Vasquez enjoyed a strong offseason and got off to a fast start during training camp, prompting some to believe he would work his way into the starting lineup by Sept. 7. However, a foot injury derailed his progress and likely delayed his ascension into the starting lineup.
The Chargers are keen on developing chemistry on the O-line, so Forney is in an enviable position having worked with the first unit all offseason. Also, it benefits Forney that the team is placing a big emphasis on the running game. Forney was Atlanta's best lineman when the Falcons led the NFL in rushing from 2004 to 2006. Vasquez, on the other hand, is transitioning from Texas Tech's pass-happy offense.
Scott Mruczkowski, once thought to be a contender in this battle, is not in the mix. San Diego seems content to deploy him as a swingman who can back up every spot on the line except left tackle.
LB Tim Dobbins
Burnett earns starter money ($5.5 million over two years), but he's still likely to begin most games on the bench. The team considered Dobbins the superior run defender even back when Burnett was signed, and Dobbins has cemented that notion was a superb training camp. He's improved his coverage skills, too.
Burnett will see plenty of playing time as the nickel 'backer, perhaps more than Dobbins. San Diego's defense has ranked in the top-10 in passes-against every year since 2004, so the team spends ample time with its nickel defense on the field.
Last season, Dobbins started eight games while Matt Wilhelm started seven. It is very possible that Dobbins and Burnett will have a similar split in 2009.
Hart struggled badly last season as he played through a nagging neck injury. He is healthy now and looks more like the player he was in 2007, when he finished with 85 tackles and five interceptions. His physical appearance is back to 2007 form, as well, as he has shed the neck roll he donned last season, which basically served as a bull's-eye for opposing quarterbacks.
Ellison created a lot of buzz earlier this offseason with his strong performances in Mini Camps and OCS's. However, he still has a lot of work to do when it comes to understanding the defense and reading opposing offenses. The Chargers are high on Ellison because of his prototypical build (6-foot-1, 221 pounds) and aggression, but he'll have to cut his teeth on special teams before he earns a role on defense.
Gregory will remain active on game days because of his special-teams contributions, and because he's better in coverage than Hart. However, he lacks the size, speed and explosiveness to be anything more than a situational defender. With Paul Oliver also in the safety mix -- and enjoying an excellent training camp in his own right -- the competition between the backup safeties should be a fierce, ongoing affair.
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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.