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Strong Safety Battle Heating Up Coming into Camp

According to Pro Football Weekly, the battle between Steve Gregory and rookie Darrell Stuckey for the starting SS spot could be the best battle when camp roles around. Gregory has shown his versatility and has performed strong in the past, but Stuckey has shown plenty of upside coming into training camp and could be in position to fill the void that Kevin Ellison left behind. The article takes a look at the Chargers as a whole and what the team is looking like coming into training camp.

Training-camp site: Chargers Park, San Diego, Calif.

Training-camp report date: Rookies, July 25; Veterans, July 30.

Key veteran arrivals: TE Randy McMichael, WR Josh Reed, CB Donald Strickland, OT Tra Thomas, CB Nathan Vasher.

Key veteran departures: RB Michael Bennett, CB Antonio Cromartie, ILB Tim Dobbins, S Kevin Ellison, TE Brandon Manumaleuna, WR-ST Kassim Osgood, DT Ian Scott, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, QB Charlie Whitehurst, NT Jamal Williams.

Drafted rookies: (1) RB Ryan Mathews; (3) ILB Donald Butler; (4) S Darrell Stuckey; (5) DT Cam Thomas, QB Jonathan Crompton; (7) TE Dedrick Epps.

Offensive overview: Head coach Norv Turner and coordinator Clarence Shelmon return to help guide a Chargers offense that finished in the top 10 last season. While personnel situations have caused Turner to lean toward the pass in recent years, he’d prefer to run a more balanced attack. The unit’s clear leader is QB Philip Rivers, who has posted two prolific seasons in a row and has become one of the most efficient passers in the league. His favorite target is TE Antonio Gates, a freakishly athletic player who can both stretch the field and snatch balls in traffic. A three-game suspension to start the season and the likely holdout of WR Vincent Jackson, who posted career numbers in 2009, severely downgrades the team’s cast of wideouts. The giant Malcom Floyd will be forced to take over the No. 1 spot, with Legedu Naanee, free-agent addition Josh Reed and perennial disappointment Buster Davis rounding out the corps. RB Ryan Mathews was taken in Round One to replace the departed LaDainian Tomlinson and bolster a running game that ranked 31st in ’09. He’ll be the primary back, with lightning bug Darren Sproles as the passing-down specialist. San Diego’s solid O-line could take a major step back if anchor OLT Marcus McNeill follows through on his threat to hold out.

Defensive overview: The defense made considerable strides in ’09 in coordinator Ron Rivera’s first full season on the job. Rivera likes to run an aggressive 3-4 scheme that disguises looks and brings pressure from all over the field. The strength of the “D” is the linebacking corps, led by OLBs Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman. Phillips is extremely quick and can get to the QB with the best of them. Meanwhile, Merriman played hurt last season but still has exceptional pure talent. Inside, Stephen Cooper is a tackling machine who cleans everything up. DE Luis Castillo is a big, disruptive player up front, but the Bolts will be looking to replace mammoth NT Jamal Williams, who was cut in the offseason. Veteran CB Quentin Jammer and FS Eric Weddle hold down the fort in the secondary, which will feature a pair of new starters in ’10. Third-year CB Antoine Cason will take the place of Antonio Cromartie, while rookie Darrell Stuckey and Steve Gregory will fight for the strong safety spot vacated by Kevin Ellison.

Battle to watch: Gregory is a versatile vet who has played well at a number of positions, but fourth-rounder Stuckey stood out in offseason practices. Their competition to start at SS should be the club’s best of camp.

Injury update: A number of Chargers underwent offseason surgery, but most of them have already fully recovered or will have by the time training camp begins, including Naanee (foot) and ILB Kevin Burnett (neck). Gates, however, could be limited in camp after being diagnosed with a minor form of plantar fasciitis in May.

Fantasy sleeper: If Jackson is indeed out of the picture for most or all of 2010, somebody has to replace his production. That man very well could be Floyd, a big-play threat who had 45-776-1 last season. His tremendous potential makes him well worth a mid-round fantasy pick.

Read what they have to say over at Pro Football Weekly and see how you feel about the Chargers chances of winning it all when the 2010 regular season roles around in about a month and a half.

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