Take a look at the entire Bolts roster leading into 2018 Preseason.
As we near the start of training camp on July 28, we'll preview each position for the Los Angeles Chargers. We continue with the running backs.
Melvin Gordon – Firmly entrenched as one of the top all-around running backs in the NFL, it's hard to believe that Melvin Gordon is already heading into his fourth season. The 25-year old terrorized defenses a year ago, becoming the first Charger to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing since 2013. Gordon's 1,105 rushing yards ranked seventh in the league while his 1,581 total yards from scrimmage were fifth. If that wasn't enough, his 80 total first downs were the third-most in the NFL while his 72 total points ranked fourth among non-kickers. Gordon made a point to take the team's stable of young backs under his wing this offseason, and figures to expand on that role come training camp.
Austin Ekeler – Austin Ekeler wasn't just the Chargers' feel good story of 2017; he was one of the best stories in the entire NFL. Not only did the 5-10, 200-pounder defy the odds to make the team, he also emerged as an invaluable cog in the Bolts' offense. He had 47 carries for 260 yards and two touchdowns, good for a gaudy 5.5 yards per carry average. In addition, he snared 27 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns, including three receptions of at least 20 yards. Perhaps the biggest compliment is the fact that Ekeler has the full trust of Philip Rivers, who often looked his way when the team needed a big play.
Justin Jackson – The path to a meaningful role is Justin Jackson's for the taking. The team's seventh-round pick out of Northwestern is the assumed front runner to join Gordon and Ekeler in the backfield. He certainly has the pedigree. The 6-0, 199-pounder ranks third-all time in the Big Ten with 6,289 rushing yards, good for the most in Northwestern history. He scored 42 touchdowns in his career, and became the ninth player in NCAA history to eclipse 1,000 yards all four years he played. Jackson cut his teeth in the physical conference, going against some of the best defenders in the country, so he won't be intimidated heading into the NFL.
Russell Hansbrough – Russell Hansbrough spent time on the Chargers practice squad in 2017 before being promoted to the active roster for the season finale against the Oakland Raiders. The 5-9, 195-pound running back out of Missouri initially signed as an undrafted free agent in Tampa Bay after a standout collegiate career in which he carried the rock 467 times for 2,344 yards and 15 TDs, averaging 5.0 yards per carry.
Detrez Newsome – The Bolts inked Detrez Newsome immediately after the draft, adding Western Carolina's all-time leader in career all-purpose yards (6,969) into the mix. Newsome ranks second in school history in career rushing yards (3,728), rushing touchdowns (37) and 100-yard rushing games (16). He's also a touchdown machine, ranking as the school's all-time leader with 46 total TDs.
Derek Watt (Fullback) – The third-year fullback earned high praise this offseason when Running Backs Coach Alfredo Roberts called him one of the top fullbacks in the NFL. Not only is Watt a capable blocker, he's also proven effective as a runner in short yardage situations as well as someone defenses have to take account for in the passing game. Watt has had a handful of clutch catchers over his first two seasons, including a 53-yard catch-and-run against the Denver Broncos.
Anthony Manzo-Lewis – All it takes is one look at Anthony Manzo-Lewis to know he's a fullback. The 6-0, 257-pound Manzo-Lewis was a hybrid fullback/tight end a year ago in Albany. He emerged as a second-team All-CAA selection after catching 20 passes for 188 yards.
We're Keeping Our Eye On…
Ricky Henne: Justin Jackson is the obvious answer because there is a clear path to a meaningful role for the seventh-round pick. However, I'm going to be paying extra close attention to last year's breakout star, Austin Ekeler, who came out of nowhere to serve as Melvin Gordon's complementary back. Believe it or not, Ekeler is the only other running back on the roster who has an NFL carry! While he's known for his abilities as a pass catcher and a change of pace back, Ekeler is capable of so much more. The dude is strong as an ox, and many here at Hoag Performance Center believe he is pound-for-pound the strongest player on the team. I want to see Ekeler expand on the niche he carved out last season and carry a heavier load in 2018.
Hayley Elwood: Although he was selected in the seventh round, I believe rookie running back Justin Jackson is one to watch in camp for making a potential impact in 2018. Jackson was highly productive at Northwestern as the school's leading rusher, scoring 42 touchdowns and amassing 6,289 yards. I'm interested to see how he can translate that productivity to the NFL level.
Chris Hayre: Rookie Justin Jackson is the back that I'll have eyes on. Northwestern's all-time leading rusher had over 1,000 yards on the ground in each of his four years in Evanston. Jackson has been a sponge this offseason, working overtime with Melvin Gordon on improving his craft. He'll also contribute on special teams.
The Chargers' 2018 training camp schedule is official, so mark your calendars to watch the Bolts prepare for the upcoming season! The team will hold 14 practices open to the public between July 28 and August 23. For more information, please visit www.chargers.com/camp.