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NFL SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT

Chargers' Mike Tolbert is a backup with a plan

The bruising running back has more than taken up the slack for injured Ryan Mathews in San Diego; he's actually outperformed him. That has led to speculation that Tolbert could keep the starting job even after Mathews returns.

November 27, 2010|By Sam Farmer

It's about the quarterbacks. It's always about the quarterbacks when the San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts meet, a showdown between Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning, two of the best passers in the game.

But tonight's matchup might be as much about the SUVs as the MVPs, the grind-it-out runners who help control the clock and keep the opposing quarterbacks off the field.

In that case, the Chargers are on solid ground, even with rookie running back Ryan Mathews sidelined because of a bum ankle. Third-year bruiser Mike Tolbert has picked up the slack, scoring a touchdown in six of San Diego's last seven games and averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

In the tradition of Michael Turner, who had a knack for stepping in for LaDainian Tomlinson without missing a beat, Tolbert has had no problem spelling Mathews and has outshined him.

"I'm just trying to get better every week, trying to do good and do what I can do," Tolbert said after gaining 111 yards in 25 carries in Monday's victory over Denver. "I'm not thinking about being the next Michael Turner or the next LT. I just want to be the best Michael Tolbert I can be."

Signed by the Chargers in 2008 as an undrafted free agent, Tolbert played four seasons at Coastal Carolina. His most amazing statistic? He had 303 touches in college and never fumbled.

He has fumbled four times as a pro, however, losing two of them this season. (Mathews has lost all three of his this season.)

After the Broncos game, Tolbert was asked whether he thought he could win the job outright from Mathews. He nodded.

"Yeah. I've got confidence in my ability," Tolbert told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "But there's a reason they drafted [Mathews] so high. I'm going to be there when he comes back and gets healthy. I'll be there to back him up [or] to play alongside him. I'll back up [fullback] Jacob [Hester]. I can do it all. It's competition, but it's friendly competition."

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