RB Ekeler looks to join elite com­pany

Antelope Valley Press - - Sports - By JOE REEDY

COSTA MESA — The Los An­ge­les Charg­ers’ playoff hopes were dashed weeks ago. Austin Ekeler still has plenty to play in the fi­nale Sun­day at Kansas City.

Ekeler needs 50 yards to be­come at least the fourth run­ning back since the NFL-AFL merger to have 1,000 re­ceiv­ing yards in a sea­son. He leads the league in re­ceiv­ing yards and touch­downs (eight) by a run­ning back and is sec­ond in re­cep­tions (83).

“It is one of those things I wasn’t think­ing about at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, but now that I know I can do it I want to get it be­cause it would put a stamp on the year,” he said.

Hall of Famer Mar­shall Faulk was the last to do it with 1,048 yards in 1999 when the St. Louis Rams won their only Su­per Bowl ti­tle. The oth­ers are for­mer Charger Lionel “Lit­tle Train” James (1,027) and San Fran­cisco’s Roger Craig (1,016). James and Craig both hit the mark in 1985.

Ekeler was signed by Los An­ge­les as an un­drafted free agent in 2017. He was mostly on spe­cial teams as a rookie but be­gan to have more of a role in the of­fense last sea­son as a more dy­namic change-of-pace op­tion to Melvin Gor­don. When Gor­don missed train­ing camp and the first four games due to a con­tract dis­pute, Ekeler be­came the lead back.

He made an in­stant im­pact in the opener against In­di­anapo­lis with 154 yards from scrim­mage and three touch­downs, in­clud­ing the game win­ner in over­time. Even when Gor­don ended his hold­out, Ekeler still has been one of the fo­cal points in the pass­ing game. He has six games of six or more re­cep­tions and four 100-yard re­ceiv­ing games.

“He’s so ver­sa­tile. Just start­ing to put him out wide, run­ning the routes that he’s been able to run on the route tree,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Shane Ste­ichen said. “Ob­vi­ously, mak­ing guys miss in the open field, that’s one of his strong points. He has done that all year.” Of Ekeler’s 83 catches, 24 have come in flat while 23 have come on screens. He

is av­er­ag­ing 13.4 yards on screens, which in­cluded a 55yard touch­down against the Colts and a ca­reer best 84yard score three weeks ago at Jack­sonville.

It was also in the Jaguars game that Ekeler had 213 scrim­mage yards and be­came the sec­ond Charg­ers run­ning back with 100 yards rush­ing and re­ceiv­ing in a game. James was the first in 1985.

“This sea­son per­son­ally for me has been an awak­en­ing. I proved I could play more than run­ning back,” he said. “I can play the slot and also be used on speed sweeps.”

Ekeler isn’t the only one chas­ing a 1,000-yard re­ceiv­ing year. If Ekeler and Mike Wil­liams can both reach the mile­stone on Sun­day, they would join Keenan Allen to be­come the sixth trio to reach 1,000 yards for a team in a sea­son. Wil­liams needs 37 for his first 1,000-yard cam­paign.

Ari­zona in 2008 was the last team to have three re­ceivers 1,000 yards.

Carolina’s Chris­tian McCaf­frey needs 67 re­ceiv­ing yards to be­come only the sec­ond run­ning back to have 1,000-yards rush­ing and re­ceiv­ing the same sea­son.

Los An­ge­les has gen­er­ated plenty of yards through the air but it hasn’t trans­lated into wins. The Charg­ers (510) will have a los­ing record for the first time in An­thony Lynn’s three sea­sons as coach and are on the verge of go­ing win­less in the AFC West for the first time since 1984.

The Charg­ers back­field is ex­pected to have a dif­fer­ent look next sea­son. Gor­don and quar­ter­back Philip Rivers will be un­re­stricted free agents with at least one not ex­pected to re­turn. Ekeler will be a re­stricted free agent who is likely to re­ceive at least a sec­ond-round ten­der from the Charg­ers.

“We don’t know what they are go­ing to do up­stairs,” Ekeler said. “We were too in­con­sis­tent all year. We needed to make more plays. It is great we had the yards but in the grand scheme of things we didn’t do enough.”

Notes: Left tackle Rus­sell Okung will miss Sun­day’s game due to a groin in­jury. The vet­eran line­man played in only six games this sea­son af­ter miss­ing the first eight due to treat­ment for blood clots. Trey Pip­kins is ex­pected to start for the sec­ond straight game but Lynn said Trent Scott would also see some time.

As­so­ci­ated Press

CATCH AND RUN — Charg­ers run­ning back Austin Ekeler is tack­led by Oak­land Raiders in­side line­backer Will Comp­ton dur­ing the first half on Sun­day in Car­son. Ekeler needs 50 yards to be­come the fourth run­ning back to have 1,000 re­ceiv­ing yards.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.