The San Diego Chargers cut Defensive End Luis Castillo on Thursday and quickly replaced him on the roster on Friday when they signed Nose Tackle Aubrayo Franklin, formerly of the Saints.
Franklin is a true Nose Tackle who enjoyed success at that position, but struggled last season in the Saints' 4-3 defensive front. We can hope that he returns to form in the Chargers' scheme, and that he brings experience and a competitive presence to the position, currently staffed by Antonio Garay and Cam Thomas.
Mr. Garay had a surprisingly good season in 2010, but tailed off in 2011 and gathered more attention for his hairstyles and jocular relationship with the local media than for his on-field production, which was unfortunate for him in a contract year.
Cam Thomas was drafted in the fifth round in 2010, although he was projected to go much higher, possibly in the second round, and caused Mike Mayock to muse that he might not get out of the first round after a great Senior Bowl. He has been primarily a backup. He's seen as a naturally big and strong kid who unfortunately has a bit of a concentration and work ethic problem. Nevertheless, he's considered an important member of the young defensive line the Chargers are trying to develop with ends Vaughn Martin and Corey Liuget, and augmented by Kendall Reyes at this year's draft.
So Aubrayo Franklin may act as the senior statesman on the line, dispensing wisdom and tips to the younger Cam Thomas, and lighting a fire under him and Antonio Garay. He'll also serve as injury insurance, should one of the incumbents fall during training camp or pre-season. Nothing wrong with having depth on the defensive line in today's NFL, and especially for the infirmary-cursed Chargers.
Meanwhile, Luis Castillo's role on this team was unclear, and what he could contribute to the defense at this stage of his career questionable. Some might argue that his veteran presence might help the young defensive ends around him, but there is already a healthier, more productive Jacques Césaire to provide that. Also, it's debatable whether the team at this point needs veterans and continuity as opposed to a break from the past, from the complacency and self-satisfaction and propensity for failing under pressure and displaying astounding brain cramps.
I think the team needs an infusion of youth, talent, of real football players who will produce and win. The Chargers did well in the draft this year by snapping up three team captains at major programs who are football junkies who will play hard instead of workout wonders who will need time to develop. These guys need playing time and trial by fire, not to be coddled on the sidelines while Luis Castillo underwhelms on the field.
Mr. Castillo was never a spectacular talent or performer, doing okay early on in his career when playing alongside Jamal Williams. The Pro Bowl Nose Tackle would occupy two or three blockers and allow Luis free rein, especially when opponents had to worry about Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips behind him. As the talent around him dwindled, so did Mr. Castillo's performance. He never became the impact player that his first-round draft status or college career indicated he might turn into.
An interesting, unspoken aspect in all this is that both Mr. Castillo and Shawne Merriman were drafted in the first round in 2005 to great hype, and at first it seemed to be a draft for the ages, especially considering that Vincent Jackson was nabbed in the second round and Darren Sproles in the fourth. Unfortunately for the team, both first-rounders were shown to have used performance-enhancing drugs, and both were never the same players after getting caught.
In Luis Castillo's case, he tested positive before the draft combine, and explained in a letter to all NFL teams that while he admitted his culpability, his reasons were to aid in his recovery from an elbow injury. Mr. Castillo was a bright and likeable kid, a Northwestern grad with a Wonderlic test score of 37 (!), and the Chargers took a chance on him. While Luis Castillo was not a bust, he never quite turned out as well as we'd hoped, and while we waited for him to blossom we had a middling performer on the line on a defense that was a liability as soon as Shawne Merriman and Jamal Williams tailed off.
So better off giving the reps to Vaughn Martin, Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes right now, and seeing what the kids can do. We can wish Luis Castillo the best in his future career, and thank him for his years of service.