Certain free-agent quarterbacks and their surgically repaired necks drew almost all the attention over the NFL’s offseason this year.
But here are five running backs who changed teams this summer and will make an immediate impact in their surroundings.
Dan Pompei reported (h/t South Bend Tribune) recently that Cedric Benson has never felt better. "It's prime time right now," Benson reportedly said. "I'm strong and fast, stronger than I've been. Plus, I'm more knowledgeable."
He’s certainly never been on a better team, and it’s also possible that he’s never been on a team where he fits so perfectly.
After struggling off the field in Chicago and showing elite talent on it in Cincinnati, Benson has a chance to put it all together and give the Packers offense the one weapon it lacks: a consistent rusher.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland to Kansas City
Kansas City’s offense should be run-heavy as usual this season, and although starting running back Jamaal Charles is a stud, he has also struggled with an ACL injury during the offseason. Expect Hillis to get some significant carries with the Chiefs this year.
And I believe he will be up for it.
It would be easy to dismiss Hillis as a one-year wonder —2010 being his breakout year. In fact, his 2010 numbers are better across the board than his other three NFL seasons combined.
Brian Williamson, ESPN.com’s AFC West blogger, reports that Hillis is right at home in Kansas City: “He is happy in Kansas City and he feels comfortable in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system.”
Daboll was Hillis’ offensive coordinator during his 2010 season in Cleveland.
Mike Tolbert, San Diego to Carolina
After backing up future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson and then up-and-comer Ryan Mathews in San Diego, Mike Tolbert finally has a starting job in Carolina, and he will make the most of it.
An underrated back for his entire career, the human bowling ball has been reunited with coaches Ron Rivera and Rob Chudzinski, both of whom he played for on the Chargers. He will use his surprising speed, power and amazing work ethic to full effect this year.
When Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer asked him why he throws his body into vicious block after vicious block against mammoth defensive ends during practice, Tolbert said: “Because the coaches asked me to.”
Michael Bush, Oakland to Chicago
He will benefit from an outstanding coaching staff, ground-and-pound friendly weather at Soldier Field and an offense recommitted to balance.
If Forte has a weakness, it’s his goal-line running. Look for Bush to capitalize on the increased red-zone carries that sees.
Le’Ron McClain, Kansas City to San Diego
Though Ryan Mathews is expected to be healthy by the start of the season, he has been injured over the summer and has struggled to stay healthy before. This could mean prime-time carries are headed McClain’s way.
Even if Mathews remains healthy, McClain is the type of big, bruising back that could fill the role left open by the departure of Mike Tolbert and help the Chargers convert in short-yardage situations.
Plus, he goes around quoting Die Hard all the time. Just kidding. But that would be so cool, wouldn’t it?