CB Antonio Cromartie (Donald Miralle/Getty)
If the Chargers are to take the next step in 2008, three third-year players will supply the driving force. Samantha Fillerup takes a look at each of these players, detailing their past performances and laying out expectations for this season.
1. CB Antonio Cromartie
There is no doubt that Cromartie demonstrated his value with a record-setting sophomore season that ended in a Pro Bowl appearance. In 2007, he led the NFL with 10 interceptions and added two more during the playoffs. He added some sizzle to his steak by scoring three touchdowns in three different ways: an interception, a fumble recovery and a missed field goal return.
After a quiet rookie season in which he was never fully healthy, Cromartie immersed himself in game tape and developed into the team's defensive MVP. While he continues to improve as a player, he has made even more progress as a leader, taking rookies Antoine Cason and DeJuan Tribble under his wing.
After intercepting double-digit passes in only eight starts last season, Cromartie has set a goal of 15 for 2008. If any other player made that claim it would be seen as cocky. When Cromartie says it, people stop and take notice.
2. LT Marcus McNeill
McNeill is a key part of the offense and has the talent to dominate those in his path, which is evident in his two Pro Bowl appearances and the fact that he has started all 32 games he has played. In his rookie season, he allowed a mere two sacks and not a single holding penalty was called against him.
McNeill admits he did not play to his full potential in his second year. He is not satisfied with mediocrity and is working to use his elite physical tools to hold the line once again, hoping to earn a sizable contract extension before his deal is up after the 2009 season.
3. RT Jeromey Clary
Last year, Clary took over the starting role with five games remaining in the regular season after Shane Olivea struggled. Spending the 2006 season on the practice squad helped him to develop his skills, which explains his early success, as the Chargers went 7-2 during his nine starts (including the playoffs).
Clary proved himself capable of getting the job done; however, he has yet to cement himself as the long-term solution at right tackle. If Clary continues to improve, he'll become a quick candidate for a contract extension. If he regresses, 10-year veteran L.J. Shelton is waiting in the wings.