Chargers Positional Review: Austin Ekeler and the running back position
One position the Chargers will depend on this season running back. In head coach Anthony Lynn’s offense, the expectation is that running the ball will control the tempo of the game. This seasons offense could see a healthy rotation of runners in the backfield.
Yet another undrafted gem the Chargers have discovered. Ekeler had a great 2019 season rushing for 557 yards, was seven yards away from 1000 receiving yards, and scored 11 touchdowns. He was the ultimate swiss army knife.
This season Ekeler won’t have Melvin Gordon, who signed with the Denver Broncos in the offseason. The team will ask more of the fourth-year back. With Tyrod Taylor as the quarterback, the team may use more RPO (run-pass option) and other plays from shotgun that will help Ekeler break for big plays the way he has the last few seasons.
“Austin Ekeler came here as an undrafted free agent,” explained Lynn. “He made the team on special teams. Then carved out a role for himself in our offense. He has taken his game to another level. I like him in the tandem role because I can use him in so many different ways.”
The former Northwestern back has had an up and down two seasons with the Bolts. In 2018, as a rookie, he climbed his way up the depth chart. Gordon and Ekeler had gone down with severe injuries toward the end of the season, so Jackson stepped up. He was clutch in two critical games, one in Pittsburgh and one in Kansas City.
In 2019, He only played in seven games due to injury and racked up 200 yards on 29 carries.
The Chargers will also count on him more going into this season. The coaching staff is hoping he turns back the clock on the 2018 version and avoid injuries so he can have another breakout season.
“Justin Jackson can be key to the backfield this year,” said Lynn. “We have to find a way to keep him healthy and keep him on the field. When he is on the field, he can make plays for us.”
The rookie back is coming off two stellar seasons for the Bruins. He rushed for over 2,300 yards and 25 total touchdowns. Kelley will most likely have to earn his way into the backfield by playing special teams. He is a bigger back who is elusive and could bring that kind of element to the backfield.
“Josh (Kelley) is going to have to be a four-core special teams guy for us,” said Lynn. “He is also going to have to bring value to the backfield. There may be somethings he can do differently than the other two guys.“
The Chargers brought in Gore as another back for camp. He could end up competing for a spot because he was with the Bolts in 2019. He rushed for 64 yards and added an 11-yard game-winning run against the San Francisco 49ers in preseason.
“We brought Derrick (Gore) back,” explained Lynn. “I love the way Derrick finished camp last year. It was one of the hardest cuts we had to make, but we kept our eyes on him and made sure we got him back.”
Lynn also told the media he loves his running back group because they are young, hungry, and extremely talented. He said he hopes all of the players get a chance to show their skills during camp. Since he is a former running backs coach, Lynn will be keeping a close eye on the backfield.
“I like the young group we have,” explained Lynn. “Without preseason games, we are really going to have to be creative on how we evaluate that group and see who we are going to take in the final roster.”