Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews will share the load and consume the bulk of the carries, but San Diego will carry at least one more running back. While this player will contribute mostly on special teams, he must be able to make an impact from scrimmage, as well, especially given Mathews' proneness to injury.
The top candidates are second-year player Curtis Brinkley and rookie sixth-round pick Jordan Todman. Brinkley has experience in the offense and has done well with his limited opportunities; he gained 96 yards on 20 carries last preseason (4.8 ypc) and even caught five passes in the preseason finale.
Todman is more of a traditional third-down back, a less-dynamic version of the man he would replace, Darren Sproles. He can also handle kickoff returns, something that may be the tiebreaker if fellow rookie Marcus Gilchrist fails to emerge as a reliable return man.
WR Richard Goodman
C. Hanewinckel/U.S. Presswire
It is unlikely anyone on the roster could oust one of the aforementioned players. Richard Goodman could upset Ajirotutu, but only if Goodman shines as a kick returner and 'Tutu fails to progress.
Don't be surprised if A.J. Smith makes a move here before the season begins. He did that last season, bringing in Crayton at the last minute. That deal proved to be a coup for the Chargers; it may take another one just like it to help the offense defend its No. 1 ranking.
Newcomer Takeo Spikes joins a pair of promising youngsters in Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton. However, at least one more player will join the inside linebacker corps. That player may be a waiver-wire pickup, but if no definite upgrades become available, the Chargers will stick with what they have on-hand.
In that scenario, second-year pro Kion Wilson would be the likely beneficiary. He is a standout on special teams and is strong against the run, where he is known for his big hits and superb closing speed.
Another undrafted player from a season ago, James Holt, would also be in the mix. Holt is more of a playmaker but lacks the build to hold up the middle of a 3-4 defense. Nonetheless, he is strong on special teams, which is where No. 4 linebackers cut their teeth. That fact also opens the door for rookie seventh-round pick Andrew Gachkar, who was selected primary for his ability to chase down kick returners.
A fallback option could be former Charger LB Tim Dobbins. He was traded to the Miami Dolphins prior to last season but was recently released. He is a strong run defender, especially in short-yardage situations, and is dynamite on special teams. His five years of experience would be a welcome addition to such a young unit.
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Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.