Who Powered Through: Mike Tolbert

SAN DIEGO - DECEMBER 12: Running back Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers leaves the field after the game with the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium on December 12 2010 in San Diego California. the Chargers won 31-0. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Going into this season, with our lofty expectations of what Ryan Mathews might accomplish, one of the concerns Chargers fans had was of Bam Bam eventually hitting the dreaded "rookie wall".

For those unfamiliar, the rookie wall is when first-year starters wear down towards the end of the season. This happens for two main reasons. One, players in the NFL are bigger and hit harder, so your body gets more beat up over the course of an NFL game than it does in a college football game. Two, the NFL season is longer. It lasts for 16 regular seasons plus playoffs, with only a one week break in there somewhere, compared to 11 or so games plus a bowl game after a month of rest.

If he was healthy, and the starter, and carrying the majority of the running load, the expectation was for Mathews to be somewhere around 300 carries at the end of the season. That would be a lot for a first year player. Due to injury, and the emergence of Mike Tolbert as suitable starter at halfback, Mathews has only 103 carries so far this season and will most likely end the season closer to 150 rushes than 300.

Now the question becomes....will Mike Tolbert hit a wall? Although he is a human bowling ball, it has been proven that running backs can not typically double or triple their workload without it taking something out of their legs. Here are the number of carries Tolbert has had during his college and pro career:

2004: 45
2005: 44
2006: 66
2007: 111
2008: 13
2009: 25
2010: 161

That last one isn't finished either. With the way things are going, Tolbert will most likely cross over that 200 carry barrier for the first time in his life this season. I believe that is being factored into this decision to increase Mathews' workload in the final month of the season, because Norv Turner knows he's going to need some fresh legs on his power RB if he's going to have a chance to do something in the postseason.

To Tolbert's credit, all he is concerning himself with is taking advantage of the opportunity and doing whatever his coach asks of him. As Mike continues to surprise the fans, the coaching staff, and maybe himself.....he is powering through a wall of inexperience and hoping that his body holds up against a pounding it has never known.

Rushing Receiving
G Rush Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng TD
2010 - Mike Tolbert 13 161 691 53.2 4.3 36 10 25 216 16.6 8.6 28 0

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