COSTA MESA — Austin Ekeler was jogging alone Wednesday when his backfield teammates were taking practice handoffs from Chargers quarterbacks.
Ekeler was a surprise name on the Chargers’ first injury report of the 2021 season. He didn’t practice because of a hamstring injury, which caused many fantasy football managers to panic on social media.
The Chargers’ star running back is coming off a disappointing season because a hamstring injury forced him to miss six games. Ekeler returned to play the final six games last season, but he said he lacked speed and burst in those games.
Justin Jackson could be in line to start at running back if Ekeler misses the season opener against the Washington Football Team. Jackson had a groin injury in training camp, but he wasn’t listed on the injury report.
Jackson, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career, would likely be in a running back committee with Joshua Kelley and rookie Larry Rountree III if Ekeler isn’t available to play.
“He’s been active on offense and in the kicking game,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said about Jackson. “He’s really made a nice recovery from that groin (injury). I’m really proud of him and in his response to that injury.
“I know that we talked about it a little bit a few weeks back, but I think all of us are aware of his injury history in the pros. I think what he’s done better than ever is really attack that rehab and get himself in a really good frame of mind.”
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga was also listed on the injury report with a groin injury, but he was a full participant at practice. Staley said Bulaga is trending toward playing Sunday.
Bulaga has been in and out of practice the past month because of a hip flexor and groin injury.
Fullback Gabe Nabers (knee) was a full participant and defensive back Trey Marshall (ankle) missed practice.
HERBERT MEETS FITZPATRICK
Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told reporters he met Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert at a golf tournament in the offseason and mentioned that he was impressed with Herbert’s rookie season.
Herbert, 23, returned the praise when asked about meeting the 38-year-old Fitzpatrick.
“The things he’s been able to do on the football field are incredible,” Herbert said. “I’ve grown up watching him. I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time. Being able to talk with him and talk about what’s going on in the offseason and how he’s been doing, everything like that, it was really cool.”
Fitzpatrick is playing in his 17th NFL season with his ninth team. He’ll make his 147th career start Sunday against the Chargers.
— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) September 8, 2021
SAMUEL EARNS THE JOB
Staley officially named rookie Asante Samuel Jr. the second outside cornerback when the defense plays in nickel and dime packages.
Samuel will likely see the field often with Michael Davis at No. 1 outside cornerback and Chris Harris Jr. playing slot cornerback.
“Asante’s came a long way,” safety Derwin James said. “He’s always had the talent. He’s always had the athleticism and stuff, but now he’s another guy that’s communicating. He’s alerting splits. He’s doing everything now. So just seeing guys like (safety) Nasir Adderley, Asante talking. Everybody’s talking more, communicating more, it’s only going to help our defense.”
Samuel, the team’s second-round pick this year, had a rocky training camp, but he flashed his potential with his versatility and playmaking skills. He’ll also be utilized as an inside cornerback this season.
LEADING KICK RETURNER
Adderley is in the lead to be the kick returner to start the season, according to Staley.
Staley said Adderley is competing with Jackson and wide receiver KJ Hill, who is in the driver’s seat to be the punt returner.
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) September 8, 2021