Undrafted Rookie Watch: Defense

The San Diego Chargers have developed impressive depth on every level of their defense. But that doesn't make it impossible for an undrafted free agent to stick on that side of the ball. Here's a look at two candidates who could beat the odds.

Brandon Lang was San Diego's marquee signing from the undrafted ranks. The outside linebacker from Troy State recorded 19 sacks and 29.5 TFLs during his final two collegiate seasons. The explosive, rangy defender will compete with Jyles Tucker and Antwan Applewhite for the final linebacker position.

"If you look at our history, we have a great track record bringing in undrafted free agents every year who are making the team," said John Spanos, the team's director of college scouting. "This was a deep draft and there [were] a lot of good players left."

San Diego is the ideal landing spot for Lang, whose build (6-foot-4, 266 pounds) and pass-rushing prowess make him the ideal 3-4 outside linebacker. The Chargers need help at that position, too, as their OLBs combined for just 15 sacks in 2009.

The top three spots will go to Shaun Phillips, Shawne Merriman and Larry English. Beyond that, nothing is settled. Marques Harris, who finished last season as the fourth outside linebacker after Tucker and Applewhite landed on injured-reserve, is no longer with the team.

Also in the mix is James Holt, who made the team as an undrafted free agent last season. Holt played outside linebacker in college; moved to inside linebacker upon signing with the Chargers; then shifted back outside.

"[Holt] reads plays well and can give you everything from a pass rusher to a coverage linebacker," said Kevin Flaherty, publisher of PHOG.net. "One thing is for sure: He won't give up his football career without a fight."

Also fighting for his football career is CB Traye Simmons, an undrafted rookie who joined the Chargers from Minnesota. He will jockey with Dante Hughes and 2009 draftee Brandon Hughes for the No. 5 cornerback position.

The Chargers could opt to keep just four cornerbacks, given their incredible depth at safety, but Simmons will try to keep that from happening. The 5-foot-11, 179-pound cover man picked off six passes during his two years as a Golden Gopher. He was also strong in run support, which should help him make an impact on special teams.

Several mock drafts had the Chargers picking a cornerback as early as the first round. The fact that San Diego did not address the position at all certainly opens the door for Simmons, or at least leaves it slightly ajar.


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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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.


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