One Step Back and Two Forward?

The Chargers spent the offseason restocking the cupboards at several key positions. But one area where the Chargers have inarguably regressed, at least in the short term, is the defensive line, where green rookie Vaughn Martin will look to fill the shoes of five-year starter Igor Olshansky.

When developing his offseason plan, GM A.J. Smith must have felt like a game-show contestant about to claim his prize. He was forced to choose between accepting a known commodity, Igor Olshansky, and taking a chance on the mystery box.

This analogy is especially fitting because Vaughn Martin, the player Smith tabbed as Olshansky's successor, is one of the biggest enigmas in this year's rookie class.

"I think I'm more open-minded," said Martin about his inexperience. "I don't really have any bad habits or really any habits at all. I'm very coachable."

DL Vaughn Martin
Kevin Terrell/Getty

There are many reasons to feel Martin will be a star. He has a rare combo of size (6-foot-4, 327 pounds) and athleticism. Additionally, he's flashed remarkable strength (33 reps of the 225-pound bench press) and surprising quickness (5.04 in the 40-yard dash).

But while workout numbers indicate a high ceiling, they hardly predict immediate success. The transition from Western Ontario to the NFL figures to be a grind.

Nonetheless, Martin plans to make an impact as a rookie, even if he doesn't win a starting role.

"I can bring depth, for sure," he said. "I definitely will be making plays."

For the Chargers, the challenge lies in avoiding a drop-off during Martin's on-going education. Veterans Ryon Bingham and Jacques Cesaire will create a two-man platoon at the right defensive end position, but there's a reason those two were primarily reserves over the last five seasons.

Since 2004, the Chargers are 52-23 when Olshansky plays and 2-3 when he sits.

Bingham and Cesaire are unlikely to improve much at this point in their careers, so any improvement from within will have to come elsewhere. Can Ian Scott make an impact now that he's been reunited with D-line coach Don Johnson? Can one of the team's practice squad prospects, Keith Grennan or Andre Coleman, bust loose? Can Luis Castillo remain healthy and effective for all 16 games?

The Chargers may need more than one "yes" to buy time while Martin adjusts to life in the big leagues. Luckily, the rookie fourth-round pick is doing everything he can to accelerate the process, as he's eager he join in on the Chargers' winning ways.

"I like that [the Chargers] are so close to winning everything," Martin said. "It really feels good to know that they want me to be a part of that, because they're so close to winning a Super Bowl."

What do you expect from Martin this season? Talk about it in the message boards.

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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