One of the most compelling parts of NFL training camp is the position battles. The wily veteran looking to hang on to his job for one more season. The hungry youngster looking to earn a starting role. Such classic plotlines have been repeated each summer since the days of George Halas.
Here are three key position battles Norv Turner and the Chargers’ coaching staff will be watching closely when training camp gets underway later this month:
Bigby enters his 7th season in the NFL after signing with the Chargers in March. He appeared in 15 games, including 2 starts last year with the Seattle Seahawks, and recorded 18 tackles with 1 forced fumble.
Bigby’s best season came as a member of the Green Bay Packers in 2007 when he had 86 tackles and 5 interceptions. Bigby figures to act as more of a mentor this season for the Chargers rather than playing in a starting role. However, he certainly has the ability to push rookie Brandon Taylor during training camp.
Taylor was selected by the Chargers with the 73rd overall pick in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He was a three-year starter at LSU and had his most productive collegiate season last year, recording 71 tackles and 2 interceptions.
During Taylor’s time at LSU, the Tigers were blessed with outstanding cover corners in Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne, allowing Taylor to roam more as an 8th man in the box. As such, he was not always dropping back into coverage as much as one would expect.
It remains to be seen how effective Taylor can be in coverage, but his strength as a tackler figures to make him a valuable contributor from the get-go for the Chargers.
Entering his 8th season in the NFL, Castillo is the veteran leader along the Chargers defensive line. In 2010, Castillo started all 16 games, recording 26 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Castillo missed the majority of the 2011 season after fracturing his tibia in the opening game against the Minnesota Vikings. He was able to fully participate in OTA's last month, but it remains to be seen how his leg will hold up over the course of training camp and the long NFL season.
Martin saw his first consistent action in the NFL last year after Castillo went down to injury, starting the remaining 15 games of the season. He performed well with his opportunity, producing 47 tackles and a sack.
Martin brings some versatility to the defensive line, as he not only showed the ability to play end in 2011, but also has the size at 6’4” and 308 pounds to move inside and play tackle when needed.
Reyes was selected by the Chargers with the 49th overall pick in the second round of the 2012 draft. He was a three-year starter at Connecticut and had his most productive season last year, recording 46 tackles -- including 13.5 for loss -- and 4.5 sacks.
At 6’4” and 295 pounds, Reyes was large enough to play tackle at the collegiate level. However, the Bolts are hoping to move him outside in order to provide pressure from the end position.
Reyes finished with the second most reps in the bench press at the NFL Combine with 36, and that strength, combined with his agility, will make him a player to watch throughout training camp and the exhibition season.
What a difference a year makes. In 2010, Kaeding ended the season as the most accurate kicker in NFL history, converting 86.5% of his field goal attempts. One year later, he tore his left (non-kicking) ACL on the opening kickoff of the Chargers first 2011 game.
Kaeding is now entering his 8th season in the NFL, and his health will be a major concern. Kaeding reportedly is fully recovered from the injury, but the proof will come during training camp.
Novak was signed by the Chargers last season after Kaeding tore his ACL. He performed well in Kaeding’s absence, converting 27 of 34 field goals, and 41 of 42 extra points.
Although Novak might be more famous for urinating on the sidelines than for his kicking ability, he figures to again produce solid numbers for the Bolts if Kaeding isn’t fully recovered from his ACL tear.
By Chris Harker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald