Mike Tolbert, an undrafted rookie last year from Coastal Carolina, was San Diego's most pleasant surprise early last season season. He started each of the first four games and caught 10 passes for 134 yards (13.4-yard avg) during that span.
FB Mike Tolbert
Inconsistent blocking and a midseason ankle injury made Tolbert's emergence short-lived. Over the final 12 games of the season, he started only three games and caught just three passes, giving way to Jacob Hester in a change-up that appears to be permanent.
Nonetheless, Tolbert (5-foot-9, 243 pounds) can still carve out a niche on offense if he holds on to his No. 2 perch. He has a better build than Hester -- Tolbert is 13 pounds heavier despite being 2 inches shorter -- and is more dangerous as a receiver.
Tolbert believes his versatility is what will keep him on the field in 2009.
"I can catch the ball; I can run the ball; I can block; and I can do special teams," Tolbert said. "I can do it all."
Tolbert's competition for the No. 2 spot comes from former Florida Gator Billy Latsko.
After going undrafted in 2007, Latkso spent time with the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers before joining San Diego's practice squad midway through last season. He was signed to the active roster on Nov. 29 and remained there for the rest of the season, although he never made his way onto the active list.
FB Billy Latsko
Latsko (5-foot-10, 230 pounds) is a throwback fullback and very much the antithesis of Tolbert. He is not a threat with the ball in his hands, but he specializes in doing the dirty work: opening running lanes, picking up blitzes and making plays on special teams.
The reason Latsko has a chance to beat out Tolbert is because he's a better complement to Hester. Latsko's strength as a lead blocker could help spark an offense desperate to improve its inside running game. And Hester, for all his promise and tenacity, will never be considered a road-grading fullback.
The same cannot be said of Latsko, a former linebacker who uses his knowledge of defenses to help his vision as a blocker.
"Most defenses are gap defenses where certain people are responsible for certain gaps, so it's pretty easy for me to see the flow of the defense, what gap I need to fit through, and reading through the first level of defense to get to the second level where I have to block," he said.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and 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 15 years and covered the team since 2003.