Five Fearless Predictions

Training camp is finished; the roster is set; and the San Diego Chargers are ready to kick off the 2009 season. Before the team locks horns with the rival Raiders on Monday Night Football, we're laying out five predictions for the 50th season of Chargers football.

1. More Action for Jackson

For years, San Diego's offense was driven by LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. Now, it's time for Vincent Jackson to take the wheel. The fifth-year receiver is coming off a season in which he set career-highs in catches (59), yards (1,098) and touchdowns (seven). Look for Jackson to top all those numbers -- comfortably -- as he lays it all on the line during a contract year.

2. The Tight End Two-Step

Jacob Hester has made tremendous strides since his rookie season, but the Chargers will find the most success running the ball out of the two-tight end formation. Norv Turner will utilize the versatility of Brandon Manumaleuna and Kris Wilson -- two excellent blockers who can also play fullback – to create favorable matchups in the run game. This trend will also make Gates the go-to receiver on first downs.

3. Too Much Room to Run

San Diego's run defense has only ranked outside the top-11 twice since 1997 (2003 and 2007). Expect a third occurrence in 2009. San Diego lost two key run-stuffers in the offseason when Igor Olshansky joined the Dallas Cowboys and Ryon Bingham landed on injured-reserve with a triceps injury. There are also some concerns at linebacker thanks to Shawne Merriman's tendency to overrun plays and Kevin Burnett's relative inexperience in the base defense.

4. Cason Corrals the Most

The Chargers feature three former first-round picks at cornerback, but it will be the least experienced member of that trio who will lead the team in interceptions. Quentin Jammer is the team's best defender, but he lacks the ball skills to lead the team in picks. Antonio Cromartie is healthy again, but it will only take a few athletic picks to persuade opposing QBs to throw away from him. That means plenty of action will be funneled to Antoine Cason in the slot; it says here he'll take full advantage.

5. Siler Stands Above the Rest

Third-year linebacker Brandon Siler will lead the NFL in special teams tackles. After posting 21 such tackles in 2007 and 16 more in 2008, he'll approach 25 special teams tackles in 2009 and earn a Pro Bowl invite for his efforts. His emergence as an elite special teams player will make the Chargers feel more confident letting Kassim Osgood walk as a free agent after the season.

What are your predictions for the 2009 season? Share them 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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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