Positional breakdown: Running backs

The ongoing series of position-by-position breakdowns makes its final offensive stop at running back. The Chargers have a little bit of everything at this spot, from the gazelle-like grace of the reigning MVP to the punishing blocks of the league's most accomplished fullback. Behind the starters is the best back-up halfback in the game today and a pair of special teams dynamos.

Atop the halfback depth chart is LaDainian Tomlinson, the classiest and most productive player in the NFL. His record-setting 2006 season finally earned him some long overdue national recognition and there is no reason to expect anything less this year.

It will be difficult to increase his touchdown total for a sixth consecutive season, but with Norv Turner taking over the offense Tomlinson may push for 2,000 rushing yards.

"Norv adds confidence and experience having won a Super Bowl before. He's been there, and that experience is the key. He's been coaching for 20-some years, so he's called big games," Tomlinson said.

Clearing the way for L.T is Lorenzo Neal, who has now blocked for 10 consecutive 1,000-yard rushers. Neal, 36, is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl campaigns and shows no signs of slowing down. He is a battering ram in the running game and an impenetrable wall in pass protection.

Neal has an outside shot to block for a pair of 1,000-yard rushers next season, as Michael Turner is an explosive back-up who should see his offensive snaps increase. After coming dangerously close to being dealt on draft day, Turner returns as the league's best insurance policy, having rushed for more than 500 yards on just 80 carries last season.

Andrew Pinnock will likely serve as the No. 2 fullback and the No. 3 halfback; he has the size to play the former position and the vision and agility to play the latter. He will also contribute on special teams, primarily on kick returns.

Pinnock's blocking on kick returns will open up holes for one of his fellow backs. If Michael Turner doesn't retain his return responsibilities, then Darren Sproles take back the job he last held in 2004. Sproles is quicker than a hiccup, but his roster spot may be in jeopardy because his contributions are limited to the realm of special teams.

"As long as I'm on the field, I'm happy" Sproles said.

The San Diego backfield has talent and depth aplenty. The Chargers have ranked in the top-ten in rushing offense each of the last five seasons, and that streak is unlikely to end in 2007.


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