Making Sense Of The Chargers Running Back Dilemma

After running back Ryan Mathews was injured on his first carry of the preseason opener this past Thursday, the Chargers were left wondering if their expectations for their lead ball carrier need to be adjusted. With plenty of hype surrounding Mathews’ potential coming into the 2012 season, his injury-prone nature has to be a topic of conversation for the front office before the real action gets underway.

Luckily for the team, at least General Manager A.J. Smith did load up on talent at tailback after the departure of last year’s fill-in Mike Tolbert. The team has several options to turn to should Mathews have the injury bug become a regular visitor during the upcoming season. Coach Norv Turner said: ''We have backs in here who are capable of playing and playing at a high level. This league is crazy. You have guys who have an opportunity when somebody gets hurt and they make the most of it. I like the guys we have here, and I'm excited about what they've been doing.”

Reviews are mixed among fans on the potential candidates to replace Mathews at this point, so let’s do an evaluation of them all and see what each can offer to the team individually should they be called upon this year.


This is my personal preference of the group even though he is 30 years old. Brown has shown some real jump in his legs during camp according to the coaching staff and his showing in the preseason opener did nothing to contradict those reports. His similarities to Mathews as a capable receiver who can get on the edge and make guys miss when necessary while still having the power to pick up the tough yards is a nice bonus. Brown would be my choice of the current Bolts to take on the bulk of the load with Mathews absent.


He may have been the more marquee signing this offseason for the club, but McClain just doesn’t seem to be a double-digit carry back. While his power is undeniable and his usefulness as a change of pace ball carrier is a nice asset, he doesn’t have many other dimensions aside from up the middle for a handful of yards at a time. That can be an effective style, but he doesn’t strike me as a Norv Turner type of back and that leads me to believe he will be featured in a limited role only.


A late pick-up by the Bolts, Battle is a bruiser in his own right at 6’2” 238lbs. He has a downhill running style that is again very attractive as a change-up, but just not the material that seems to get it done as a number one ball carrier. He did amass nearly 600 yards last season with the Kansas City Chiefs however when Jamaal Charles was injured on a 4.0 yards per carry average. It just seems hard to imagine him being anything more than another curveball for the Chargers to have in their arsenal on the goal line.


This is Brinkley’s third year with the team and he really doesn’t have anything special to offer. In a pinch he has proven to be somewhat effective, but if the Bolts are relying on him, the depth chart is awfully thin. Baker was a 7th rounder in this past NFL Draft, but he has some real speed and added value in the return game. He likely won’t get many (if any) touches in the running game, but he is a potential special teams juggernaut. Hayes is an undrafted rookie from Houston new to the club this year with practice squad potential. Again, if the Bolts are depending on him to move the ball on the ground this year, they have some real problems.

Roster cuts will be fierce with seven running backs in camp, but there are really only three main contenders for the first string carries in with Mathews out. It remains to be seen just who the coaching staff prefers to tote the pigskin with Mathews sidelined. Depth is a nice thing to have however as the Bolts try to discern just which back will be first in line should the Mathews injury issue become a lingering one.

Now for your take. Do you agree with HC Turner that the team has plenty of capable backs with Mathews out? Which of the group do you favor to see the bulk of the action while he is on the mend? How many backs do you see making the final 53-man roster? Will these injuries be a regular thing for Mathews in 2012 or do you see him shaking off that stigma and staying healthy after he returns? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!

August 13, 2012

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