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Position Preview: Defensive Tackles

Posted Jul 16, 2010

Fifth-round pick Cam Thomas and a versatile group of veterans are tasked with a burdensome but crucial job at the most physical position in the NFL.

SAN DIEGO – No, they’re not trying to conceal a receding hairline or scratch his head.

Officials that place both palms on top of their hat are signaling 12 men on the field, which is against the rules in the NFL.

There is, however, a legal way to gain a one-man advantage: force a double-team. Offenses and defenses each try to leverage them because they can give a unit a distinct benefit, leaving teammates to play 10-on-9.

That’s a primary objective of any 3-4 defense, which counts on one player to control the interior of the offensive line. The nose tackle is the fulcrum for the entire machine.

San Diego mostly counted on one man to shoulder that burden since it employed the formation in 2004. Several players could seize that role this season, but the Chargers hope fifth-round draft pick Cam Thomas plays a part.

Fans would have no trouble getting used to a No. 76 going to work in the most physical space of America’s most savage team sport.

“People will mention it, but I feel like there’s no pressure,” Thomas said of wearing the same jersey as former Charger Jamal Williams. “If (he) didn’t have No. 76, I’d just be Cam Thomas.

“I give the man the utmost respect because he’s basically a legend out here. (But) I don’t feel like there’s pressure. I’m just going out there doing what they want me to do.”

Several other veterans also would relish a chance to occupy that position. Ryon Bingham missed all of last season with a triceps injury, but served as Williams’ primary backup from 2006-08 while doubling as a defensive end.

Antonio Garay, along with Thomas, is the only player solely listed as a defensive tackle. Recovered from the broken leg and shattered ankle he suffered on a chop block in 2007, Garay wants to prove himself again. He played regularly for the Chicago Bears, getting credit for six games in 2007 before his injury, but didn’t return to an NFL field until last Christmas against the Tennessee Titans.

Former first-round pick Travis Johnson, selected 16th overall by the Houston Texans in the 2005 NFL Draft, can fill a spot at tackle if needed, although he primarily is known as a defensive end. He has 122 tackles and two sacks in his career.

Ogemdi Nwagbuo squeezed his way onto the roster last year with a strong preseason. He made 19 tackles as a first-year player and also can line up at defensive end.

Vaughn Martin, the first Canadian drafted as an underclassman, also predominantly plays as a defensive end but also is listed at defensive tackle.

Whoever emerges to play nose tackle will need to handle one of the most exhausting jobs, one that rarely gets reflected on the stat sheet.

At 6-foot-4, 335 pounds, Thomas is the biggest of the group. He already can tell a difference between his North Carolina team and San Diego where, in his words, grown men are fighting for a chance to feed their families. He knows he needs to match that intensity now that he’s a professional.

“I’m just here to do a job and win games,” Thomas said. “My job is to clog up gaps, let everybody else roll, and help make plays when it’s my time. I mean, it’s fun.”

 

DEFENSIVE TACKLES AT A GLANCE

  

RYON BINGHAM
Size:
6-3, 303
Exp.: 6
Career GP: 49

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.

  

TRAVIS JOHNSON
Size:
6-3, 311
Exp.: 6
Career GP: 67

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.

  

ANTONIO GARAY
Size:
6-4, 320
Exp.: 4
Career GP: 16

Returned to the NFL last season after a chop block broke his leg and shattered his ankle more than two years earlier … Played for defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and defensive line coach Don Johnson in Chicago … Took the field against the Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins last year and made five tackles for San Diego … May represent the United States in wrestling at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

  

OGEMDI NWAGBUO
Size:
6-4, 312
Exp.: 2
Career GP: 12

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 … Name is Nigerian for “my time will come.”

  

VAUGHN MARTIN
Size:
6-4, 330
Exp.: 2
Career GP: 10

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.

  

CAM THOMAS
Size:
6-4, 335
Exp.: R
Career GP: 0

Helped the Tar Heels defense finish first in the ACC last season … Finished career with 83 tackles, 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for a loss … Scored a touchdown on a 20-yard fumble recovery at Boston College … Drafted by the Chargers in the fifth round after San Diego traded up 13 spots.

Week 1 starting defensive tackles, 2000-09:

2000: LDT Jamal Williams, RDT John Parrella.
2001: LDT Jamal Williams, RDT John Parrella.
2002: LDT Jamal Williams, RDT Jason Fisk.
2003: LDT Jamal Williams, RDT Jason Fisk.
2004: NT Jamal Williams
2005: NT Jamal Williams.
2006: NT Jamal Williams.
2007: NT Jamal Williams.
2008: NT Jamal Williams.
2009: NT Jamal Williams.

Week 1 defensive tackles on roster, 2000-09:

2000: Jamal Williams, John Parrella, Leonardo Carson, Albert Fontenot.
2001: Jamal Williams, John Parrella, Leonardo Carson, Albert Fontenot.
2002: Jamal Williams, Jason Fisk, Leonardo Carson, DeQuincy Scott.
2003: Jamal Williams, Jason Fisk, Leonardo Carson, DeQuincy Scott.
2004: Jamal Williams, Jacques Cesaire, DeQuincy Scott.
2005: Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo.
2006: Jamal Williams, Ryon Bingham.
2007: Jamal Williams, Ryon Bingham.
2008: Jamal Williams, Ryon Bingham, Brandon McKinney.
2009: Jamal Williams, Ogemdi Nwagbuo.

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