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What to Watch this Weekend: Chargers Running Back Competition Heats Up


The Chargers practiced in pads on Friday at Jack Hammett Sports Complex – the first of what is expected to be three straight days of full contact through the weekend.

It's an important stretch to evaluate the ground game and a crowded group of backs – all 26 or younger. After practice, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi elaborated on the competition behind "No. 1 running back" Austin Ekeler, noting that there's enough depth in the room to keep No. 30 fresh.

"Today, we got into a lot of two tailback sets, where you use Austin almost more as a wide receiver," Lombardi said. "And, you feel really good about the other running backs that you can put back there. It gives us a lot of flexibility."

There are several options to consider in the Bolts backfield.

Lombardi described Joshua Kelley and Justin Jackson as "all-around players" who can run, pass protect and be functional receivers. Despite injury issues in his first three seasons, Jackson has averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 138 career rushes.

Kelley scored the Chargers' first touchdown of the 2020 season. He finished with 354 yards on 111 carries (3.2 ypc) in a rookie campaign that included an all-virtual offseason.

The former UCLA star has taken notice of the stark difference in year two.

"I didn't have OTAs," he said. "I didn't have minicamp. I just came in during training camp. I didn't even have preseason. I think the biggest thing for us and our young guys is that they had the OTAs, minicamp and all of this stuff that we're doing now. It's big. You get a playbook, but it's different than actual live reps. We're actually getting those reps. That's helping me out."

Rookie Larry Rountree, whom the Chargers drafted in the sixth round, left Missouri as the school's all-time leading rusher among RBs. Lombardi said he's been impressed with Rountree's professionalism and the way he approaches his craft.

The Chargers OC added that second-year back Darius Bradwell is also doing a "great job." As the team continues to work in pads – and with preseason games on the horizon – Lombardi said the picture should come into clearer focus.

"When you're not in pads, you have to kind of work with the D-line," he said. "Not everyone does what they're going to do in pads. So, there may be holes that won't be there in pads. Maybe it's blocked up when, in real life, we would have created a crease.

"As we start working in pads, it's going to be huge to evaluate how we're doing, but I'm very encouraged so far."

Kelley said he "woke up like a kid today" knowing it was an opportunity to "thud up."

"For me, as a runner, I like contact," he added. "I love it. For me, I like to embody hitting somebody, running through the hole. These next few days, we're going to get to do a lot of that. That's super exciting."

Los Angeles practices on Saturday morning at Jack Hammett Sports Complex before Chargers Fan Fest at SoFi Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Odds and Ends

  • Safety Nasir Adderley discussed his relationship with rookie defensive back Mark Webb, L.A.'s seventh-round pick. Both are from Philadelphia and played Pop Warner together. "I love just seeing his journey and his transition," Adderley said of Webb. "A lot of people don't know that all the way leading up to college, he was a receiver. He then switched to corner. Just the fact that he made it here and is playing at a high level, even in these first couple of practices, it's a great testament of the work that he's put in."
  • Lombardi had high praise for rookie wide receiver Joshua Palmer on Friday, pointing to his physicality, hands and route-running ability. Like Rountree, Lombardi said Palmer's professionalism is what's been most impressive. "When you see that kind of attitude from a guy, you know that he's built to last in this league," Lombardi said. "I'm really, really happy with him."
  • Chase Daniel's presence among the quarterbacks group has been "huge," according to Lombardi. He said Daniel, whom he coached in New Orleans, is like having another coach in the room for quarterback Justin Herbert. "It kind of looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in Twins when they are standing next to each other," Lombardi joked. "It's great having him."

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