Defensive line could be a major sore sport for the Chargers in 2010

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 19:  Linebacker Shawn Merriman #56, Jyles Tucker #94, and Luis Castillo #93 of the San Diego Chargers leads the team in a cheer before the start of the game against the Denver Broncos during Monday Night Football on October 19, 2009 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the issues the Chargers could have up front on defense.

Thanks to GM A.J. Smith’s ongoing battle with the disgruntled Vincent Jackson, one could argue that receiver will be the Chargers’ biggest weakness heading into the new season. But even without Jackson, quarterback Philip Rivers will have plenty of targets to throw to in tight end Antonio Gates, wideout Malcom Floyd and up-and-comer Legedu Naanee.

With that in mind, the Bolts’ biggest issue still lies on the defensive side of the ball.

In 2009, the Chargers ranked 20th in the league against the run, allowing 117.6 yards per game. After Smith failed to address the defensive line this offseason, run defense could once again be the team’s Achilles heel.

Luis Castillo is still considered the team’s best defensive lineman, but he finished last year with career-lows in sacks (one) and tackles (25). He also underwent offseason shoulder surgery and has missed 15 starts over the past four seasons.

At the other end spot is Jacques Cesaire, who only remains the starter because the team has nobody better behind him. He was fine as a third defensive end behind Castillo and Igor Olashansky (now with the Cowboys), but struggles as an every down starter. He doesn’t have great size, he lacks power and he wears down throughout the course of games, which are three attributes that no 3-4 defensive end (or any defensive end for that matter) should have.

After the team released Jamal Williams in March, Antonio Garay is expected to start at nose tackle for the Chargers this season. Truth be told, the team would probably rather have rookie Cam Thomas start, but defensive tackles rarely make an impact until their third year and Thomas is incredibly raw. For now, the 30-year-old journeyman Garay will do, but he won’t make anyone forget about Williams anytime soon.

If Castillo can stay healthy and get back to the player that he was when he first entered the league, then the Chargers might be able to get by with what they have. But considering he doesn’t have a lot of talent around him and can’t seem to stay healthy, the Bolts could be in trouble.

For a team that is expected to win the AFC West and go deep into the players, defensive line is a major hole for the Bolts.

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