Tomlinson Leads the Way

The San Diego Chargers offensive backfield promises to be a strength for the Chargers in 2003 with Lorenzo Neal leading the way for LaDanian Tomlinson.

A peek at the Chargers' running game proves it's one of the team's strength. How can't it be, with the sensational LaDainian Tomlinson at the forefront, as he aims for his second straight Pro Bowl season this year.

And leading the way for Tomlinson is fullback Lorenzo Neal, a free-agent acquisition who was a Pro Bowler himself last year.

One backfield, two Pro Bowl players. Not too shabby at all.

But look closer. What if Tomlinson would go down with an injury? What if the Chargers had to lean on someone else to orchestrate coach Marty Schottenheimer's ground attack?

If that happened, where would the Chargers turn? Let these names roll off your tongue: Jesse Chatman, Antoineo Harris, Dahrran Diedrick, Nick Maddox, Andrew Pinnock, DeMarco McCleskey and P.J. Mays.

General manager A.J. Smith looks at the same list and insists there's a player who can more than handle the load. In addition, he doubts the team will go elsewhere to bring someone in to be Tomlinson's caddy.

Smith's player? The 5-foot-8, 215-pound Chatman.

"We're anxious to see him again in the preseason," Smith said.

Smith and the Chargers were encouraged with what they saw last summer.

Chatman, an undrafted rookie last year out of Eastern Washington, was considered a long shot to make the roster. But he did, after a preseason that saw him rush for 234 yards and a touchdown on 46 carries, for a nifty 5.1-yard average and a long of 34. He added two catches for 30 yards.

During the regular season, Chatman, of course, was rarely seen. Tomlinson was a workhorse, rushing 372 times for a franchise-record 1,683 yards, with 79 catches for another 489.

Chatman had to be content six rushes for 19 yards, to go with three catches for 44 yards.

So as the offseason wraps up, it appears the backup role is again Chatman's. Although unlike last summer, he'll have to be knocked for the position instead of trying to earn it.

Other Notes in the past week:

--The team signed offensive lineman Solomon Page, who played his first four years in Dallas. The Cowboys thought Page's play was too lackadaisical last year, and weren't interested in bringing him back. "The whole line quit on the team last year," one Chargers executive said. "It just wasn't him." The Chargers are hopeful Page will be rejuvenated by being reunited with line coach Hudson Houck, his line coach his first three years in Dallas.

--The Chargers contributed $400,000 to San Diego County schools through their Chargers Champions program.

The team continues to solidify its front office in the wake of ex-GM John Butler's death. Buddy Nix, the team's former director of player personnel, was elevated to assistant general manager- director of player personnel. Fran Foley was named the director of pro scouting and Mike McCarthy was hired as a pro/college scout.

--Wide receiver Onome Ojo, who was inactive all of last year with the Saints, was singed. He was a fifth-round pick by New Orleans in 2001.

--Wide receiver Josh Lyman was released.

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