SAN DIEGO — If Curtis Adams' role with the Chargers is the one he performed for them in Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, then he wants the part.
Going into the game, Adams had carried the ball only seven times in the regular Chargers' three previous games. By contrast, Gary Anderson had carried the ball 44 times and Tim Spencer 27 times.
But against the Browns, Adams had 15 carries for 66 yards. By contrast, Anderson carried the ball 5 times for 23 yards, and Spencer 3 times for 19 yards.
Coach Al Saunders explained that Adams' expanded role was a result of the three-tight-end formations that the Chargers used often against the Browns.
"Curtis fit the role for that type of offense," Saunders said, "not necessarily as a blocker or receiver but as a runner."
Using Saunders' game plan, the Chargers had a running game (128 yards) productive enough to complement the passing of quarterback Dan Fouts (286 yards).
Saunders isn't sure he will assign Adams the same role Sunday against the Colts in Indianapolis.
"It's too early to tell about that," Saunders said. "One thing I do know is that when Curtis develops his blocking and pass receiving skills, he'll play more."
Adams says he is ready for heavy duty now.
"I realize I need to work on my blocking," he said. "I've never been a blocking back, either here or in college (Central Michigan). But I think my blocking is OK, and it's getting better. I can catch the ball, too. I'm confident about that.
"You have to remember that Gary Anderson and I aren't suited physically to block big guys. Gary weighs 180, and I weigh 195. Those outside linebackers weigh 240 or more."
And Adams, who was drafted by the Chargers in 1985, has had to adjust to carrying the ball fewer times. Adams said that at Central Michigan, he once carried 45 and "30-something times" in back-to-back games.
"Of course, I realize that with the passing game we have, our offense isn't designed for running backs to carry a lot. Under the circumstances, I'll be glad to get 15 carries like I did against Cleveland."
Adams' busiest day as a Charger was last Nov. 20, when he ran 26 times for 93 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 37-31 overtime loss to the Raiders. Although the accomplishment was almost unnoticed, he was the Chargers' leading rusher in six of the seven games in which he played last season. Overall, he carried 118 times for 366 yards.
Breaking into the Charger lineup hasn't been easy for Adams. He spent most of his first two National Football League seasons on injured reserve. He led the team with 49 yards in his first game as a pro, only to suffer a knee injury that sidelined him for the season. Last year, he sat out the first nine games because of a shoulder injury.
"I wasn't hurt all that time," Adams said. "When I banged up my knee, they just scoped (performed arthroscopic surgery on) it, and I was back practicing in five or six weeks. There just wasn't any room for me on the roster. Last year, I was ready early, and finally when Buford McGee got hurt, it opened a spot for me.
"I feel like I'm our most versatile runner. Anderson is more of a wide receiver. He has great speed and usually goes outside. Spencer and Barry Redden are mostly inside power runners and blockers. I go inside or outside. It really doesn't make any difference."
Redden, obtained from the Rams last summer for McGee and a draft-choice package that included a second-round selection, has carried only six times all season.
It wasn't until the eighth round in the 1985 draft that the Chargers picked Adams, who rushed for 4,162 yards and 43 touchdowns at Central Michigan.
"I thought I'd go sooner than I did," he said. "But when you go from college to pro ball, no matter what round you're drafted in, you have to work to make the team."
Adams, 25, grew up in Muskegon, Mich., and was the youngest of 10 children. He was a three-sport star at Orchard View High School, and his football statistics qualified him for the recruiting lists of both Michigan and Michigan State.
"I wanted to stay in Michigan because my dad was sick at the time," he said. "Michigan was my first option, and Michigan State was my second. I visited both schools, but I didn't like Bo Schembechler, and Muddy Waters (then) at Michigan State was really off the wall.
"At Michigan, I was in a room with a bunch of players and coaches, and when Bo walked in, everybody stood up and started clapping. I thought to myself, 'Who is this guy? He's only the head coach.' I knew then that I wasn't going there.
"Herb Deromedi at Central Michigan was a good coach and a great guy. He said to me, 'If you're a good football player, the pros will find you.' He was right."