Three Key Additions

A.J. Smith is taking his usual wait-and-see approach to free agency, but the San Diego Chargers have already improved their roster this offseason. Three players who missed last season with injuries are back in the fold and set to provide depth at every level of the defense.

The most important player coming off injured-reserve is Ryon Bingham, the versatile lineman from Nebraska who played in all 48 games from 2006-2008 before missing last year with a biceps injury. Bingham (6-foot-3, 303 pounds) has the quickness to play end and the strength to hold up at nose tackle.

Prior to his injury, Bingham was expected to challenge Jacques Cesaire for the starting job opposite Luis Castillo. Now healthy again, he figures to provide reps at every spot on the line while playing up to 30 snaps per game.

This will be Bingham's first season playing in a rotation without Jamal Williams, but he feels he learned a lot from the man he may be asked to replace.

"I've learned a ton from Jamal," Bingham told "We're two different body types and two different people. I'm just a different kind of nose tackle than Jamal. There aren't many players like him in the entire league. He's one of the most dominant players, but I have my own ways of doing things and I can get the job done.

"No one does it like Jamal. He's a beast, a manimal. But I have my own style and I've been pretty successful with it."

LB Antwan Applewhite
Ezra Shaw/Getty
Also coming off IR is LB Antwan Applewhite, who injured his hamstring during last year's season-opener and never played another down. Applewhite was coming off a strong preseason where he leapfrogged Jyles Tucker on the depth chart.

The Chargers only got 15 sacks from their OLBs last season -- no one other than Shaun Phillips (7) had more than four -- so an edge rusher of Applewhite's ilk will be a welcome addition to Ron Rivera's defense.

Rivera will also welcome back Brandon Hughes, a fifth-round pick last year from Oregon State who missed his rookie campaign with a knee injury. With Antonio Cromartie now a Jet, Hughes will have a chance to compete for the nickel back job.

Hughes (5-foot-11, 181 pounds) is an aggressive corner and strong in man coverage, similar to teammate Quentin Jammer.

"[Hughes is] smart and he's savvy," said OSU cornerbacks coach Keith Heyward. "Sometimes he looks a little awkward because of his build and stuff like that, but he's just a smart football player. He's fast also and he's going to take his tools, his skills that he has and he's going to study the game and he's going to transform that into making plays on the field."

Which player are you most excited to see back? Discuss 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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