DL Ryon Bingham (Rick Stewart/Getty)
Assembling a contending roster is about more than identifying talented players…it’s about identifying talented programs. There are six major college programs with multiple players on San Diego’s roster, accounting for more than a dozen players who are critical to the Bolts’ success. Team expert Michael Lombardo ranks the impact of each college.
1.) Purdue: OLB Shaun Phillips and C Nick Hardwick
Phillips is one of the league’s best pure pass-rushers because of ability to beat linemen off the snap and blow by them on the way to the QB. He has 20 sacks over the last two seasons and is the perfect complement to Shawne Merriman.
Hardwick is a former wrestler who wins battles at the point of attack with leverage and grit. He is a leader on the offensive line and makes sure all of the Chargers’ linemen are in sync before the snap. He played in the Pro Bowl following the 2006 season and should be a regular in Hawaii if he fully recovers from foot surgery.
2.) Iowa: G Mike Goff and K Nate Kaeding
Goff is one of San Diego’s most consistent linemen. He joined the team prior to the 2004 season and has started every game at right guard since. His ability to pull-block effectively is a big reason for LaDainian Tomlinson’s success running left.
Kaeding also ranks among the League’s best at his position. He’s converted on better than 87 percent of his attempts each of the last three seasons. He also proved he has some clutch in him with his 4-for-4 performance in the AFC Championship Game despite a seriously injured plant-leg.
Second-year tight end Scott Chandler is also a former Hawkeye.
3.) Kansas State: OT Jeromey Clary and RB Darren Sproles
Clary made a lightning-quick ascension to the starting lineup. After spending his rookie year on the practice squad, he climbed the ladder last season by supplanting both Roman Oben and Shane Olivea. The offense took off once Clary became a starter, although the arrival of Chris Chambers also had a lot to do with that.
Sproles also enjoyed a breakout 2007 campaign. In addition to returning two kicks for scores, he finally found his niche on offense. He carried 37 times for 164 yards and two scores and chipped in 10 receptions, as well.
4.) Arizona: CB Antoine Cason and TE Brandon Manumaleuna
It is difficult to gauge Cason’s impact given that he’s yet to play in an NFL game. Nonetheless, his smooth coverage skills should fit in nicely between Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer.
Manumaleuna is a versatile H-back who lines up all over the field. He functions as an extra offensive tackle on running downs and serves as Philip Rivers’ personal protector in obvious passing situations.
5.) Nebraska: DL Ryon Bingham and LB Carlos Polk
The Nebraska imprint is obvious on Bingham and Polk. Both made the team as second-day draft picks before working into the rotation and earning multi-year contract extensions. Bingham will see plenty of time as a backup defensive end and nose tackle this season. Polk, a two-time Special Teams Player of the Year award winner, will make his biggest impact chasing down kick returners.
6.) Clemson: LB Anthony Waters and QB Charlie Whitehurst
Neither Waters nor Whitehurst made much of an impact last season, but that should change for at least one of them in 2008. Waters will compete with Derek Smith to start at inside linebacker while Stephen Cooper serves his four-game suspension to start the season. Whitehurst is once again buried on the depth chart after Billy Volek signed a new three-year contract this off-season.
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.