Atari Bigby vs. Brandon Taylor
Bigby will enter training camp penciled in atop the depth chart. He is a seven-year veteran who has been productive when given ample playing time, intercepting five passes in 2007 and four in 2009. He comes over from the Seattle Seahawks, where he spent most of last season playing special teams and providing spot-duty on defense.
Taylor, who the Chargers traded up to acquire in the third round, seems destined to win the starting role at some juncture. Whether he can overtake Bigby as a rookie remains to be seen. He has the experience and intangibles to contribute early, but it is tough to ask a rookie to start in the secondary without a bull’s-eye on his back.
Vaughn Martin vs Luis Castillo
Castillo missed the 2011 season with a broken leg and Martin took full advantage, starting the first 15 games of his career and posting 47 total tackles. Martin still needs to show more of a mean streak and better utilize the elite athleticism that prompted the Bolts to take a flier on him in the 2009 draft, but he has shown marked improvement every year.
Castillo, who was released and re-signed earlier in the offseason, is healthy again and ready to compete for his old post as the starting left defensive end. Although Castillo hasn’t topped 2.5 sacks since 2006 and has not exceeded 40 tackles since his rookie campaign, he anchors well against the run and keeps his linebackers clean. He does the dirty work asked of a 3-4 front man and makes the rest of the defensive front seven better.
Antoine Cason vs. Marcus Gilchrist
This is a make-or-break season for Cason, who enters the final year of his rookie deal. At times, he has looked like the team’s top cover corner. At other times, he has looked a step slow and completely lost. He lost his starting job midway through last season, but Gilchrist was unable to take advantage, forcing the Chargers to turn back to Cason.
Gilchrist will benefit from a full set of OTAs and a longer training camp. He is a versatile defender who will challenge receivers and limit yards after the catch. If he can overtake Cason, the starting job may be his for years to come. If not, San Diego may decide to re-sign Cason, potentially tying Gilchrist to the bench for the foreseeable future.
– Matt Anderson
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