San Diego Chargers Areas Of Concern: Running Back

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San Diego Chargers Areas Of Concern: Running Back

The San Diego Chargers have shifted over the last few years from a run first team to a pass first team. As hard as it is to admit that, and to see that lead (partially) to the decline, and subsequent release, of Ladainian Tomlinson, this team is now Philip Rivers' team. That doesn't mean the running game isn't important, though. The Charger's explosive 2009 offense lacked a dynamic running game which restricted the effectiveness of play action and made short distance pick-ups very difficult. With 2010 comes a new opportunity to remedy this problem, but the running back three-deep is still somewhat liquid. So, let's look at the running backs currently on the roster, and a few potential moves that could still be made.

Ryan Mathews
This guy has star potential. I will not go so far as to say this guy will put up 1,200-1,400 yards and 10+ touchdowns next season, because it is impossible to predict rookie seasons. However, Mathews has a few things going for him that put him a cut above the rest.
1. Size: Mathews is a big kid, and he knows how to use his body. In college he was very good at shrugging off tackles and trucking defenders. His speed is unusual for a guy his size. He has the potential to bust through holes for big chunks of yardage. While Mathews may not quite have it in him to hit the home run, he can still be a big distance threat.
2. Balance: The one major similarity between Mathews and Darren Sproles is their balance. Mathews has fantastic body control and has proven that he can stay up and on the run whether defenders go for his knees or his shoulders.
3. Work Ethic: This is, by far, the most important quality a player can possess. Mathews loves the Chargers and expressed interest in playing for the team since Day 1. He comes in and attends rookie camp and expresses his desire to get the contract business out of the way so that his focus can remain on football. This kid is here to work.

Darren Sproles
Not much has to be said about the lightening bug Darren Sproles. He is by no means an every down back, but his use as a situational back and return man is extremely valuable. When run in a committee with another back, Sproles can tear up teams on screen passes and quick inside runs.

Marcus Mason
Marcus Mason can be a very useful situational back. He has the ability to break through arm tackles, and possesses a decent burst through the hole. However, Mason lacks great up-field vision, and doesn't seem to be a consistent threat. While his 3.9 yard per carry average last year may make it seem like he does alright, his average is made up of extreme highs and extreme lows. Essentially, he lacks the ability to consistently pick up 4-6 yards per carry, it's either 1-3 or 1-20.

Shawnbrey McNeal
I really like this kid. He transfers from Miami on account of lack of playing time, enters June Jones' system at SMU and explodes onto the scene. While Jones' system may not mimic the Chargers' system, it shows that McNeal is teachable and hungry. He has a good burst and has exceptional up-field vision. Shawnbrey would fit in like Darren Sproles, as a guy who would run a pitch or screen.

Curtis Brinkley
I hate to say this, but Brinkley won't ever make the team. After suffering that gunshot wound that kept him off the field all last year, he has simply fallen behind, in addition to becoming  a medical liability.

Billy Latsko
Although the preseason has brought flashes of brilliance out of Latsko, he just doesn't have what it takes to compete at this level.

Clinton Portis
Bear with me here, because this could really be a smart move. The Redskins have done a great job of alienating Portis. They have filled the roster with competition, and Portis finds himself without a solid spot on the depth chart after spending time on IR last season. Portis would probably cost a mid-round draft pick next year,but he brings a few things to the table that nobody on the current roster could.
1. Experience: Portis has been in the league 9 years. He has proven himself as a skilled player, and he knows how to compete.
2. Skill: His numbers may not reflect it, but this guy has skill. Consider that he has had a poor offensive line and a less than spectacular passing attack to work with and his production seems much better.
3. Safety: While everyone hopes that Mathews remains healthy throughout the whole season, there is the possibility that he gets hurt,in which case Norv Turner will need a player to balance out Darren Sproles. Portis is a power player and would provide a good balance.

The Verdict
In this end, I expect the roster to be something like this:
1. Ryan Mathews
2. Darren Sproles
3. Marcus Mason
4. Shawnbrey McNeal (Practice Squad)
5. Curtis Brinkley (Practice Squad)

How I THINK the depth chart should work out:
1. Ryan Mathews
2. Darren Sproles
3. Clinton Portis
4. Shawnbrey McNeal (Practice Squad)
5. Curtis Brinkley (Practice Squad)

In either case, the first and second options are great, it's ultimately about securing depth. If there's something that AJ Smith still does well it's finding good replacement talent, so I trust that he'll make the right decision about the 3rd string running back.

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