SD's running back needs Gross-ly overstated

The Bolts will lose the best backup running back in the NFL this offseason when Michael Turner sells his 5.5 ypc to the highest bidder. But don't expect A.J. Smith to scurry in search of a replacement. Tyronne Gross is more than ready to split time with Darren Sproles as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup.

The Chargers signed Tyronne Gross as an undrafted free agent on May 10, 2006. The fact that he is still around nearly two years later is a testament to his talents. Although he has yet to see action in a regular season game, Gross has been impressive in preseason play, carrying 22 times for 102 yards (4.64 ypc).

Gross has always impressed when given the opportunity. As a senior at Eastern Oregon, he set the school single-season record with 1,223 rushing yards (135.9 yards per game) and chipped in 12 touchdowns. He was named the Frontier Conference Player of Week after 161-yard, three-touchdown game against Whitworth College.

Gross (5'9", 213 pounds) is the brand of powerful, north-and-south runner the Chargers need to replace Michael Turner. Gross runs with terrific body lean and insatiable determination, making him an ideal candidate for short-yardage and goal-line situations. He also has the durability to be an every-down back if LaDainian Tomlinson is injured again.

The Chargers feel comfortable working Gross into the rotation because Tomlinson will be rested by committee next season. Gross will have the opportunity to earn some carries, but so will Darren Sproles and Andrew Pinnock.

Sproles actually carried the ball more than Turner over the final six games of the regular season, 35-34. Pinnock will see limited carries if the Chargers release Lorenzo Neal, but Pinnock could still get some touches out of one-back sets. That was the formation he was most effective in at South Carolina.

That does not mean the Chargers will not bring in another running back this offseason. A.J. Smith places a high premium on depth and wants to ensure there is no drop-off after Turner's departure. One Chargers scout confirmed during Senior Bowl week that running back will be a "top priority" this offseason.

However, the Chargers might find no option better than Gross. The team has already used its selections in rounds two through four, so if San Diego doesn't draft a running back early it may struggle to find a runner with Gross' combination of speed, power and vision.

The Chargers made sure to hang on to Gross over the years despite having no opening at running back. He was stashed on the practice squad in 2006 and on the injured-reserve list in 2007. In 2008, the opening Gross has been waiting for will finally be there. All that's left is for him to seize it.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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