August 30, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Edwin Baker (27) warms up before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
After Mike Tolbert was signed by the Carolina Panthers in free agency last year, the San Diego Chargers were forced to hit the open market to pick up some run support for Ryan Mathews. Following his departure, the top 3 backs on the roster were Ryan Mathews, Curtis Brinkley, and 7th round draft pick Edwin Baker. AJ Smith brought in fullback Le’Ron McClain, in hopes that he could do for Ryan Mathews, what Lorenzo Neal did for Ladanian Tomlinson. Jackie Battle was brought in from Kansas City as a hard-nosed goal line back. Also, veteran “wildcat” specialist Ronnie Brown was brought in as an insurance policy, and to give us some versatility in the passing game. Outside of Mathews, this wasn’t a game-changing stable of running backs. However, it appeared that enough had been done to replace Tolbert, and pound the rock all season long. There were rumblings of a breakout year for Mathews, visions of wildcat draws with Ronnie Brown, and even some hopes that Curtis Brinkley would finally get his 1st NFL opportunity to be a speedy little 3rd down back.
Boy, could it honestly have gone any differently than that?
After Ryan Mathews went down with his first broken collarbone of the season (I still can’t believe we have to say “first”), we were left to rely on the backups. It became horrifyingly evident, after two or three games, that this rushing attack was anything but potent. Our porous o-line just couldn’t seem to get any push, and we came up with less than a two yard gain on a lot of attempts. Coupled with Norv Turner’s “up the gut twice / 3rd & long” play calling, Philip Rivers was constantly left to try to make some extremely risky throws. Some of them worked out, and some of them led to total disaster.
None of the remaining backs were able to produce consistently, aside from Ronnie Brown. Brown had some success blocking, catching balls out of the backfield, and had the occasional solid run… but, it was apparent that his age was catching up to him. Jackie Battle only had a couple of shining moments, in an otherwise uneventful season. Curtis Brinkley tried (God bless his heart), but often bounced off of the back of the 0-line due to his size, and failed to get around the edge. Edwin Baker had already been sent to the practice squad in September, after preseason was over. Ryan Mathews DID come back in a timely manner, but was benched after immediately fumbling the ball against Atlanta, then was held back from running the ball inside the twenties. To make things worse, Norv seemed to pull him out of the game, just when he was heating up, and was doing well. As we all know, he ended the season off with a second broken collarbone. All of this culminated in an extremely disappointing rushing season, across the board.
So, here we are in 2013, and we have Sheriff Tom Telesco, and Deputies Mike McCoy & Ken Whisenhunt in town. Norv Turner’s awful run play play calling is a thing of the past, and leaves only a bad memory behind. Jackie Battle, and Curtis Brinkley, have both been cast off of the team. We have signed New England’s “kid dynamite” Danny Woodhead to add versatility. Woodhead should bring some much needed explosiveness to the backfield, and give some relief to RM24. Ryan Mathews will have one last chance to clear his name, and return to that pro-bowl form that we caught a glimpse of a couple of seasons ago. Le’Ron McClain will compete with newly acquired fullback Chris Gronkowski for a starting position, if he wants to remain Charger. Ronnie Brown has been retained… whether we like it, or not. This leaves a 3 way camp battle between Edwin Baker, undrafted free agent Michael Hill, and ex-Cardinals running back Fozzy Whitaker. There is optimism that, with a revamped offensive line, our running game will finally be able to get rolling.
This leaves one big question. Has enough been done yet this offseason to guarantee a better performance than last year? There are still a few veteran backs on the open market. Names such as ex-Charger Michael Turner, recently released Denver Broncos workhorse Willis McGahee, and New York Giants bruiser Brandon Jacobs. Other backs still available include Cedric Benson, Chris “Beanie” Wells, and Joseph Addai. These guys have all been talked about around the campfire by Charger fans, at some point. Jacobs & McGahee seem to be the most popular choices to come in as an insurance policy, should we get bitten by the inevitable Ryan Mathews injury bug.
Could Tom Telesco be eyeballing any of these free agents? If Mathews were to go down, are you confident that Danny Woodhead, or Ronnie Brown can carry the load, despite last year’s debacle? Can any of these young up-n-coming backs show enough talent to break the 53-man roster, and be the back-up we have been looking for since Tolbert left? If the running game becomes stagnant, as it did in 2012, can Philip Rivers still be productive… even behind a rebuilt, and (presumably) fixed o-line? Are the changes that have been made on the o-line enough to catapult the running game into action? There are a ton of questions, so post your thoughts in the comments section below.
One thing I know, is that Ryan Mathews, and the San Diego Chargers can’t afford to have another year like they did in 2012. It’s Ground-N-Pound time, fellas!!!!
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