exploded out of the gates last season, earning a roster spot as an undrafted rookie out of Coastal Carolina and starting six of the first eight games. He made an immediate impact, hauling in 10 receptions for 134 yards (13.4-yard avg) in the first four contests. However, he lost his job to Hester late in the season and fell completely out of the offensive rotation. To get back into a play-making role, he must hurdle Hester and hold off a challenge from Billy Latsko (read more).
Surprise by earning a roster spot: WR Gary Banks
At first glance, it may not appear there's a spot to be won at wide-out. However, that could change in a hurry if the team cuts ties with disgruntled WR Kassim Osgood. Osgood is dominant on special teams, but as evidenced by the past releases of Hanik Milligan and Carlos Polk, that alone does not make a player untouchable. Banks is a standout special-teams player in his own right. He is also intelligent, physical and crafty, not to mention a superb blocker.
Open eyes during the preseason: LB Eric Bakhtiari
Bakhtiari is a rare athlete and a natural pass rusher. He dominated the competition during his college career at USD, including a five-sack performance against Drake. However, the transition from USD to the NFL takes time. Bakhtiari is still learning how to deploy counter moves, drop into coverage on the zone blitz, and refine his overall technique. With a year of grooming, he should get back to flashing his dominant skills against opponents' second- and third-string players this preseason.
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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.