Rain fell briefly Thursday morning in Costa Mesa, though not late enough to affect the first day of the Los Angeles Chargers’ training camp at Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex.
Muggy conditions set in as hundreds of fans came to the two-hour practice. With the NFL team not expected to get into pads until Saturday, the practice was light.
The Chargers, led by third-year head coach Anthony Lynn and coming off a 12-4 season and a AFC Playoffs divisional round berth, have high hopes for 2019. Still, two starters missing on offense are creating headlines early on. Star running back Melvin Gordon is holding out and did not report to training camp, which leaves third-year back Austin Ekeler and second-year back Justin Jackson to share reps. The team also signed rookie running back Derrick Gore on Wednesday.
Ekeler was certainly in the mix last season, rushing for 554 yards and three touchdowns despite starting just three games.
“They’re going to get a lot of work,” said quarterback Philip Rivers, entering his 15th year with the franchise, his 13th as the starting quarterback. “It certainly is a deep position for us, and those guys all love to play and work hard. We love Melvin, but we’re going to go with what we’ve got. It’s a pretty dang good group.”
Left tackle Russell Okung, a two-time Pro Bowler, was present at training camp but did not practice Thursday. Okung released a statement on social media earlier in the day that he had suffered a pulmonary embolism caused by blood clots, discovered on June 1. His return status is unknown, though he did say in the release that his “plans include blocking [Rivers’] blind side all the way to [Super Bowl LIV in] Miami.”
It starts with winning the AFC West, veteran cornerback Casey Hayward said. The Kansas City Chiefs have won the division each of the last three years.
“I’ve seen teams go 13-3 and the next year win four games,” Hayward said. “We’ve kind of got to lock ourselves in, and know that it was last year. We’ve got to figure out a way to get over the hump and be a great team, and that’s winning those playoff games, winning the division and trying to get to the Super Bowl. Last year is last year. We’ve got to figure out how to get this year’s team better than last year.”
The Chargers’ camp continues through Aug. 16 at Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex. Each practice is free and open to the public, including a joint practice against the Rams on Aug. 1 and against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 15-16. Ticket registration is available at the complex or chargers.com/camp.
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley was among the city officials on-hand for Thursday’s training camp opener.
“There’s so many community benefits that have come from the partnership [with the Chargers],” Foley said. “The soccer fields have been renovated, and the quality of the field is incredible. They’ve contributed to our mobile recreation program ... and they’re supporting our local schools. Just having them here is a revenue generator for us. People are staying in the hotels, they’re shopping in the local grocery stores and dining in the local restaurants. It’s certainly an economic benefit, having them in the area.”
The fans were enthusiastic, many staying long after the final whistle in hopes of getting an autograph. Josh Fugitt of Lakewood, 20, said he has been a Chargers fan his whole life.
Fugitt held a wooden sign in the shape of a lightning bolt autographed by his favorite player, safety Derwin James, as he watched the practice. He said he hoped to get more Chargers to sign it by the end of the session.
“I think their chances are really good,” Fugitt said. “I think this is their year to go all the way, for sure ... I trust Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. They’re solid. It does hurt that we don’t have Melvin Gordon right now, but I still think we have a really good shot without him.”
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.