Chargers will open training camp minus Melvin Gordon and Russell Okung
The Chargers will open training camp officially Thursday without running back Melvin Gordon and left tackle Russell Okung, two key offensive pieces.
Gordon did not report Wednesday, following through on his threat to hold out because he is dissatisfied with his contract situation.
Okung was placed on the nonfootball injury list after suffering what general manager Tom Telesco called “a pretty serious medical issue” in early June. The veteran lineman was involved in the team’s offseason program before being held out of minicamp.
“He’s doing better now,” Telesco said. “He’s getting great care.”
The Chargers do not have a timetable for Okung’s return, Telesco saying he could miss all of training camp, which runs through Aug. 16 in Costa Mesa.
“I’m kind of planning on him not being ready for camp,” Telesco said. “But maybe we get lucky. I’m not so sure.”
Okung is expected to offer more details on his situation when he meets with reporters following the Chargers’ practice Thursday.
Gordon is due to make $5.6 million in the final season of the five-year contract he signed as a rookie. He is seeking a deal in line with the top running backs in the league, a contract that would more than double his salary.
Melvin Gordon’s contract holdout, Russell Okung’s mystery ailment among Chargers’ big camp questions
“I understand his thoughts and opinions on what he’s going through,” Telesco said. “I always look at the player’s side and I can see it. That doesn’t mean I agree with it, but I can kind of see what his thought process is.”
Gordon’s agent went public this month with the news that his client would hold out and demand a trade unless an extension is reached.
Afterward, speaking at an event in Texas, Gordon said he wants to remain a Charger and admitted to feeling indebted to the team that moved up in the 2015 draft to take him with the No. 15 overall pick.
The appreciation is mutual.
“I love Melvin Gordon,” Telesco said. “He’s an excellent player. He’s tough, great work ethic. He represents our organization extremely well.”
In Gordon’s absence, the Chargers will turn to Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome.
Ekeler is entering his third season and has proven to be a versatile and valuable complement to Gordon. Jackson and Newsome both contributed late last season when Gordon and Ekeler were slowed by injuries.
“I’m not naive,” Telesco said. “I know we’re better with Melvin Gordon. But we’ve got a strong group of guys that are here. It’s their time to work and get ready to go.”
Telesco added that he hoped to have Gordon around “in 2019 and beyond.” As for the possibility of trading the team’s top running back, he said, “My only thought process is [Gordon’s] an L.A. Charger.”
When Okung missed minicamp, starting right tackle Sam Tevi switched sides and second-year, undrafted free agent Trent Scott moved into Tevi’s spot.
The Chargers also could shift starting right guard Michael Schofield to tackle, a spot he has played in the NFL. Third-year guard Forrest Lamp was a tackle at Western Kentucky.
In April, the Chargers drafted offensive tackle Trey Pipkins in the third round. But coming out of tiny Sioux Falls, he is considered more of a long-term project.
Another rookie, first-round pick Jerry Tillery, has been medically cleared to resume practicing after missing offseason workouts because of shoulder surgery. A defensive tackle, Tillery is expected to be eased into training camp.
Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald are among star players back at training camp for the Rams, who reached the Super Bowl last season before losing to New England, 13-3.
The same goes for fullback Derek Watt, who had shoulder surgery in May.
On Wednesday, the Chargers placed linebacker Jatavis Brown on the physically unable to perform list. He has been recovering from an ankle injury that ended his 2018 season.
Asked about when Brown might be ready to return, Telesco said, “It shouldn’t be long.”
The Chargers also signed former Alabama and Louisiana-Monroe running back Derrick Gore. He participated in the team’s rookie minicamp in the spring.
Despite the notable issues involving Gordon and Okung, the Chargers remain a trendy Super Bowl pick among pundits. Telesco said he welcomes the expectations but also acknowledged all the discussion means nothing.
“I think we have a shot,” he said. “But we haven’t even won a division [title] yet since I’ve been here. So I wouldn’t worry too much about talking about what we think we can do. We’ve got to come in and work.
“There’s no sense in talking about it … Do I think we have the talent and the coach to do it? Yes. But it remains to be seen. We haven’t walked on the practice field yet.”
Last year, because of an injury to Hunter Henry, the Chargers brought back tight end Antonio Gates just before the start of the season. Following the team’s playoff loss to New England in January, Gates said he wanted to return for his 17th season. But barring a similar injury situation, that prospect appears unlikely entering training camp.
“We’ve had a good amount of private talks with him,” Telesco said, refusing to offer anything more specific.
Gates, 39, caught 28 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns in 2018.
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