Chargers backs ready, with or without Melvin Gordon

  • By Logan Reardon
More Columns >

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- No resolution is on the horizon between Melvin Gordon and the Chargers.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that Gordon still wants more than the roughly $10 million-per-year offer the Chargers extended. As a result, backups Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are facing a greater responsibility at practice.

"Definitely, (a good opportunity) for all of us," Jackson said Thursday after a joint practice with the Rams. "Obviously when (Gordon's) here, he gets the majority of the first-team reps. Just for us to be able to mesh with the offensive line and all those guys. The more reps you get, the more comfortable you are playing with the guys around you."

Jackson and Ekeler have each been getting first-team reps, similar to how the Chargers used them both in the four games that Gordon missed due to injury last season. At least one of them scored in three of those four games and the Chargers went 4-0.

Thursday's practice with their Los Angeles counterpart offered a different opportunity -- an opportunity to go up against the best in football. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald was unveiled as No. 1 in the NFL Top 100 on Wednesday, and the reps these two got against him were invaluable.

"They're working hard," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "(Jackson) is doing a good job and Austin had a couple of nice runs today. I'm really happy with the development of some of these young guys."

Ekeler and Jackson, both 24 years old, enter their third and second seasons, respectively.

Ekeler, undrafted out of Western State, emerged as a dual-threat option during his rookie year, scoring five total touchdowns (two rushing, three receiving). He had 958 total yards and six scores as a sophomore in 2018.

Jackson, a seventh-rounder from Northwestern, had a slower start as a rookie sitting behind Gordon and Ekeler. He came on later in the season, though, scoring vs. Pittsburgh and Kansas City -- two of the Chargers' biggest wins of the season without Gordon.

"I just feel more comfortable and composed," Jackson said when asked how he's different this year. "I know the offense much better. I think everything is just slowing down for me. I'm also healthier than I've been -- stronger and more explosive."

Despite Gordon's absence, both backs insist they aren't getting more reps than usual -- they're just getting more reps with the first unit. Jackson had a touchdown catch over linebacker Cory Littleton during 11-on-11s vs. the Rams' first-unit defense, an opportunity he likely wouldn't have had if Gordon was around.

The Chargers currently have six running backs on the 90-man roster, not including Gordon.

"Even if (Gordon) was here, we'd have the same mentality," Ekeler said. "We wish he was here. Shoot, he would help our team, he's a Pro Bowl running back. But even if he was here, we'd still have to move forward, and even if he's not here we still have to move forward."