Olshansky ready to take the step up to stardom


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Jan 22, 2006
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Olshansky ready to take the step up to stardom
By Kevin Acee
July 26, 2006

A.J. Smith has watched and smiled as the world has been wowed by his two first-round draft picks from 2005.

Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo were about as good as two rookies could be last season, and the expectation is they will be even better in 2006.

Smith, however, anticipates another player on the defensive front being ready to pounce from the precipice of stardom.

“I really believe this year he's going to be special,” the Chargers general manager said. “I've seen his offseason work habits. I think he's in great physical condition. He's on a mission. . . . I think he's kind of saying, 'Hey I'm a part of this football team too.' ”

Funny. Igor Olshansky feels the same way.

“We have the No. 1 rush defense,” Olshansky said yesterday. “I start, so I must do something right. I'm not trying to catch butterflies out there. . . . I got hurt early (last) year, which set me back. When I came out there I was kicking butt. I expect this year to take that and go with it. I was killing.”

No, Olshansky is not reluctant to talk about how good he is.

Said Castillo: “He's got that cocky Russian personality – 'I'm the strongest guy in the room. I'm the best guy at playing the run in the whole league.' ”

Thing is, both those statements may be true, or close enough to true to not really matter.

Olshansky has always been a workout machine, but with the added knowledge and wealth available to an NFL player he has refined his regimen and his diet to truly join the ranks of the freakishly in-shape. If there is a physical specimen on the team more impressive, it would only be Merriman.

The 6-foot-6 Olshansky is down to 300 pounds (with 13 percent body fat), about five pounds lighter than he was at season's end and 13 pounds lighter than when he was selected in the second round by the Chargers in '04.

And he has only gotten stronger. He can still bench press 510 pounds. More impressively, he can bench 315 pounds 16 times. That's twice as many times as Castillo, no small man himself at 6-3, 290.
Castillo, who plays the opposite end to Olshansky, smiles and says, “That's OK. I'm faster than he is.”

That is among the things Olshansky is working on. Taking a break from the ribbing that is a constant in their friendly rivalry, he will ask the more nimble Castillo for tips on how to be a step quicker or more agile on a play.

Smith is not the only one to notice Olshansky's ethic.

“He's a hard worker,” nose tackle Jamal Williams said. “I sat back and watched him this offseason. I liked what I saw.”

Olshansky started off 2005 with a solid opener against Dallas. But he sprained his ankle in the process and was inactive in the second game and barely played in the third and fourth weeks.

He returned against Pittsburgh on Oct. 10 and made seven tackles. He had two sacks the next Sunday at Oakland. It was clear as the season progressed he was much improved, establishing himself as a rock against the run.

But Olshansky plays the wrong position in the wrong defense to get much notice.

With the Chargers able to line up Merriman or Shaun Phillips with their hand on the ground in passing situations, Olshansky rarely plays beyond second down. That gives him precious few opportunities for sacks, the statistic most recognized as the sign of a top-flight end.

That could change slightly this season. With the departure of DeQuincy Scott, Olshansky is penciled in as the No. 1 end in the Chargers' dime package, which would afford him more playing time in passing situations.

Still, as the right end, he is constantly matched up against the opposing left tackle, routinely the biggest and best player on the offensive line.

Should Olshansky excel this season, he will have done so under the most demanding circumstances. Olshansky will be matched up against four left tackles destined for the Hall of Fame and two others who played in the most recent Pro Bowl.

“He's playing against the best left tackles in the business,” Castillo said. “If we end up No. 1 in running (defense) again, you have to say, 'Well one of our guys is taking on the best tackles and we're still (dominating).' ”

Asked if Olshansky can do it, Castillo recounted a play last season in which Olshansky threw aside 345-pound Oakland tackle Langston Walker virtually one-handed.

Said Castillo: “He can be unstoppable.”

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