Column: Chargers are on shaky ground recreation with only Austin Ekeler to count on

The Chargers’ first two tries at drafting a working back to acquire some of the load off Austin Ekeler’s shoulders haven’t gone so properly.

Larry Rountree III, drafted in the sixth round out of Missouri in 2021 with the hope he’d be a forceful short-yardage back, was inactive by mid-October. He experienced 36 carries for 87 yards, all by Nov. 21, and one reception for minus-a single yard. He finished the year primarily on specific teams obligation.

Joshua Kelley, drafted in the fourth spherical out of UCLA in 2020, did minimal to impress in his 2nd period with 33 carries for 102 yards and 5 catches for 38 yards. He performed 10 online games and has a two-season average of 3.17 yards for each carry.

A third whiff at drafting a functioning back again to enhance the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Ekeler this year logically would force the Chargers to make a trade — as the Rams did previous August in attaining Sony Michel, who led them in regular-period hurrying yards — or glimpse at other teams’ late roster cuts to increase a veteran backup.

In the meantime, the Chargers are hoping somebody will arise in teaching camp to gain the No. 2 operating again job, a competitiveness that will ramp up when they start out normal methods in pads and encounter tacklers and gamers can be evaluated in exclusive groups roles.

“We’re going to give them every single opportunity to establish on their own,” mentor Brandon Staley stated of the No. 2 running back again candidates. “That’s what this coaching camp is heading to be about for that place.”

The latest contender is 2022 fourth-round draft pick Isaiah Spiller of Texas A&M, who was pleasing to the Chargers partly simply because he confirmed flexibility as a junior by hurrying for 1,011 yards in 179 carries and generating 25 catches for 189 yards.

Spiller has been getting steerage and inspiration from Ekeler, who built the roster as an undrafted absolutely free agent out of Western Colorado University in 2017 and labored his way up from particular groups to backing up Melvin Gordon and then to a crucial and showcased spot.

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“Just to see him mature, it’s crazy and it’s an awesome story,” Spiller mentioned right after a exercise in Costa Mesa final week. “So, it is just mastering from him, his attitude, the way he thinks, the way he carries himself. I’m just selecting up on points like that, for absolutely sure.

“I’m just coming in each individual working day, proving my value to the team, that I’m an asset and the crew wants me. I’m using it day by day, studying, listening to what Austin’s bought to say, functioning the plays. I’ve even now acquired to display all that. It’s a method. I’m just savoring the process.”

Ekeler compiled job-very best totals last period with 206 rushing tries, 911 yards, and 12 speeding touchdowns. He also had 70 receptions for 647 yards and eight touchdowns, matching a profession superior. He performed 16 online games, which was encouraging just after he was limited to 10 game titles in 2020 due to the fact of hamstring and knee challenges.

Staley reported he does not see Ekeler’s role switching even if an individual emerges to just take some touches absent. “Hopefully, we can do even additional with him,” Staley stated.

The Chargers have drafted working backs three a long time in a row, this yr deciding on Isaiah Spiller (28) in hopes of discovering a reliable No. 2 again.

(Alex Gallardo / Affiliated Press)

But offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is mindful of the pounding Ekeler routinely absorbs and of the probable effect of shedding him to damage.

“I’m not anticipating any sort of dip in utilization of him. But, like any managing again, unless of course you are 250 pounds, from time to time there’s a pitch rely on all those men,” Lombardi mentioned.

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“He’s not someone that you want to eliminate halfway through the season due to the fact you overused them. Just being intelligent with how many instances he’s finding hit every single match is a thing that you have to maintain an eye on. And so we’re likely to rely on those other fellas to pick up the slack when he’s not in there.”

That is asking for a great deal.

Ekeler, 27, explained the jogging backs have been aggressive and he welcomes becoming pushed by them, but his versatility presents him a substantial edge.

“It’s my occupation to increase as substantially benefit as I can, not only in the operating back location but out in the slot and sort of all above the field,” he explained. “I feel which is exactly where I have a ton of benefit in my game is you can pretty significantly put me wherever and I’ll have some type of worth on the operates deep down the area, velocity, no matter whether you want me operating across the center or no matter if you want to hand the ball to me, throw to me, have me as a decoy going a person way for a screen variety of thing. I’m likely to be productive anywhere you put me.”

Wherever they put him, it’s critical he avoids key personal injury — and that he has a backup who can make considerable contributions.

“If we’ve bought a person who’s proven that he’s a predominant runner, can actually pound the rock and is truly robust at that, perhaps stronger than I am, then it’s like we can continue to see him, but I even now myself being on the industry at the exact time,” Ekeler mentioned, recalling that he and Gordon break up carries in 2019.

“As far as my load, yeah, perhaps it could be altered a tiny little bit, but I don’t believe it’ll go down. I assume it will just glimpse a tiny little bit unique, if anything.”

The a lot more it appears to be like a robust 1-2 punch at working again, the better the Chargers’ odds of qualifying for the playoffs.

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