It's a question that probably swirls around constantly in the mind of Chargers' head coach Norv Turner: "What can (Ronnie) Brown do for you?"
The answer better be "a lot more than we originally expected" because Brown's performance as Ryan Matthews' replacement as the starter at running back could be the difference in the Chargers playing into January or seeing an entire roster overhauled next offseason.
Certainly that may be a bold statement since the free agent signee hasn't even carried the ball or caught a pass in a regular-season game for the Bolts. Nevertheless it's likely very accurate, considering the expectations Matthews was carrying into the 2012 season.
After a breakout second season in which he ran for 1,091 yards (4.9 per carry) and caught 50 passes for another 455 yards coming out of the backfield, the Chargers were looking for the third-year pro from Fresno State to jump well into the rare air of over 2,000 overall yards gained. But on his first touch in the Aug. 9 preseason opener against Green Bay at Qualcomm Stadium, Matthews broke his right clavicle and underwent surgery the next day. He was expected to miss at least the first two weeks of the season, although he's been going through light drills this week, reports no lingering pain and said he'd like to play Monday night in Oakland.
Turner didn't sound optimistic, telling reporters after Wednesday's practice that Matthews "didn't do much more than he did the other days. We're hoping he can do a little more each day."
Which seems to put the ball squarely in the hands of Brown.
The No. 2 overall pick by Miami in the 2005 NFL draft will start against the Raiders, a team against which he's had plenty of success. In four career games versus the Raiders, he's run for a total of 378 yards in 70 carries, a 5.4 yards-per-carry average. He'll be backed up by Curtis Brinkley, and fullback Le'Ron McClain will probably see his number of touches increase while Matthews continues to rehab.
Even though he was brought in to back up Matthews, Brown says he's looking forward to having a significant role as the Chargers try to put their 2011 disappointments in the rear view mirror.
"You never want to gain fortune because of (a teammate's) misfortune," Brown said Wednesday afternoon, "but they brought me here to do a job and that's what I'm trying to do."
Has Turner and the rest of the offensive staff told him exactly how much he'll play and how many carries and passes he can expect?
"Well, yes and no," the 2008 Pro Bowler said laughing. "With a coach like Norv running things, you never REALLY know how it's going to go. We have a game plan of course, but Norv's got such a great offensive mind that he's always thinking about how to set up the best mismatches for us against the defense.
"When Norv's (running) a meeting or just talking to you one-on-one, you can tell that his mind is going, thinking all the time, always trying to come up with something to give us an edge. It's a lot of fun playing for a coach like that, and you can see why he's has the respect of so many players on this team and around the NFL."
Brownlike most of his teammateswas wearing a dark blue t-shirt with an "ALL IN" logo stretched across the chest, and said it exemplifies the way the Bolts feel about this season. And how he feels about getting a chance to be an important part of a team with lofty goals.
"We're all on the same page here," he said, "and everyone of us is going to get the chance to contribute at some point. It's up to us to prepare, to stay ready, and not let your teammatesor yourselfdown.
"When I came here it was with the thought to help this team in any way I could. Things are a little different now with Ryan hurt, and he'll be a huge part of this team and offense when he returns, but right now I have to step up and do the job. That's the exciting part for me."
All Pro tight end Antonio Gates, says that having a multi-talented veteran like Brown on the team when Matthews was hurt allows the Chargers to keep moving forward.
"You can definitely tell that he's a guy who's been in the mix of things and he's a guy who has a ton of ability," Gates said. "And he also brings leadership to the table. The fact that he's played in big games and that he's carried a team at one point (in his career) shows that he has a lot of attributes we can use for this team. He'll definitely help us. He does whatever he's asked to do, and I'm looking forward to playing with him and him making plays."