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Position Preview: Defensive Ends
SAN DIEGO – The Chargers drafted or signed rookies at every position this offseason except one: defensive end.
The unit has stayed intact minus nose tackle Jamal Williams, who played in just one half of one game last year due to an injury.
Few of the parts that now exist were in place a year ago.
Veterans Travis Johnson and Alfonso Boone were not Chargers last July. Ogemdi Nwagbuo was on the practice squad the year before and Vaughn Martin was an athletic young collegian coming out of Canada..
Those players now have spent a partial season and an entire offseason growing together. A mix of players from across North America are transforming into a unit defined by continuity.
“It is a significantly different group. We’ve had a lot of turnover (in the last two years),” said Luis Castillo, who, along with Jacques Cesaire, anchor the position with a combined 14 years of experience in San Diego.
“(Johnson, Boone and Antonio Garay) weren’t here (last) summer. Most of those guys weren’t here during training camp. We’ve had a year to mesh together, to develop those relationships. It’s only going to make us better. And it’s only going to be that much easier for them to understand the defense and understand what’s expected of them.”
Castillo and Cesaire will try to rekindle their pass-rush power in 2006, when they combined for 11 sacks. But they’ll have reinforcements among a versatile group of players, many of whom can stop the run and clog the middle of the 3-4 defense if necessary.
The veterans are as prepared as the young players to compete for roles and roster spots during training camp. No one, Castillo said, feels like they’ve secured a job.
“I think one of the biggest things this year is the level of competition on the defensive line. I think 11 guys have an opportunity to make this team and help this team win,” Castillo said. “We realize we won’t all be here. It’s the reality of the league. It’s always an open competition for who goes out there and who has the privilege of being able to represent this team, and we treat it that way.
“The guys that have been in the league the longest, guys like Boone; he treats it the same way. We still realize we have to go out there every day and get better. Because really that’s the only thing you can do. You either get better or you get worse.”
Boone, as Castillo alluded to, is the most experienced Chargers defensive end, entering his 10th NFL season. He made a career-high three sacks for San Diego last year despite signing with the Chargers two weeks after the opener at Oakland.
Versatile mainstay Ryon Bingham, a regular at defensive tackle on third downs, gives San Diego another step toward continuity. He suffered a season-ending injury last summer but has been practicing without restrictions. The 6-foot-3, 303-pound lineman has been with the team as long as Castillo.
Johnson, a former first-round pick with the Houston Texans, played nearly 300 snaps during his first season in San Diego last year.
Nwagbuo, also a defensive tackle, and Martin hope to earn increased responsibilities this year, while Derrick Jones will attempt to earn playing time in his second NFL game.
He made the field Week 17 for the Atlanta Falcons as a rookie in 2007 and has spent time with five NFL teams in less than four years.
|DEFENSIVE ENDS AT A GLANCE|
Played in at least 10 games in all five career seasons … His 16.5 career sacks are most on the team by a defensive end … Played 554 snaps, amassed 16 quarterback pressures and six hits on the opposing quarterback to lead the Chargers defensive line last season … Moved to the Dominican Republic as a child and remains fluent in Spanish.
Started every game he played last season for the first time in his career … Made his first sack of the season Nov. 8 at the New York Giants and also made crucial second and third down tackles near the goal line late in the Chargers’ 21-20 win … Both of his parents immigrated to the United States from Haiti before he was born.
Played nearly 300 snaps during his first season in San Diego ... Finished the season with 16 tackles after he spent the first four years of his career with the Houston Texans … Claims 122 tackles, two sacks and nine passes defensed during his NFL career.
Made a career-high three sacks last year after signing with San Diego two weeks into the season … One of a handful of Chargers defensive players with ties to the Chicago Bears, he played for the team during Super Bowl XLI … Threw a block that helped current teammate Nathan Vasher return a missed field goal 108 yards for the Bears in 2006 for an NFL record that since has been broken.
Played in 10 games as a rookie last season and made five tackles … Became first Canadian underclassman drafted by an NFL team … Scored a 38 on the NFL’s Wonderlic test ahead of the 2009 draft … Primary sports growing up were cricket and soccer.
A triceps injury in training camp sidelined him for all of 2009 … Played in all 48 games the previous three seasons, backing up Jamal Williams at nose tackle and also playing defensive end … Recorded 1.5 sacks in each of those seasons … Loves to hunt, fish and backpack, especially in Utah’s Uinta Mountains.
Made the roster out of training camp last year after spending 2008 on the practice squad … Made 19 tackles as a first-year player, all in the first nine weeks of the season … Sacked JaMarcus Russell during the fourth quarter of San Diego’s 24-20 win over the Raiders on Sept. 14 … Also listed as a DT … Name is Nigerian for “my time will come.”
Spent a portion of last season on San Diego’s practice squad … Has been with five NFL teams since he left Grand Valley State in 2007 … Played in one game with the Atlanta Falcons in ’07, the season finale against Seattle … Is related to former MLB outfielder Eric Davis.
Week 1 starting defensive ends, 2000-09:
2000: LDE Albert Fontenot, RDE Darren Mickell.
2001: LDE Marcellus Wiley, RDE Raylee Johnson.
2002: LDE Marcellus Wiley, RDE Raylee Johnson.
2003: LDE Marcellus Wiley, RDE Raylee Johnson.
2004: LDE Igor Olshansky, RDE Adrian Dingle.
2005: LDE Jacques Cesaire, RDE Igor Olshansky.
2006: LDE Luis Castillo, RDE Igor Olshansky.
2007: LDE Igor Olshansky, RDE Luis Castillo.
2008: LDE Luis Castillo, RDE Igor Olshansky.
2009: DE Luis Castillo.
Week 1 defensive ends on roster, 2000-09:
2000: Albert Fontenot, Darren Mickell, Adrian Dingle, Neil Smith.
2001: Marcellus Wiley, Raylee Johnson, Albert Fontenot.
2002: Marcellus Wiley, Raylee Johnson, Adrian Dingle, Chris Demaree.
2003: Marcellus Wiley, Raylee Johnson, Adrian Dingle, Otis Leverette.
2004: Igor Olshansky, Adrian Dingle, Dave Ball.
2005: Jacques Cesaire, Igor Olshansky, DeQuincy Scott. Luis Castillo, Dave Ball, Derreck Robinson.
2006: Luis Castillo, Igor Olshansky, Jacques Cesaire, Derreck Robinson.
2007: Igor Olshansky, Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire.
2008: Luis Castillo, Igor Olshansky, Jacques Cesaire.
2009: Luis Castillo, Andre Coleman, Vaughn Martin, Travis Johnson, Jacques Cesaire.