COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — With Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon and the front office at an impasse over a new contract, coach Anthony Lynn and his players are focused on another type of business — preparing for the opener Sunday against Indianapolis.
Running backs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson will be under the microscope this week even though Gordon has been absent since the start of training camp. Ekeler and Jackson might be unknown to some fans — especially those trying to make their fantasy football rosters — but quarterback Philip Rivers doesn't have any doubts about what they can do.
"I don't think there's any unknown there. We've seen them in action and we know what they can do," Rivers said. "We can see the tape and go off how many days of work we put in together to know they are capable of moving the ball."
Rivers said he has had some communication with Gordon, but nothing beyond that. If the Chargers struggle out of the gate, that might change for everyone involved.
For now, though, they are content to see how far Ekeler and Jackson can perform after both showed flashes last season.
Ekeler has shown he is a good complementary back when paired with Gordon. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season and had 958 yards from scrimmage. Ekeler has 11 touchdowns the past two seasons, with six coming on receptions.
Ekeler though has struggled when being counted on as the main back. He averaged only 3.3 yards per carry in the three games he started when Gordon was injured last season.
The focus for Ekeler this week has been honing in on blitz pickup and refining technique.
"There's no added pressure," he said. "My approach has been the same for two years — put me a spot where I know this is my role and it is up to me to execute."
Jackson is slightly smaller than Gordon, but is more consistent on inside runs than Ekeler. He had three games of 50 yards or more, including 58 yards on 16 carries in a Week 15 start at Kansas City.
Jackson, a seventh-round pick last year, says he is looking forward to taking advantage of another opportunity.
"Austin and I are dynamic and have some uniqueness," he said. "We all love Melvin but you have to go out there and play your game and not be someone else."
Los Angeles will face an Indianapolis run defense that was eighth in the league last season (101.6 yards per game) and hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in its last 18-regular season games. The Colts allowed four running backs to gain 122 yards or more two years ago but none last year.
Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said he doesn't think Gordon's absence will affect the Chargers offense.
"If you watch when he wasn't in there last year and their other guys were in there I think they ran the same offense, the same types of runs and the same patterns. It looked like the same operation to me so I think it's really the same," he said.
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged there would be a bigger sense of the unknown if Ekeler and Jackson had not played in big games at Pittsburgh and Kansas City last year. He is also hoping that the Chargers can remain balanced on offense, which is a big reason why they won 12 games and made the playoffs last season.
"I think that we, obviously, work very hard to make sure that we're consistent with running the football and that we want to keep doing that," he said. "If you look at what some of the runs that Austin and Justin had last year, you would think they have the chance to do that. That will be judged, I guess, over the course of time, but we certainly feel good about those guys."
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