Chargers Training Camp is on the horizon. The Bolts will host 10 open practices as they welcome fans back to Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa.
The Bolts are looking for a repeat appearance in the postseason as they enter Year 3 under Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley, and have a roster filled with talent and work ethic.
Chargers.com will take a look at each position group leading up to training camp. The running backs are up next.
Who's on the roster?
Austin Ekeler (7th NFL season; 7th with Chargers), Joshua Kelley (4;4), Larry Rountree III (3;3), Isaiah Spiller (2;2), Elijah Dotson (1;1), Tyler Hoosman (1;1) and Zander Horvath (2;2).
Austin Ekeler's production over the last two seasons speaks for itself.
The Chargers running back is entering his seventh season on the team and has posted 38 total touchdowns over the last two regular season — the most in the NFL during that time span. Ekeler also accumulated a career-high in yards from scrimmage in 2022 with 1,637.
Ekeler, who had some incentives added to his contract this offseason, returns for the 2023 under a new offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore and hopes to replicate the success he's had as one of the best do-it-all running backs in the league.
"It's huge," Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert said following minicamp about having Ekeler back. "He's such a talented player. He's a big part of our offense. You definitely feel his presence when he comes back here.
"To have him around, he's picking up the offense just like anyone else. It's been great to have him back, working with him," Herbert added. "I'm looking forward to July when he's back, as well."
Ekeler was present during the team's two-day mandatory minicamp and will be out there once training camp rolls around in a few weeks as well.
The Bolts also return Kelley, Spiller and Rountree III in the running back room for training camp, while Horvath remains the lone fullback on the roster.
Kelley was the Bolts No. 2 running back a season ago, even as a knee injury cost him a handful of games near the halfway point of the season.
Spiller, a 2022 fourth-round pick, saw limited action as a rookie but could be in line for a bigger role this season.
Dotson and Hoosman round out the room, both of whom were added as undrafted free agents.
"My expectation is to be better than we were last year. It starts with creating the habits we need to be successful. It starts with myself and then it trickles down to the players with the standard we set. A lot of times, the runs we missed or runs where there could have been more, it comes from habits we create on the field in individual drills. It's just taking the time to focus on that," Chargers Running Back Coach Derrick Foster on his expectation for the group in 2023.
Player to Watch: Isaiah Spiller
Spiller didn't see a lot of action last season, but his second season in the NFL could be a big one.
He played in six games during his rookie season, with his biggest action coming in Week 9 against the Falcons where he rushed seven times for 29 yards.
Spiller entered the league as one of the youngest players and now has a full year of NFL experience under his belt. He will be one of the names to watch from this room as he pushes Kelley for playing time behind Ekeler.
Foster praised Spiller’s growth entering Year 2 and with new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore now in the mix, training camp and the preseason will be a big chance for Spiller to possibly carve out a role for himself on offense.
"Mentally, he's sharp, got a really good character about himself," Foster said of Spiller. "His attitude is always positive and he has this quiet demeanor sometimes where he won't say a whole lot, but you get around him, get to know him, he'll open up a little bit and he's a different person.
"He's a competitor, he wants to compete, he really wants to be better. Just because he's standing over there quiet doesn't mean he's this non-competitive type of person," Foster added. "No, he hates when he messes up, he wants to correct those mistakes, he wants to get better. I can just see him continue to grow at this level."
Take a look back at the Chargers Mini-Camp 2023 in monochrome
Key question: Who will be running back No. 2?
Ekeler's massive production as the lead back grabs all the headlines for this room, and rightfully so.
But one of the biggest storylines heading into training camp will be who will grab the role as the second running back behind him, as it can be another layer to having an explosive offense under Moore.
Moore's offenses have had success running the ball with multiple running backs that can contribute at a high level. Having depth at the position is like any other according to Moore, who spoke about the importance of finding the second running back.
"Like a lot of positions, we're going to need depth," Moore said in late May. "You're going to need a lot of different guys to contribute through a season.
"These seasons are really, really long — 18 weeks in the regular season, and then the playoffs, preseason, all of the things can add up," Moore added. "We are going to need other guys to contribute."
Kelley assumed the role in 2022 and put up a solid season as the second running back, amassing 388 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in 13 games. His explosiveness and frame helped the Bolts in some short yardage and goal line situations, which is from where he punched in both scores last season.
The competition will be high when training camp rolls around once again, like it was in 2022, as Spiller will also be vying for a slot behind Ekeler. While Spiller did not have a big rookie year, a big second year leap can make him a candidate to compete for the No. 2 spot.
Rountree has seen his share of snaps in his first two seasons on the Chargers, and his performance in training camp and the preseason will be his chance to try and get a role in Moore's offense.
Whether it be Kelley, Spiller or Rountree, the opportunities will be there for one of them to take hold of come training camp and the preseason — and it will be a competitive battle.
"We're really excited about the other guys that are in that room, particularly in the running back room, just to give them these opportunities throughout the training camp process, the preseason process, and then we'll figure out how the roles all get distributed," Moore said.
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