TC: What to Watch for on Defense

CB Antoine Cason (Donald Miralle/Getty)

The Chargers locked in the final piece of the defensive puzzle Thursday when first-round pick Antoine Cason agreed to terms on a five-year contract. Now, can the Chargers put the entire picture together? Samantha Fillerup details the story lines to watch on defense.

Cason Cares- For Timeliness

Although Antoine Cason missed the training camp practices that were designated for rookies and selected veterans, he made sure to ink his deal before the entire team reported on July 25. Had Cason held out much longer, he would have opened the door for Cletis Gordon to make a run at the nickel back job.

The Chargers have not had a significant holdout since Philip Rivers held out for 25 days in 2004. That's just one of the many perks of finishing with a winning record for four consecutive years- lower draft picks are much easier to sign.

Defensive Ends to Spare

The Chargers are pretty well set with their defensive ends, but coaches may consider taking on one more in light of the two waiting in the wings. The top four ends right now are Luis Castillo, Igor Olshansky, Jacques Cesaire and Ryon Bingham. However, Andre Coleman and Keith Grennan, two members of the practice squad last season, will push hard to make the active roster.

Coleman possesses great athleticism but is unrefined and needs to polish his techniques. He has a great talent of permeating the pocket quickly and rushing the quarterback.

Grennan spent his rookie season learning the 3-4 defense, as it was his first exposure to such a scheme. He is now more comfortable with his responsibilities and ready to see some field time.

Suspension Opens Spot

Stephen Cooper has been suspended for four games of the season, which puts his starting spot temporarily up for grabs. Anthony Waters would have had the deal sealed were it not for the off-season addition of Derek Smith.

Waters enters his second year after being inactive as a rookie while rehabilitating from a knee injury. The injury bug recently bit again, as he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, but this operation should have him back in a couple of weeks. If he comes back at 100 percent, he has a chance to get the starting nod.

Smith is an 11-year veteran and spent the last seven years playing for the San Francisco 49ers, where he posted more than 100 tackles five times. Smith and Waters are equal in size, but Smith has ample experience that gives him an edge.

Double Duty

The Chargers' defense has an open space for a dime back and there a two candidates who are capable and double as members of the special teams.

Cletis Gordon enters his third season and recorded 16 tackles and two pass breakups in 2007. He is also an explosive kick returner, although he'll have to fight for time in that role, as well.

Rookie sixth-round pick DeJuan Tribble recorded four interceptions and five special-teams tackles as a senior at Boston College. He is aggressive with good field awareness and also doubles as a kick returner.

Rookies Ready

There are a number of other defensive players who are will attend their first training camp. Among those are cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Josh Bell, safety Brian Bonner and defensive tackle Lamar Divens. How they fare at camp could be indicative of how much they play this season- if at all.

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