Chargers Considering Reducing RB Austin Ekeler’s Role?

The Chargers’ offense has struggled to find an effective run-pass balance this season despite the team’s decision to retain running back Austin Ekeler. The contract-year back has not had a productive campaign though, and a change in workload could be coming.

Ekeler requested a trade this offseason, one in which the running back position saw its market value continue to dwindle. No suitors emerged, and the 28-year-old agreed to an adjusted contract which included performance-based incentives. That set him up for free agency in 2024, and put pressure on him to deliver a strong season in advance of hitting the open market.

Instead, the former UDFA has struggled. After leading the league in total touchdowns each of the past two seasons, Ekeler has only found the end zone five times in 2023. His yards per carry average sits at 3.5, the lowest of his career. With the Chargers averaging just 98 yards per game on the ground, a shift to more of a committee approach could be on the horizon.

“Competition for carries is going to be something that you can see happening,” head coach Brandon Staley said when speaking on the subject, via ESPN’s Kris Rhim. “We’re going to keep exploring, making adjustments, so that we can find that rhythm that I’ve been talking about. That’s certainly one way to do it.”

Ekeler has averaged 14 carries per game, the most of his career. His 126 attempts comfortably leads the team, though backup Joshua Kelley has received 94 totes. The latter is thus on pace to set a new career-high in usage, and he would represent the likeliest candidate to see an increased workload in the coming weeks if a change does take place. Like Ekeler, Kelley is a pending free agent.

Still, the former should be counted on as a focal point of the Chargers’ offense, a unit which has dealt with injuries at the receiver position. The impending return of Josh Palmer will help in that regard, but a late playoff push would be greatly boosted by a return to form on Ekeler’s part. He still has a degree of confidence from the coaching staff based on Staley’s remarks.

“We know that Austin is a good running back,” Staley added. “We just haven’t found any rhythm in the last couple of weeks in the run game. Just need to keep after it and keep working hard in practice.”

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