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Chargers confident Austin Ekeler can step in, step up

The Los Angeles Chargers are confident that Austin Ekeler can handle the workload with Melvin Gordon likely out due to a knee injury.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound scat back has played a change-of-pace role this season, generating a healthy 5.8 yards per carry average on 70 totes for 409 yards and 32 receptions for 354 yards and four total touchdowns.

Boasting about the confidence the Chargers have in Ekeler's ability to handle a heavier workload, coach Anthony Lynn called Ekeler pound-for-pound the strongest player on the team.

"No doubt," Lynn said, via the team's official website. "That's a fact. It's not an opinion, that's a fact. ...We go through the offseason program, these percentages and weights, we were very surprised how strong he was. I mean, technically, pound-for-pound, he's the strongest guy on our team. That's why you see him running through tackles. That's why you see him creating yards after contact. He can do those types of things. He's not a big back, but he can still do those types of things."

While Ekeler does most of his damage out wide and as a receiver out of the backfield, he can eke out yards between the tackles when needed, not all unlike the Chargers previous famous scat back, Danny Woodhead.

"I have a small frame, so people think, 'Oh man, I'm going to light this kid up,'" Ekeler said. "I just take pride in the way my strength allows me to (stay on my feet). I can take hits for sure. People are bouncing off of me. But I got popped a couple times. Shoot, you see people pick me up off the ground. I'm still light, but as far as DBs coming and trying to take a hit on me, usually I can absorb some of those and keep going. Just the pride that I've taken in my strength has helped me out there (on the field)."

It's not the DB hits so much as the massive 325-pound D-lineman that can gobble up Ekeler between the tackles.

While the Chargers speak confidently that they can excel Sunday against a stout Steelers run defense with Ekeler taking most the carries, it won't be the same sans Gordon. In Week 7 when the offensive engine sat with a hamstring injury, Ekeler gained just 42 rushing yards on 12 carries (3.5 yards per carry).

The Chargers will miss Gordon Sunday, but Ekeler and the other backs are looking at the opportunity to prove they can handle the responsibility of stepping in for a Pro Bowler.

"Mel (Melvin Gordon) unfortunate for him, man," Ekeler said. "I feel bad just because it's so unlucky getting leg whipped like that. Now I'm the next guy up. It's some big shoes to fill. Mel, he's a Pro Bowl guy. He was having a great season, so (I've) got to step up and so do all of us. Justin (Jackson) and Detrez (Newsome) as well. ...My role has just changed a little bit. It's usually on special teams and a little bit of offense, but now it's shifting more towards the offense. (I) absolutely have the opportunity just as well as everyone else."

Jackson, a rookie, looked impressive in his first extended action last week -- seven carries for 57 yards, 8.1 YPC -- and should see more touches spelling Ekeler moving forward.

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