The Chargers had a welcome visitor Thursday at Costa Mesa.
No, it wasn’t Melvin Gordon.
It was the Los Angeles Rams, who joined the Bolts for the first of two joints practices.
The Chargers’ star running back was still a no-show, but there was an update on Gordon’s holdout. ESPN’s Josina Anderson tweeted that Gordon’s agent had requested a trade last week. The Chargers brass are working to try and get him back on the field, but the team is moving along with its preparations for the 2019 season.
"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."
The coaching staff as well as the team are confident in their ability to run the ball with third-year back Austin Ekeler and second-year teammate Justin Jackson. Both have had a strong showing this preseason and stood out again Thursday.
"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."
During the joint practice quarterback Philip Rivers hit Jackson for an 18-yard touchdown grab. During the scrimmage Jackson did it all - making impressive catches, diving to the ground, and running the football.
“Justin, he’s a creative runner,” Ekeler said. “There aren’t many people I’ve seen, in general, that run like he does. Like I tell him, he’s got the razzle-dazzle, some hocus-pocus because you really don’t know what he’s going to do.”
Jackson was a seventh-round pick in 2018 and dealt with injuries during training camp. He was promoted to the main roster on September 24th. His impact was felt in week 13 against the Pittsburgh Steelers with Gordon out and Ekeler struggling to pick up yards. Jackson rushed for 63 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown for the Bolts, who erased a 16-point deficit against the Steelers. Two weeks later on he rushed for 58 yards and scored a touchdown to help his team erase a 14-point deficit in a road win against Kansas City.
“I just feel more comfortable, more composed,” Jackson said. “I know the offense much better. I think everything’s just slowed down a lot for me. I feel healthier than I’ve been, more explosive, stronger and just more confident really.”
The level of concern isn’t very high because Lynn, who has over 20 years of experience coaching running backs.
“Shoot we call him the guru when it comes to running backs,” explained Ekeler, “When he comes into the room you know you are going to learn something for the first time. He will tell us a read and say ‘hey you should have seen this’. You are writing it down like, ‘oh wow I would have never of thought of it like that.’”
Ekeler was an undrafted rookie in 2017 and showed promise as soon as he touched the ball. He was running hard during practice and games. He earned a spot by playing well on special teams and proved that he was a dual threat when his opportunity to play arrived. He has over 1,400 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons.
“It’s night and day, man,” said Ekeler. “I was helped a lot by having the same offensive coordinator and same head coach. For these rookies coming in I am looking at them and I know because my head was spinning when I was a rookie. I remember being sixth string. I’ve been there.”
The Chargers and Rams hold their second joint practice Saturday.