Joshua Kelley in Chargers’ backfield plans for Week 9 vs. Raiders – Press Enterprise

COSTA MESA — Chargers coach Anthony Lynn knows the mental burden running backs carry after a string of fumbles. They begin to overthink on the field and aren’t as decisive when running between tackles.

But every running back regains confidence at their own pace. Lynn anticipated that with rookie running back Joshua Kelley after he fumbled in back-to-back games against the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Kelley hasn’t been the same powerful runner he was to start the season in the past four games. It’s taking Kelley longer to regain confidence, but Lynn continued to express support for the former UCLA running back.

“He’s still learning this game,” said Lynn, who played seven NFL seasons as a running back. “He’s doing just fine. He put a couple balls on the ground and I thought he started running a little timid, but he’s gotta get over that and get back to running like Josh ran in training camp and the first couple weeks.

“I have no doubt he will work through this. He’ll get it done and he’s a heck of a running back.”

The Chargers’ running game struggled without Austin Ekeler, who sustained a hamstring injury in Week 4 against the Buccaneers. Ekeler was placed on injured reserve and the extra carries were split between Kelley and Justin Jackson.

Jackson did enough to maintain the lead role during the first two games without Ekeler while Kelley struggled to find a rhythm.

Last week, Lynn gave Troymaine Pope an opportunity and he provided a spark for the Chargers against the Denver Broncos. Lynn rode the hot hand, as he said he would to start the season, and split carries between Pope and Jackson for most of the game. Kelley didn’t get a rushing attempt for nearly two quarters before Pope left in the fourth quarter to be evaluated for a concussion.

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The Chargers (2-5) rushed for a season-high 210 yards against the Broncos. It was the first time they surpassed 200 rushing yards in a game since they had 246 against the Cleveland Browns in 2018. Pope contributed 67 yards on 10 carries and also had five catches for 28 yards.

“I’ve been talking up Pope all week just because I knew he was ready to break out once he gets his opportunity and opportunity knocked for him,” Jackson said last week. “He went out there and did his thing. I’m real proud of him. He’s been through a lot.”

Lynn said Wednesday that Kelley hasn’t fallen out of the backfield rotation, and he plans to get him involved Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders (4-3).

“He has a great spirit about him,” Lynn said about Kelley. “He’s a competitor and we will use him this week.”

Lynn might not have the option to not use Kelley because Pope is in the concussion protocol and hasn’t practiced this week.

The Chargers only had three running backs practice Thursday with Kelley, Jackson and Kalen Ballage, a player on the practice squad. The other running back on the practice squad, Darius Bradwell, also missed Thursday because of injury.

Lynn supported Kelley after his costly fumble against the Buccaneers partly because he knew he needed him with Ekeler injured, but he’s also a fan of Kelley’s work ethic and background as a UC Davis transfer and walk-on at UCLA. Lynn said he was antsy to draft Kelley in the fourth round of April’s draft.

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But Lynn said he’s not antsy about Kelley’s struggles. He remains confident and patient that he’ll return to his September and August form.

Kelley hasn’t rushed for more than 32 yards in the past four games and is only averaging 3.2 yards per attempt. Kelley, however, was credited for sparking the team during the season-opening win against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Josh is a young man that cares a lot,” Lynn said. “We talk about not having turnovers, and when he has one, he takes it to heart and sometimes you can care too much because it can linger.

“He’ll come to that time where he’ll get over it on his own time. It’s not something that you can rush and I think each week he’ll get better and he’ll be the Joshua that he was in the beginning of the season.”

HERBERT ON INJURY REPORT

Quarterback Justin Herbert appeared on the injury report Thursday with a right shoulder injury, but he was listed as a full participant.

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