DL Travis Johnson (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
It's seen as a foregone conclusion that the Chargers will pick a nose tackle in April's NFL Draft. What's less certain is where the rookie will fit in the rotation. San Diego already has nine veterans in the fold, creating terrific depth and even better competition.
Last season, the Chargers struggled to find enough defensive linemen to suit up on game days. The team finished the season with seven D-linemen on the active roster -- three of them were midseason pick-ups and one was acquired via trade following the third preseason contest.
Depth won't be a problem in 2010. Mainstays Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire remain; Travis Johnson, Alfonso Boone, Ian Scott and Antonio Garay come back for another go-round; Ryon Bingham and Ogemdi Nwagbuo return from I.R.; and Vaughn Martin resumes his role as the X-factor.
That makes nine bodies to fill seven spots on the depth chart, a crowd that is likely to become even denser after draft day.
A.J. Smith plans to pick a nose tackle who can plug run lanes on first and second downs. San Diego has shown interest in several candidates, including Alabama's Terrence Cody, North Carolina's Cam Thomas and UCF's Torrell Troup.
DLs Ogemdi Nwagbuo, Andre Coleman and Vaughn Martin.
No matter which rookie comes on board, he will have to battle for playing time.
Here's the early forecast with training camp still five months away:
Locked and Loaded: Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire, Ryon Bingham
Castillo's contract runs through 2014 -- no Charger is under contract for longer. Cesaire enters his eighth year with the team and continues to earn rave reviews for his toughness and tenacity. And Bingham, although largely forgotten last year when he missed the season with a biceps injury, is seen as an ascending player who can provide valuable snaps at every spot along the line.
Seemingly Safe: Travis Johnson; Alfonso Boone, Ogemdi Nwagbuo
Johnson is still a restricted free agent, although his first-round tender means he will be a Charger at least through training camp. He must prove he can stay healthy if he hopes to stick around beyond that. Boone exceeded expectations last season and can keep his linebackers clean for 20-25 snaps per game. Nwagbuo was another surprise player until an ankle injury ended his season after Week 13; he figures to be the go-to nose tackle in passing situations.
Bubble Boys: Ian Scott, Antonio Garay, Vaughn Martin
Scott was a lifesaver as the team's nose tackle down the stretch last season, but he has limited upside and will likely be pushed out if a talented rookie is added to the mix. Garay is an improving player and a favorite of defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, but lacks the combination of skills and experienced possessed by the players in front of him. Martin improved by leaps and bounds last year, but he'll have to do the same in 2010 if he hopes to stay in the rotation.
Which linemen are the Bolts targeting? Find out in the Insiders Draft Talk Forum.
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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.