Chargers on shaky ground and only Austin Eckeler can be counted on

Charging deviceThe first two attempts to select a running back to take some of the pressure off Austin Eckeler’s shoulders were unsuccessful.

Larry Rowntree III, drafted in the sixth round by the Missouri in 2021 with hopes of becoming a strong short-yard defenseman, was out of action by mid-October. He had 36 carries for 87 yards, all in November. 21, and one reception for minus one yard. He ended the season mostly with special teams.

Joshua Kelly, a fourth-round pick by UCLA in 2020, had little impact in his second season, with 33 carries for 102 yards and five catches for 38 yards. He played 10 games and has a two-season average of 3.17 yards per carry.

A third hint of a running back choice in addition to the 5ft 10in, 200lb Eckeler this season would logically force the Chargers to make a trade — just as the Rams did last August by acquiring Sony Michel, who led them on the regular basis. season yards – or look at other teams’ late roster cuts to add a veteran backup.

In the meantime, the Chargers are hoping to get someone in training camp to win first place. 2 running back work, a competition that will escalate as they begin regular pad and facetacle training and players can be judged in special team roles.

“We’re going to give them every opportunity to shine,” coach Brandon Staley said. 2 candidates running back. “That’s what this training camp for this position will be about.”

The newest contender was Isaiah Spiller, a fourth-round pick in the 2022 Texas A&M draft who the Chargers liked in part because he showed versatility as a junior, rushing for 1,011 yards on 179 carries and throwing 25 interceptions for 189 yards.

Spiller drew inspiration and guidance from Eckeler, who entered the roster as an undrafted free agent from the University of Western Colorado in 2017 and went from special teams to backing Melvin Gordon to a vital and famous spot.

“Just to see him grow is crazy and an amazing story,” Spiller said after training in Costa Mesa last week. “So I’m just learning from him, his way of thinking, his way of thinking, his demeanor. I just pick up on things like that, exactly.

“I just show up every day, proving my worth to the team, that I am valuable and that the team needs me. I do this day after day, I study, I listen to what Austin says, I put on plays. I still have to show it all. This is a process. I’m just enjoying the process.”

Ekeler posted a career-best 206 rushing yards, 911 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns last season. He also had 70 receptions for 647 yards and eight touchdowns, a career high. He has played 16 games, which is encouraging after being limited to 10 games in 2020 due to hamstring and knee problems.

Staley said he doesn’t see a change in Ekeler’s role, even if someone shows up to clean up a few touches. “Hopefully we can do even more with him,” Staley said.

Running back Isaiah Spiller (28) takes part in training.

The Chargers have picked running backs three years in a row, this year picking Isaiah Spiller (28) in hopes of finding a solid #1. 2 ago.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

But offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is mindful of the hits Ekeler usually absorbs and the potential consequences of losing him to injury.

“I don’t expect any downturn in its use. But like any runner, unless you’re 250 pounds, sometimes these guys have to rely on pitching,” Lombardi said.

“He is not someone you want to lose in the middle of the season because you abused him. You just have to keep track of how many times he gets hit in each game. And so we’re counting on the other guys to pick up the slack when he’s not there.”

It takes a lot.

Ekeler, 27, said the runners have been competitive and he’s glad they’re pushing him, but his versatility gives him a huge advantage.

“My job is to be as useful as possible, not just as a running back, but in the slot as well as the entire field,” he said. “I think that’s where I have a lot of value in my game, you can put me anywhere and I’ll have some value on the runs down the field, speed, whether you want me to run down the middle. or whether you want to pass the ball to me, toss to me, use me as a bait going one way for some type of screen. I will be efficient wherever you put me.”

Wherever he is placed, it is very important that he avoids serious injury and that he has a backup that can make a significant difference.

“If we have a guy who has shown that he is an excellent runner, can really hit rock and is really strong at it, maybe stronger than me, then we can still see him, but I am still on top myself. field at the same time,” Ekeler said, recalling that he and Gordon split in 2019.

“As for my workload, yes, maybe it can be changed a little, but I don’t think it will decrease. I think it will look a little different, if anything.”

The more it looks like a hard running back 1-2, the better the Chargers’ chances of making it to the playoffs.