Football is a physical sport and injuries are part of the game. Injuries that happen in preseason, however, seem pointless because they occur in an exhibition game.
Besides the obvious personal loss and blow to the team, some of those injuries feel worse than others because of the player involved. Branden Oliver is such a player. Not only do I like the guy, he has also worked very hard to return from a turf toe injury he sustained last year.
When Oliver went down late in the second half of the third preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, his immediate reaction spoke volumes. He slammed his right fist on the ground and pointed towards his right calf when the trainers arrived. The replay was nasty, as you could practically see his Achilles pop. The sight of a player being carted off the field is never a pleasant one.
What does losing Branden Oliver for the season mean for the Chargers? He was listed on the depth chart as the third running back behind Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead. He has established himself as a versatile change-of-pace back who is comfortable going south between the tackles, run around the outside and catch balls from the backfield.
We shouldn’t forget Oliver was the Bolts’ leading rusher in 2014, when – as a rookie – he did a more than admirable job filling in for Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. He had earned a roster spot over sixth-round draft pick Marion Grice in preseason and outperformed Donald Brown on the ground even before Brown suffered a concussion in week 5 against the Jets.
Oliver finished the 2014 season with 582 yards on 160 carries (3.6 avg) and 36 receptions for 271 yards. He also recorded three rushing TDs and one receiving TD. In 2015, as the backup of Melvin Gordon, he had a total of 31 carries for 108 yards (3.5 avg) and 13 catches for 112 yards. These numbers could have been higher if he hadn’t faced the aforementioned turf toe, which eventually led to him being placed on IR. Also noteworthy, he has never fumbled the ball!
Listed as the first kick returner on the current depth chart – that hasn’t been updated yet – his role was set to expand in 2016. How will the Chargers replace a player fulfilling this many duties for the team? It isn’t easy.
Taking a look at the tweet below, McCoy didn’t take long to find a solution for the kickoff returns.
McCoy says those who handled kickoff return duties yesterday after Oliver went down will be their returners going fwd. Mager and Burse.
— Ricky Henne (@ChargersRHenne) August 29, 2016
Finding a replacement RB3 who’s as solid and versatile as Oliver, is a little more difficult. The Chargers have two other running backs on the roster: Kenneth Farrow and Gus Johnson. They have three if you count Chris Swain, but the team list him as a fullback. Dreamius Smith was waived/injured earlier this week, so he’s no longer a consideration. But lets take a look at those who are.
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