Chargers Review: Fullback

It took a full season to realize and come to fruition but there may be no greater leader on the San Diego Chargers than fullback Lorenzo Neal. Armed with a thankless job, Neal was the epitome of veteran leadership throughout the season. His work on the field wasn't half bad either.

He isn't on the highlight reels, nor does he seek the spotlight, but Lorenzo Neal has been a class act in every way since joining the San Diego Chargers in March of 2003.

Neal has been a lead blocker for eight-straight 1,000-yard rushers. Neal has done it for five different backs with five different teams.

His work in San Diego this season may be his best to date. With LaDainian Tomlinson hobbled, the Chargers had to run inside more often than ever and that meant Neal stuck his nose where it belonged, right between the numbers of the opposing linebackers.

Twelve years into his career, Neal hasn't lost much of his luster. He remains a ferocious hitter and leads with a shoulder pop. As long as the line takes care of their responsibilities, Neal can do his magic.

"You can't really hide behind Lorenzo, but you can run behind him, I'll tell you that," Tomlinson explains. "He just loves to hit people. That is the kind of guy you want blocking for you."

This season marked the first in memory that his ability to pick up the blitz suffered. Several times he was beat in his assignment. Fortunately, it didn't happen very often.

Neal is the equivalent of a missile. Once he sees a target he goes dead on for it but has trouble veering from the course, due to slow hips. That hinders his ability in the passing game as any ball must be lead properly to him or he will have a tough time making the catch and turning upfield.

He caught 13 passes but his inability to get the corner resulted in him being a non-threat around the goalline. The lack of a weapon from the fullback position made the Chargers rely on other players to get it done. Think how formidable they could have been had Neal been able to catch a few touchdown passes in the flat, keeping defenses honest.

Neal rushed the ball 16 times on the year and most of them were in short yardage situations. He parlayed 11 carries into first downs, 69 percent.

Heading into the offseason, Neal still has a bitter taste in his mouth. He says the blame for their playoff loss lies with him and other veterans. And he isn't concerned about the perception that there are very few stars in San Diego.

"It's not about having a bunch of stars," he said. "It's about having a bunch of guys with the same goal and playing with one heartbeat."

Leading with a crushing blow on the field, Neal uses his head off the field to counsel other players. His main focus, winning.

"He is one of the most passionate guys I've been around," Tomlinson added. He is very affective."

That explains why Tomlinson will be bringing Neal to Hawaii with him for the Pro Bowl.

From the inactive list to the suspended list, Andrew Pinnock barely heard his name whispered through the 2004 season in a positive light.

Pinnock, a seventh round draft pick in 2003, was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. A supplement Pinnock had taken apparently triggered a positive test but neither he nor his agent were sure which supplement that was. With the zero tolerance policy the NFL adheres to, there was no room for debate.

Pinnock did suit up for the finale against Kansas City – his only tour of active duty this season. He ended the day with nine carries for 26 yards with a long of 11. He also added three receptions for 26 yards but did fumble once.

It is hard to get a read on Pinnock with Neal maintaining his health and Pinnock not getting many looks. A bruiser at 5-foot-10, 260 pounds, there has been talk of utilizing him in short yardage but it has never materialized.

The coming year could be crucial for Pinnock as Neal enters the last year of his three year deal. Pinnock has to show he is ready to take over the primary blocker role, especially considering how valuable Tomlinson is to the team.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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