Depth at running back will certainly matter for the San Diego Chargers as the fragile Ryan Mathews can’t be counted on to play 16 games. In the inevitable event that Mathews goes down with an injury, someone will need to step up and carry the load for the team.
Taking a look at the current roster, one player no one is talking about that could be in for that role is second-year running back Edwin Baker. A seventh-round pick in 2012, Baker spent most of last season on the practice squad, but was on the active roster late in the year. Buried behind Ronnie Brown, Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley, he didn’t see any time on the field, but that could change in 2013 with Battle and Brinkley gone. Even with other talented running backs on the roster, Baker could be in the mix to get some carries in the event Mathews goes down.
Danny Woodhead is a nice addition to the offense, but he’s more of a complementary player than Mathews’ primary backup. If Mathews goes down, Woodhead may not be the best option to carry the full load if it means getting away from what he does best. Woodhead’s best role with the team will be as a third-down, change-of-pace back and outlet receiver. The same can be said about Ronnie Brown, who was barely utilized in the run game last season, but caught 49 passes.
While Woodhead and Brown focus more on their third-down roles, Baker could be groomed for a Jackie Battle-type role with the team. At 5-foot-8, 200 pounds, Baker could become an effective downhill, short-yardage back, as he has a low center of gravity and the ability to push defenders around with his brute strength. While he is good with the football in his hands, he needs to improve his receiving and pass protection skills to be able to get time on the field.
Baker has a similar style to Mathews and could be the best bet to fill in for him if Mathews suffers yet another injury. Baker made some noise in minicamp this week, easily beating rookie Steve Williams in a 40-yard dash challenge after practice. It’s a good start to get people looking his way, and he’ll need to continue to impress this offseason. A solid training camp and preseason can ensure that Baker not only makes the final roster but can be counted on if his number is called.