You probably haven't heard much about Shawnbrey McNeal yet, but I'm told that first-round pick Ryan Mathews isn't the only rookie running back worth paying attention to in San Diego this season. McNeal, an undrafted free agent out of SMU, made people notice him during the Chargers' offseason workouts and there's a belief within the organization that he could wind up being the guy who replaces third-down back Darren Sproles in 2011.
The Chargers franchised Sproles in 2009 and protected him via a one-year, $7.28-million restricted free-agent tender this spring (first and third-round compensation level), a move they had to make after giving Tomlinson his freedom. But while Mathews, the draft's 12th overall pick out of Fresno State, is expected to get No. 1 back duties this season, San Diego is eager to see if McNeal can prove to be a more affordable third-down specialist in the role Sproles has owned in recent years.