Three to Watch: Veteran Players on the Bubble

LB Matt Wilhelm (Chris Graythen/Getty)

With a strong rookie class and a mostly healthy roster, the San Diego Chargers are as deep as they've been in years. It's a blessing for the head coach and a curse for the handful of veterans clinging to roster spots. Here's a look at three players on the bubble.

LB Matt Wilhelm

Wilhelm's fall from grace was hard and fast. In 2007, he moved into the starting lineup and responded with 97 tackles and three picks. One season later, he was relegated to the role of nickel linebacker and forced to split time with Tim Dobbins.

The Chargers signed a new nickel linebacker this offseason, Kevin Burnett from the Dallas Cowboys, which puts Wilhelm's future into question. Even without Wilhelm, the Chargers can field a solid four-man rotation of Stephen Cooper, Dobbins, Burnett and Brandon Siler. That may be enough to make the Chargers part ways with Wilhelm, who is set to count approximately $2.5 million against the cap this season.

There are still plenty of reasons to keep Wilhelm around. His presence will help spark competition; he provides experienced depth; and he could return to his 2007 form when surrounded by superior talent (i.e. Shawne Merriman and Larry English). Nonetheless, he'll have to pick up his game if he hopes to stick around in 2009.

RB Michael Bennett


RB Michael Bennett
Chris Graythen/Getty

When Bennett was claimed off waivers prior to Week 11, many speculated the Chargers made the move just to keep him away from the halfback-hungry Denver Broncos. However, San Diego had different intentions and believed Bennett could be the backup in 2009 if Darren Sproles departed as a free agent. However, the team re-signed Sproles and drafted Colorado State RB Gartrell Johnson in the fourth round, throwing Bennett's future into limbo.

Bennett, who has two years left on his deal with base salaries of $1 million and $1.25 million, played well in limited duty last season. He didn't see action for the Chargers until the playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, but in that contest he averaged 6 yards on four carries and caught a 7-yard screen pass to pick up a crucial first down.

A nine-year veteran and former Pro Bowler, Bennett is the kind of veteran insurance policy most teams love to have. However, the Chargers feel obligated to develop an every-down alternative behind LaDainian Tomlinson in case their all-world running back is injured down the stretch for a third consecutive season. That likely means more work for Johnson and possibly Jacob Hester -- and little room for Bennett.

DL Ian Scott

Scott has many reasons to be optimistic. He has a whole offseason to get fully comfortable in the Chargers defense; he's been reunited with defensive line coach Don Johnson; and he has a chance to fill the playing-time void created by the departure of Igor Olshansky. However, Scott shouldn't get too comfortable just yet.

The Chargers typically keep only six defensive linemen on the roster and five of them are locks: Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire, Ryon Bingham and Vaughn Martin. That leaves Scott to battle with Keith Grennan and Andre Coleman for the sixth and final spot.

Grennan and Coleman have spent the last two seasons on the practice squad and compare favorably to ex-Chargers John Parrella and DeQuincy Scott, respectively. Although they lack Ian Scott's experience (seven years), they have considerable upside and may be ready to crack the rotation. Scott still has the inside track, but things could get interesting with two younger, cheaper options waiting in the wings.

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.

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