It is now official that Chargers running back Austin Ekeler will miss his first game since 2020, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, due to an ankle injury that has been bothering him since the team’s loss to the Dolphins last weekend. Schefter also reports that defenders Eric Kendricks and Chris Rumph have been ruled out for tomorrow’s matchup in Tennessee, as well.
The loss of Ekeler is obviously the most significant, but last week’s game showed that Los Angeles may be set up well for his absence. While Ekeler showed his usual dual-threat impressiveness, rushing for 117 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown while adding 47 yards on four receptions through the air, backup running back Joshua Kelley was nearly as productive.
Kelley matched Ekeler’s 16 rushing attempts, amassing a still impressive 91 yards as a result and also scoring a touchdown. While Kelley hasn’t necessarily shown a similar aptitude for receiving out of the backfield in his career, backup running back and undrafted rookie Elijah Dotson was known for his versatility during his time with the Bears of Northern Colorado. In his final year of college football, Dotson caught 48 balls for 300 yards and two touchdowns. If the Chargers don’t want to shoulder Kelley with receiving back duties, Dotson should be more than capable of stepping in.
Highlighting the loss of Ekeler is not meant to minimize at all the loss of Kendricks. Kendricks is half of the team’s starting inside linebacker duo alongside Kenneth Murray. In last week’s loss to the high-powered Miami offense, Kendricks was one of only four defenders who played every defensive snap, the others being safeties Derwin James and Alohi Gilman and cornerback Michael Davis.
The Chargers didn’t see much action from backup off-ball linebackers in Week 1 at all. They do have depth at that spot on the roster, though. The three healthy options on the active roster (Tanner Muse, Nick Niemann, and Amen Ogbongbemiga) are all primarily special teamers who have played on defense sparingly throughout their respective careers. Los Angeles did use a third-round pick this year to acquire former Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley, but after failing to play in Week 1, Henley is listed as doubtful to make his NFL debut tomorrow.
As for Rumph, the third-year rotation edge rusher will have to wait at least one more week to make his season debut. The team will likely hope to be seeing the return of Ekeler and Kendricks by that time, as well, but for now, they’ll have to make do without two of their more talented starters. To help fill in this week, the Chargers promoted outside linebacker Brevin Allen and safety Dean Marlowe from the practice squad as standard gameday elevations.