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By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

Chargers hope to see improvements in their running attack



Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is hoping to improve the Chargers running attack in 2021.

The 2020 season NFL season was a disappointment for the Los Angeles Chargers, leading to the firing of head coach Anthony Lynn and the hiring of Brandon Staley as the new head coach of the Chargers. The Chargers offensive line was rated by Pro Football Focus (PFF) as the worst in the NFL and the worst in the NFL over the past five seasons, with the exception of the 2019 Miami Dolphins.

Despite this fact, the Chargers were ninth in total offensive yardage per game in the NFL in 2020. One of the main reasons the offense had success was because rookie quarterback Justin Herbert threw for 4,336 yards, passed for a rookie record of 31 touchdowns and threw just ten interceptions in 2020. Herbert's most impressive stat was leading the NFL in passing yardage under pressure.

The Chargers knew going into the offseason that they needed to significantly upgrade the offensive line. The first and most important offseason acquisition was the signing of free agent center Corey Linsley. A first-team All-Pro center in 2020, Linsley was rated the top center in football last season at Green Bay, where he blocked for MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones.

Along with the acquisition of free agent Matt Feiler, a starter at right guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the signing of free agent left guard Oday Aboushi from the Detroit Lions and the selection of left tackle Rashawn Slater in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft the Chargers have will immediately help their offense.

Because of these four additions to the roster on the offensive line, the offensive line was cited as the single most improved position group in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. Linsley was impressed with first round pick Slater, stating that, "He's a humble, talented kid that wants to do well, wants to perform well."

As PFF stated, "The Chargers took a clear weakness and turned it into a potential strength." What needs to improve is the running game. Herbert has already shown that he can have success at quarterback while under duress. How much better could he be with a consistent running attack? The Chargers ranked 18th in rushing yardage per game last season and 30th in yards per carry at 3.8. The Chargers need a balance to their offensive attack that was missing last season.

This is where the leadership of Linsley at center comes in. Linsley needs to help bring this group together as quickly as possible or at least in time for one week against the Washington Football Team. In a press conference on Tuesday, Linsley cited the offense as awesome, and it was a lot of the same stuff we ran in Green Bay."

Linsley emphasized communication as a key. "It's learning the new language. Being able to communicate effectively. It's all about communication. Being able to talk to the guy next to you. I've said this word about 80 times, but it is about communication. The center is the guy talking."

The Chargers have enough talent at running back. Austin Ekeler is the starter at running back. In four seasons, Ekeler has averaged 4.7 yards per carry, rushed for 1,901 yards and caught 212 passes for 2,079 yards. He has scored 25 touchdowns, 16 receiving and 9 rushing. He is one of the best dual threat running backs in the NFL.

The question about Ekeler is if he can carry the load at running back? He is not a big back, so there will likely be carries for backups Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelly. Jackson was a 7th round draft pick in 2018 and is in the last year of his contract. Jackson will earn $920,000 in his final season. Jackson has been effective when he has gotten the opportunity and stayed healthy.

Running back Joshua Kelly, a 4th round draft pick in 2020 out of UCLA, rushed for 354 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. He is a back that can run between the tackles. He also caught 23 passes out of the backfield last season. Kelly played well in the first two games last season but lost confidence after back-to-back games with key fumbles.

The Chargers used their second pick of the 6th round in the 2021 NFL draft to select running back Larry Roundtree III out of Missouri. Roundtree is a physical runner with good feet, contact balance, second-level vision, and ball protection awareness. He can pass block and help as a receiver. If Kelly does not show improvement over last season, Roundtree could pick up some carries in the backfield.

If the new and improved offensive line does live up to its potential, the Chargers could have a very potent rushing attack. The addition of Linsley at center gives the team a proven leader on the offensive line and gives the team a sense of hope for the future. A balanced offensive attack would make the Chargers a difficult matchup in the NFL.


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