Jacob Hester and Mike Tolbert present a unique challenge for San Diego's coaching staff. Neither is a dominant lead-blocker, yet both are too valuable in other areas to be replaced. They catch balls out of the backfield, they run the rock in short yardage, and maybe most importantly, they dominate on special teams.
Hester and Tolbert will be even more involved on offense this season after the offseason releases of Tomlinson and Bennett. The Chargers are now without a proven No. 3 running back, a spot that may default to the fullback tandem.
The Chargers rarely used their No. 3 halfback last season, as Bennett finished with just 12 carries prior to the meaningless season finale. However, the Chargers may use more of a balanced rotation with a rookie atop the depth chart, especially since that rookie has some durability concerns.
Tolbert and Hester have proven they can run the ball when given the opportunity. Tolbert led the team last season with a per-carry average of 5.9 yards. Hester wasn't as strong, netting just 3.5 ypc, but he hit the magical 5-yard barrier in 2008.
While the extra carries will give Hester and Tolbert added value, both players are intent on improving their run blocking, as well. This after L.T. created an offseason stir by blaming some of his decline on the loss of former Pro Bowl fullback Lorezno Neal, a not-so-subtle shot at Hester and Tolbert's inability to open running lanes.
And while Hester and Tolbert may never become old-school bulldozers like Neal, they can do a lot of other things to help the team win. It starts on special teams, where last season Hester bagged two TDs and Tolbert led the team with 22 total tackles.
They also contribute as receivers. The pair has combined for more than 50 catches over the last two seasons; by comparison, Neal finished with single-digit receptions in half of his 16 seasons as a pro.
Now, Hester and Tolbert will get an extended opportunity to exhibit their skills as runners. And coming off a season in which the team averaged just 3.3 ypc, there is nowhere to go but up.
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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.