RB/FB Jacob Hester (Donald Miralle/Getty)
Training camp is just more than a month away and Chargers coaches are working furiously to get the rookies up to speed. San Diego exercised only five draft picks this year but will still rely on strong contributions from its rookie class. Team expert Michael Lombardo explains what to expect from the key players in this year’s crop.
Most likely to make an immediate impact: Jacob Hester
The versatile Hester will contribute in a number of areas. He’ll be the power-running complement to LaDainian Tomlinson; he’ll spell Andrew Pinnock at fullback; he’ll catch passes from a variety of alignments; and he’ll chip in on special teams. The plan is to let Hester’s play justify the draft-day trade to acquire him.
Most likely to struggle: Antoine Cason
Cason will endure some struggles as a rookie, but not for a lack of talent. As the third cornerback between Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer, Cason will trot into the nickel defense with a bull’s-eye on his back. Offensive coordinators will scheme to get their best receivers pitted against the rookie and Cason will have to respond.
Most likely to make an impact on special teams: DeJuan Tribble
The challenge for Tribble will be remaining active on game days. In order to do that, he’ll have to dominate on special teams. He certainly has the aggressive mindset and sure tackling ability to thrive. His odds will only improve if special-teams dynamo Tim Dobbins fails to make the team.
Most likely to rush for 100 yards in a game: Marcus Thomas
Thomas will receive limited carries for the bulk of the season. However, if Tomlinson is resting in the second half of a blowout, Thomas is the runner who could assume most of the heavy lifting. He has the size (6’2”, 215 pounds) to be an every-down back and the speed and power to expose tired defenders in the second half of ballgames.
Most likely to be cut: Corey Clark
Clark’s chances of making the roster seemingly went out the window when the Chargers signed L.J. Shelton to a two-year contract. If the team keeps four tackles, journeyman Tony Pape likely has the inside track on the final spot. Clark will likely spend his rookie year learning on the practice squad.
Most likely to earn a roster spot as an undrafted rookie: Mike Tolbert
The Chargers are brimming with backfield talent, but Tolbert could surprise by winning a roster spot. Pinnock has been slow to recover from off-season microfracture surgery and Hester could play more halfback than fullback. Although the odds are against any undrafted rookie sticking on San Diego’s über-deep roster, Tolbert’s gritty blocking and special-teams ability give him a realistic shot.
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.