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Austin Ekeler Forcing His Way into Bigger Role
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Few in the crowd knew Austin Ekeler’s name until a few months ago.
Yet there was one woman last Sunday who has never missed a single one of his games.
As she watched the rookie running back take his first NFL carry 35-yards to the house, Suzanne Ekeler couldn’t help but cry.
“She was up there crying, hugging people around her,” Ekeler said of his mother. “She has never missed one of my games. I always know where she is on the field because of the tickets, so I would point to her every once in a while. I get tremendous support from my family, and I’m very appreciative of that.”
Suzanne isn’t the only one believing in her son. Fans are clamoring to see more of the 5-10, 200-pound running back while coaches are figuring out ways to get him involved.
In fact, Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt couldn’t help but gush about the undrafted rookie out of Western State Colorado.
“You’re excited for the young man because he’s a shining example for young guys, to show them this is how you have to work,” he said. “I think if you said to a player, especially one who was undrafted, ‘Look, this is how you make the team,’ then how he progressed is what you do.”
Whiz then expanded on how Ekeler’s earned the team’s trust over time, seizing each of his opportunities.
“He made plays all through camp, and as he got opportunities, he got better. You see him make plays in practice but it’s different when you make it in a game. Back to the third preseason game against the Rams, where he really made some plays late in the game (like that) big third-down run, and you’re like, ‘Wow, he’s pretty good.’ And that trend continued in the next preseason game at San Francisco. Then you say to yourself, ‘Oh, it’s preseason, that’s a different animal than the regular season’. But he’s worked hard, especially on the practice field. When he’s gotten his opportunities, he’s made the most of them.”
Ekeler neverdoubted his ability, even when the odds seemed stacked against him.
Despite breaking almost every single record during his time with the Mountaineers, carrying the ball 932 times for 5,857 yards and 55 touchdowns, few teams reached out following the draft. Even after joining the Bolts, he was buried at the bottom of the depth chart as the sixth option out of the backfield.
While he’s found success early in his career, it certainly wasn’t easy right off the bat.
“It’s for sure been a process,” described Ekeler. “When I first got here, I knew I had a lot of work to do because the learning curve is so big, you have to do a lot to catch up. And then not only catch up, but also adjust to different teams every week.
Yet as Whisenhunt explained, it became evident over time that Ekeler not only belonged on the Bolts, but could be a playmaker.
Reaching the NFL is an adjustment for every rookie whether you’re the number one overall pick or a college free agent. As recently as a few weeks ago, Ekeler said he was still thinking rather than reacting when on the field.
However, now he feels he’s able to go out and just play.
“It’s definitely been a process, but as it’s gone along, I’ve been able to get into my routine. I’m starting to understand what I need to do. At the beginning of the season, I still wasn’t (the) most comfortable with the offense. But these last couple weeks, I’ve been getting to the point where I can go out and play as fast as I can.”
That’s vitally important for a running back.
“It’s the most instinctive position on the field,” Ekeler explained. “You’re going to have to react for things that you didn’t plan for. It’s all reaction as a running back. It’s huge to be able to play as fast as you can. If not, defenses are too fast nowadays. If you are even one step off, that might be the difference between trying to break a hand tackle (compared to) someone wrapping you up.” Read