As several Chargers passed Austin Ekeler’s locker on the way to the practice field Wednesday, they couldn’t help but gawk at the protective club on the running back’s broken left hand, which looked big and round enough to strap a helmet to.
“It’s not light, and it’s definitely not comfortable,” said Ekeler, who broke his hand in the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s 30-13 loss in Kansas City. “But you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Ekeler, an undrafted rookie who has a combined 539 rushing and receiving yards and five touchdowns, went through practice with his hand heavily padded and taped in an effort to determine if he can play in Sunday’s game against the New York Jets in New Jersey.
If he does play, it’s highly doubtful he will be able to catch passes out of the backfield. It’s possible he could run with the ball in his right hand. Mostly likely, he’ll be relegated to special teams, where he has had a positive impact all season, especially as a gunner on the punt team.
“If you have a cast on your hand, you’re probably not going to touch the ball too many times, but there are some things we can do,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “If he’s comfortable carrying the ball in his [right] hand, if he’s comfortable on special teams … he was an asset in the backfield, but he’s also one of our better special-teams players, so we want to see if he can play with this on.”
Ball security was an issue before Ekeler broke the hand — he has a pair of costly fumbles this season, one in the final two minutes of an overtime loss at Jacksonville on Nov. 12 and one that thwarted a possible comeback against the Chiefs.
“I can still play running back if I carry the ball with one hand,” Ekeler said. “It’s not ideal. I’ll probably have both hands on the ball at all times because there’s not much security with one hand.”
The club, which looks like something former Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Lyle Alzado used to wear, weighs a pound or two and is designed to absorb shock.
“It feels like I have my hand in a fist,” Ekeler said. “If I get hit, it’s gonna hurt, but it’s just pain at this point. I’m just trying to make the most of it, to get out there and contribute to the team … and to play as normal as I can with this giant thing on my hand.”