Let’s be honest for a moment: The days of the run-first offensive mentality are done in San Diego, at least for a while.
Some say it was because of the departure of Lorenzo Neal. Some say it came with Norv Turner and the softening of the offensive line. In any case, the fact that they have dropped so low as to rank 31st in the league in rushing offense in 2009 is a sign that something needs to change.
While Philip Rivers has developed into a phenomenal quarterback, his ability to dominate the field will be limited without the ability to run an effective play action. Part of that has already been patched with the addition of Ryan Mathews in April’s draft.
However, you can never underestimate the importance of a good fullback, because while it’s the offensive line's job to open up a hole at the point of attack, the running back can only get so far before running into the linebackers.
This is where the fullback comes in. He’s there to clean up the blocking at the line, or (even better) to block a linebacker gunning for the open hole. So, without further ado, here’s a look at the three fullbacks currently on the roster and where they may (or may not) fit in in San Diego.
Mike Tolbert is one of my favorite players on the Chargers, and a guy I consider to be a sleeper for next year. At 5’9” and 245 lbs., Tolbert is affectionately called “The Bowling Ball” by many in San Diego, but don’t let his size fool you.
Tolbert is exceptionally quick for a guy his size, with several of San Diego’s coaches heralding him as a hybrid player, a type that Norv Turner seems to be attracted to. Tolbert has shown great blocking ability in his limited time on the field, using his size effectively to move defensive players out of the way. His talents in this facet should only improve under the tutelage of San Diego great Lorenzo Neal.
He is by no means one-dimensional, though. Tolbert clocked a 4.68-second 40-yard dash time before the draft in 2008, and has shown exceptionally good hands for a fullback (take, for example, his touchdown catch in the game against the Cleveland Browns in 2009).
Tolbert seems to be lost in the mix of the three fullbacks for some reason, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him break onto the scene during training camp and possibly make it to the top of the depth chart.
Hester came out of LSU the same year that Tolbert came out of Coastal Carolina (2008). Like Tolbert, Hester is a bit of a tweener, measuring in at 5’11” and 226 lbs. He would have been considered a prospect for running back on draft day, but he clocked in at 4.75 seconds at his 40-yard dash, which is way too slow for a running back, as well as for a fullback of his size.
This is not to say that he hasn’t shown himself to be a good player in the NFL. Hester has taken snaps at running back in a few games and has done alright for himself, and has proven to be a good option out of the backfield. His blocking is alright, but he has a habit of not properly positioning himself, which kills him considering that he does not have the size or the weight to throw defenders around.
Hester is a good back who deserves a chance to play in a rotational role as either a fullback or a halfback (if he works on his speed), but his chances in San Diego may be running short with the addition of Cory Jackson to the roster.
The first thing I have to mention is that, for an average citizen like me, digging up film on this guy is impossible. That having been said, what I have seen, I liked. Apparently the Chargers think so too because there has been a lot of buzz surrounding his performance at mini-camp.
While he didn’t earn an invitation to the Combine, Jackson’s performance at Maryland’s pro day speaks for itself. Measuring in at just under 6’1” and 245 lbs., Jackson is a monster, and backs that up with 23 bench reps and a 40-yard dash time that was as good as 4.72. He also showed decent agility, registering 7.23 on the three-cone drill.
This guy could be a stud, with all the signs pointing towards a good, physical blocker.
While Latsko is currently listed as a running back on the Chargers roster, it was pointed out to me yesterday that this guy fits more of the mold of a fullback than a running back, and from his measurable, that’s clear.
He’s pretty big at 5’10” and 233 lbs. He was a fullback at Florida, but also played some defense during his career, which he says gives him a unique vision when it comes to blowing open a running lane.
He’s hard working and unselfish, immensely valuable qualities. On the other hand, though, his speed and agility have been questioned, making him a bit of a liability blocking on outside runs.
The competition between Latsko and Jackson for the second fullback spot on the roster should be one of the more interesting ones to watch coming into training camp.
This one’s tough to call. Fullback has been a very fluid position since the departure of Lorenzo Neal in 2007. Good blockers like Andrew Pinnock have been cut from the team while the roster has been filled more with hybrid players.
The signing of Cory Jackson, though, gives the idea that the Chargers are looking to regain a little bit of that tough, in-your-face blocking of old. With that in mind, here’s what I think the depth chart will look like come August:
1. Mike Tolbert
2. Jacob Hester
3. Cory Jackson (practice squad)
This is how I think the roster SHOULD look like come August:
1. Mike Tolbert
2. Cory Jackson (sharing time with Tolbert)
3. Billy Latsko (practice squad)
It’s hard to think that the Chargers would part with a 2008 third round pick so soon, but Jacob Hester deserves the chance to succeed in the NFL, and he seems to have found himself without a solid spot on the roster.
In regards to the battle between Jackson and Latsko, the deciding factor was ultimately the size and speed advantage. Jackson has three inches and 10 pounds on Latsko, as well as some speed and agility.
It could very well end up the other way, and a part of me wants it to, but right now I give the edge to Jackson.