COMMENTARY | New San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco told the Associated Press just days before the 2013 National Football League's free agency market opened there was "a time and a place" for splashy free agent moves.
Telesco is opting for a less aggressive course of action in pursuing veterans, focusing instead on April's draft. But he did address one pressing need on offense with the signing of free agent running back Danny Woodhead to a two-year contract.
Woodhead is not an every-down back, nor will he be asked to function as such. He will, however, provide change-of-pace support behind Ryan Mathews and give quarterback Philip Rivers a proven commodity in the passing game.
Rushing woes in 2012 hamstrung the Charger offense. San Diego averaged just 91.3 yards per game -- No. 27 in the league -- with Mathews limited to just 12 appearances. Rejuvenating the ground attack is predicated on the feature back's availability and effectiveness, but pairing a healthy Mathews with Woodhead offers variety eluding the Chargers in recent campaigns.
Woodhead carved a niche in the New England Patriot offense his second year removed from Div. II Chadron State. His reliability in third down situations was a tremendous asset to the high scoring Patriots, particularly in 2010 and 2012.
In those seasons, Woodhead caught a combined 74 passes for 827 yards. Woodhead also ripped off 5.6 yards per carry in his breakout 2010 campaign.
San Diego has lacked similar contribution from a third down-style back since losing Darren Sproles to free agency in 2011. Sproles was a consistent target for Rivers, catching 104 passes in his last two seasons with the franchise.
Curtis Brinkley never quite developed into the role Sproles vacated when departing for the New Orleans, but Woodhead provides a proven answer.
Sproles was most effective as a ball carrier when he was an accentuating piece, not a focal point. His yards per carry average suffered in 2009 when he rushed 93 times. Woodhead's production has trended in the opposite direction -- he was averaging more yards when garnering more carries.
Integrating Woodhead as a regular ball carrier could fit first-year Charger head coach Mike McCoy's M.O. As offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos in 2012, McCoy used three running backs with at least 85 carries.
In contrast, last season's San Diego offense saw significant dips in workload between each of its top three ball carriers. Mathews carried 184 times; Jackie Battle carried 95; and Ronnie Brown had just 46 opportunities.
The even split among Bronco ball carriers last year was, in part, a byproduct of both Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee suffering injuries. However, in 2011, none of McCoy's top three rushers carried any less than 96 times.
McCoy has operated with diverse and balanced run games. Battle returns to provide a power rushing style in short yardage situations. The trio of Mathews, Battle and Woodhead should combine for over 350 carries, and each brings a unique enough look to keep opposing defenses honest.
In turn, the approach will open the field for Rivers, one of the most pressured quarterbacks in football a season ago.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist and blogger. He covers the University of Arizona for the Rivals.com network site GoAZCATS.com, and is the founder/managing editor of the college football site SaturdayBlitz.com. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.