The Season in Review: Running Backs
LaDainian Tomlinson (Getty Images)
LaDainian Tomlinson (Getty Images)

Posted Jan 9, 2003


The time of year is upon us. Too soon perhaps with the playoffs still in full swing, but now is a time to analyze what you have in order to get better next year. This is not your mamma’s take on things, but a review of where these players will fit next season, if at all.

RUNNING BACKS

LaDainian Tomlinson did not suffer through a “Sophomore Slump”. Quite the contrary, in fact Tomlinson had the best season of any running back in the history of the Chargers. Despite several teams “stacking the line” against him, Tomlinson rushed the ball a team record 372 times for a team record 1,683 yards which amounted to a 4.5 average. The 1,683 yards crushed the previous record of 1,350 held by Natrone Means. Tomlinson also obliterated the team record for total yards from scrimmage with 2,172, which ranked third in the NFL. As a rookie, he broke Lance Alworth’s 35-year old team record for combined yards from scrimmage with 1,603, surpassing Alworth’s mark of 1,590 in 1965. Tomlinson also tied Don Woods’ team record from 1974 with seven 100-yard rushing games this season. Add to that, his 79 receptions tied Ronnie Harmon’s team record for catches by a running back set in 1992.

It’s safe to say it was a complete year for Tomlinson. It has been capped off with a Pro Bowl nod. Tomlinson was also voted Most Valuable Player by his teammates and was the recipient of the Rodney Culver Memorial Award as the Chargers’ Offensive Player of the Year.

Tomlinson recognized this year that he had to be a little more patient with his blocks. In his rookie season he made his yards by running over defenders. Now he has the patience to go with his great running ability and is on his way to something special. It is as if he almost baits the defenders. On the first play he may run right at them, then when they think they have a pattern down he will change it up and use his fancy footwork to elude a tackler. He will only be aided as Drew Brees continues to develop.

Terrell Fletcher played in just 10 games while being inactive for six others. He had 26 carries for 128 yards and one touchdown while catching 10 passes for 62 yards. His 259 career catches is tenth on the team’s all-time list. He has 1,943 career receiving yards to go along with 1,871 rushing yards.

The time for Fletcher in San Diego has ended. A change of pace runner is no longer needed as the Chargers go with their Pro Bowler as the featured back. Never has Fletcher shown the ability that he could take over if the main runner went down with injury. That is the new direction this team is headed. He is not called upon enough to warrant his salary and with pressing needs in short yardage situations; Fletcher has played his last game as a Charger; we bid him well.

Rookie free agent Jesse Chatman from Eastern Washington got action this year in 10 games. Chatman, 5-8, 215, was one of the most inspirational stories of training camp and forged a relationship with the team that should extend into next year. He finished the season with six carries for 19 yards and three catches for 44 yards. More importantly, during camp, he showed he can shoulder a load and be productive at it.

Chatman was able to thrive despite leaving training camp twice to be with his epileptic son in the hospital. Not only did he play the role of father but he also showed his heart in making the Chargers squad. Given the chance due to injury, he did not let the opportunity pass.

At the time he quipped, "I feel a lot better, a lot more confident in myself as far as my ability to play at this level. If I'm going to be the backup, then I'm going to be the best damn backup in the league."

Ronney Jenkins will be featured in our special teams review.

Up next: WIDE RECEIVERS


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