Chargers RB Austin Ekeler, with nothing to prove, itching to make plays

COSTA MESA — Chargers running back Austin Ekeler has built a reputation for shining brightest in August, but it was a quiet month for him this year.

Ekeler had nothing to prove this training camp. The Chargers already know what he provides as one of the best tandem running backs in the NFL.

The former undrafted rookie said Thursday he had an itch for more carries and wanted to face the defense at a “live” pace in practices, but he was fine with being safe and watching the younger running backs receive experience during training camp.

“I’m not selfish,” Ekeler said after the final practice of training camp. “I understand. Hey, I’m not going to be holding the rock the entire game, so I don’t mind. ‘Look, you know what I can do for the past three years. Let’s get some of these young guys some more experience with the quarterbacks and the calls and seeing the defense.’”

Ekeler was supposed to be watching young running backs Joshua Kelley, Darius Bradwell and Derrick Gore split carries Thursday night from the sidelines at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, but the Chargers’ fourth preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers – along with the rest of the exhibition schedule – was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Without the preseason games to evaluate players, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn will have a hard time deciding which players to keep come Saturday’s deadline to trim the roster from 80 players to 53.

“That final roster is going to be a little tricky this year, but we have a pretty good pulse for this football team,” Lynn said. “It will be harder than normal.”

The Chargers’ running back group was likely decided heading into training camp with Ekeler as the lead back and Justin Jackson and Kelley competing for the No. 2 job.

Keeping more than three running backs on the final roster seems unlikely, especially without the preseason games for unproven players like Bradwell and Gore to display what they can do in games. But opportunity knocked this week after Jackson sustained an injury during Sunday’s scrimmage.

Ekeler is optimistic Jackson will return to practice next week for Week 1 of the regular season, but he feels for his teammate who has dealt with many injuries during his three-year career. Ekeler mentioned that Jackson is dealing with a toe injury.

“I’m cautious with how I talk to him (about injuries),” Ekeler said. “I bring it up every once in a while, see how he’s doing, check in. Justin and I are pretty close. I know how he feels, but yeah, he’s frustrated … because in the past, he’s had that reputation (for injuries). He doesn’t want to continue that.”

Last year, Jackson missed nine games because of a calf injury. He’s proved to produce at a high rate when on the field, but his injury history likely led to the Chargers using this year’s fourth-round pick on Kelley.

“You’re starting to see him mesh better with the scheme and just knowing what he’s doing,” Ekeler said about Kelley. “He’s reacting really fast. He’s a really bright kid. Very talented, too. Strong runner.”

Kelley has likely won the No. 2 job, but the Chargers will have plenty of depth and talent at running back if Jackson remains healthy during the regular season.

UNIFORMS SCHEDULE

The Chargers on Thursday announced the schedule for their popular uniforms.

They’ll wear their white uniforms seven times this season, starting with the Sept. 13 season opener at the Bengals. The white uniforms will also be displayed Sept. 20 against the Chiefs; Sept. 27 against the Panthers; Oct. 12 at the Saints; Nov. 22 at the Broncos; Dec. 17 at the Raiders; and Jan. 3 at the Chiefs.

The iconic powder blue jerseys will be used six times: Oct. 4 at the Buccaneers; Oct. 18 against the Jets; Oct. 25 at the Dolphins; Nov. 1 against the Jaguars; Dec. 6 against the Patriots; and Dec. 26/27 against the Broncos.

The color rush royal blue uniforms will be sported Dec. 13 against the Falcons. The color rush navy uniforms will make two appearances: Nov. 8 against the Raiders and Nov. 29 at the Bills.

PRACTICE UPDATES

• Right guard Trai Turner returned to practice Thursday. He was sidelined for three consecutive days after being looked at by the medical team during Sunday’s scrimmage.

• Center Mike Pouncey, tight end Virgil Green and wide receiver Mike Williams didn’t practice.

• Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen sounded optimistic Thursday about Williams returning from his shoulder injury in time for Week 1: “Mike’s gotta be ready to play. I think Mike’s got that mindset to be ready to play and we gotta be ready to go. We look forward to have him on September 13.”

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