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Three Takeaways: How Did Austin Ekeler's Mindset as a Rookie Shape Him as a Player Today?

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Below are three takeaways from Thursday's press conferences with Austin Ekeler, Joe Lombardi and Renaldo Hill.

Ekeler's approach to the game

As the Chargers' feature running back, Austin Ekeler is having a career year, already passing his career high in rushing yards, rushing attempts and touchdowns in 11 games this season.

Ekeler who said on Thursday that he never even thought he would play in the NFL, let alone be a feature back at highest level of football, gave insight into how he approaches the game of football.

"My mindset has been the same since I was a rookie," Ekeler said. "It's about trying to build and keep building. I don't compare myself to anybody. Some people will compare me to other pass-catching backs when they try to talk football. For me, I can't focus on that. I started out on special teams. That was my role and I put everything into that role. Then, I started getting reps on offense. Then. I became a full-time offensive player. It's always been, 'How can I improve my game in this offense with the opportunities that I'm getting?' That's my role."

As a running back, you might think touchdowns or rushing yards would be the stat that Ekeler cares about the most. But for him, it's actually when he led the league in tackles on punt coverage his rookie season.

Ekeler talked about how that mindset he developed early on in his career helped get him to where he is today on and off the football field.

"I remember the mindset that I had was that everything relies on me going down here and making this tackle," Ekeler said. "My livelihood in this league depended on this right now. That was how I approached the game. That's how I approached my preparation. That's why I was able to have success because I put everything into it. It carried over to everything else that I'm doing, not just football. It carries over to life. If you want something and you have the opportunity to take a risk and go get it, I think to myself, 'Let's go.'"

With preparations for the Chargers' Week 13 matchup in Cincinnati fully underway, Ekeler said while his body is feeling the toll of the season, he's learned to embrace it and enjoys the grind when it's really time to push.

"The NFL is no joke, this stuff hurts," he said. "It's what actually makes part of the grind that much better. I feel like I love it more because it's hard…just for my mental and physical strength, I think it's great."

Explosive plays, improving consistency

When talking about the Bolts offense heading into Week 13, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi talked about finding ways to be more consistent on gamedays.

For Lombardi, a big part of that is continuing to build experience as a group as the season progresses.

"I think that there's a consistency element that we're chasing," Lombardi said. "Hopefully, as we move on and get more experience together, that will work itself out … Just keep chasing those good performances and that consistency. As you watch the film and you see why something happened, I think that experience is going to go a long way in creating more consistency."

Lombardi also talked about generating explosive plays in both the pass and the run game. Ekeler touched on that point saying making those explosive plays can be the difference between a win and a loss.

"It's similar to last week in Denver," Ekeler said "I know they are going to play me in man on third down, so I have to get open. Let's not just get open, but make some type of explosive action out of this, as well. That's what it's going to come down to: How many plays can we make and how many explosive plays can we make out of those plays?"

Focus on run and third down defense

Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill talked about how the Bolts can specifically improve their run defense and third down defense heading into a matchup with talented weapons on offense like the Bengals have.

He also gave his assessment on the defense now 11 games into the season.

"[We're] continuing to grow," Hill said. "I think we are improving in every area that we need to. We talked about the run game and how we want to play things. We are doing that a lot better. We are still seeing a play here and there, but I am seeing the progression of us playing the way we want to play it. We know it's December and we know we need to take a huge jump moving forward, so that is the focus leading into the week."

On Wednesday, safety Derwin James echoed that message Hill gave, both emphasizing the importance of making improvements in this crucial stretch of games that lie ahead.

Hill also went into more detail on how the Bolts defense can get off the field and force more fourth downs.

"When we really rolled down the film and looked at it again last night, it really came down to assignment and technique," Hill said of the Bolts third down defense. "If we can execute those things, then we'll be sitting a lot better. Obviously, we are going to be facing a lot of teams and they are going to do a lot of different things with their scheme, but if we focus on the things that we need to do in order to execute, we'll be fine. Just getting back to that and making sure that's the focus for this week."

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