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Position Preview: Cornerbacks

Posted Jul 14, 2010

Former first-round pick feels ready to emerge as pair of veterans add depth to a group that includes the dependable Quentin Jammer.

SAN DIEGO – Antoine Cason was the third cornerback last year for the Chargers.

The starting position opposite Quentin Jammer became available this offseason.

Cason appears poised to get the first chance to fill that spot. But he feels he’s done more than inherit a role by default, and he’s anxious to prove himself as a viable NFL starter.

“You’re (absolutely) right I’m happy about that,” Cason said. “I make goals to achieve them. I’m not here just to be on the team. I’m here to start. And that’s something that I’ve emphasized since I’ve been here.”

He’ll benefit from Jammer’s steady presence at left cornerback, where he’s been written into the starting lineup in pen for the last seven years. San Diego also signed a pair of veterans in Nathan Vasher, a former Pro Bowler with Super Bowl experience, and Donald Strickland, a versatile corner who feels most comfortable in the slot.

“I think it’s definitely an improvement over last year because we’ve got some veteran depth,” Jammer said. “Last year we only carried, really, three corners. This year we brought in some new guys who (have) played a lot of snaps with other teams. So the competition is great and it’ll only make us better.”

It doesn’t hurt that Vasher played opposite Jammer as an underclassman at Texas, where the two became close friends.

Vasher, once a SportsCenter highlight machine, made eight interceptions in 2005 and was a key part of Chicago’s Super Bowl team in 2006. Injuries took a toll in recent seasons, but Vasher has embraced San Diego.

“There’s nothing like a fresh start,” he said. I feel like I’m getting that opportunity here.”

Vasher and Strickland will push Cason, who isn’t content to gamble for interceptions and neglect other parts of his game.

“Of course everybody likes interceptions, but you have to put it all together every play,” Cason said. “That’s what makes you a complete, consistent corner. I’m working on everything across the board, but of course playing the ball.”

Also competing for roster spots are a pair of former Pac-10 standouts that share a last name.

Brandon Hughes has yet to take an NFL snap after an injury relegated him to the sideline all of last season. The Chargers selected him in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL draft.

Dante Hughes made three tackles for San Diego last year after playing in 24 games for the Indianapolis Colts since being drafted out of Cal in 2007.

Traye Simmons, an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota, broke up 14 passes in 2008, good for fifth in the nation. He also intercepted four after transferring from College of the Sequoias and followed a second-team All-Big 10 selection with an honorable mention as a senior.

 

CORNERBACKS AT A GLANCE

  

QUENTIN JAMMER
Size:
6-0, 204
Exp.: 9
Career GP: 125

Expected to start at left cornerback for the eighth consecutive year … Started all 16 games in all but one of those seasons (2004) … Needs one pass defensed to reach 100 for his career … Has intercepted a pass each year since 2003 … Should reach 500 career solo tackles this season.

  

ANTOINE CASON
Size:
6-1, 195
Exp.: 3
Career GP: 32

Will have a chance to start opposite Jammer … Played in all 32 games since 2008, his rookie season … Boasts 10 passes defensed and four interceptions for his career … Intercepted JaMarcus Russell’s hail mary attempt Sept. 14 on the final play of the game to beat Oakland … Drafted No. 27 overall by the Chargers in ’08 … Dad, Wendell, played cornerback and safety for the Atlanta Falcons in the ’80s.

  

NATHAN VASHER
Size:
5-11, 185
Exp.: 7
Career GP: 71

Intercepted eight passes and made the Pro Bowl in 2005 as a member of the Chicago Bears … Also set a record for longest return of any kind, a 108-yard touchdown on a missed FG. Former Chargers CB Antonio Cromartie now holds the record at 109 yards … Has made at least one interception in each of his six NFL seasons … Was the best man in Jammer’s wedding.

  

DONALD STRICKLAND
Size:
5-10, 185
Exp.: 7
Career GP: 58

Versatile cornerback has been used primarily against slot receivers and tight ends … Both career interceptions came as a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts in 2003 … Both career sacks came with the New York Jets last season … Plans to create platform for players to preserve their legacy by using skills gained from mechanical engineering degree.

  

DANTE HUGHES
Size:
5-10, 190
Exp.: 4
Career GP: 25

Made three tackles Week 17 against Washington in his only game last season … Was drafted by the Colts in 2007, a few years after they selected Strickland … Played in 24 games for Indianapolis and made only career interception against Jordan Palmer of Cincinnati … Was born in Los Angeles and played college football for California.

  

BRANDON HUGHES
Size:
5-11, 188
Exp.: 2
Career GP: 0

Spent last season on Reserve-Injured after the Chargers drafted him in the fifth round out of Oregon State … Originally signed with the Beavers as a wide receiver … Earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors twice in his college career, pairing with Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis.

  

TRAYE SIMMONS
Size:
5-9, 180
Exp.: R
Career GP: 0

Signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent … Earned second-team All-Big 10 in 2008 at Minnesota … Played two years for the Golden Gophers after attending community college … Totaled 95 tackles, six interceptions and 22 pass breakups for Minnesota.

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