Russell Okung making big difference for healing Chargers team

Russell Okung is back at left tackle for the Chargers.
Chargers offensive lineman Russell Okung, who missed the first seven games of the season, has played a significant role in helping the team move beyond their slow start.
(Getty Images)

He came back just in time to face Chicago’s Khalil Mack and followed that by playing every snap against Green Bay’s Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith.

For an offensive lineman, there are easier ways to restart a career after missing nine months.

“Being thrown into the fire two weeks in a row against really good rushers wasn’t really what I was expecting,” Chargers left tackle Russell Okung said, smiling. “But it’s great to be back.”

The veteran’s return has coincided with a two-game winning streak, which ended a stretch of five losses in six weeks for the Chargers. Okung hasn’t been the only reason for the sudden upturn, but he certainly is one reason this team has regained its balance.

“I think he’s made a big difference,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “Not to say that Trent [Scott] didn’t do an outstanding job. But Russell Okung is a veteran left tackle. … He’s not where he wants to be right now, but he’s still playing at a high level.”


Chargers owner Dean Spanos says the team has no interest in moving from L.A. after a report says the NFL is looking into a possible London relocation.

Okung coming back represents some significant healing for the Chargers, who also welcomed back kicker Michael Badgley on Sunday. He responded by hitting four field goals, and missing one, in a 26-11 victory over the Packers.

The Chargers aren’t whole and won’t be again this season. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey is out for the season after having neck surgery and guard Forrest Lamp also is done because of a broken leg.

Wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Dontrelle Inman, and safety Nasir Adderley also are on injured reserve.

So, too, are safeties Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, though the Chargers remain hopeful those two can come back at some point.

Yet, after sustaining so many impactful, long-term injuries, this group is finally edging closer to being recognizable.

“It’s starting to look like the team we took to training camp,” Lynn said. “Guys are getting healthy, guys are working their way back.”

James and Phillips have increased their level of activity of late but both appear to be weeks away from possibly returning. James suffered a foot injury in training camp and Phillips broke his arm during a Week 2 loss at Detroit.

The Chargers are excited to play the Oakland Raiders after their upset win over the Green Bay Packers, even if it comes on short rest in a Thursday night game.

“I’m not going to put a timetable on D.J.” Lynn said. “When he’s ready, he’s ready. Hopefully, we’ll get him back on the field this year. If not, we’ll see him next year.”

Asked if Phillips might be ahead of James in regards to returning, Lynn added: “I can’t say that. Players heal at different times. So I don’t know.”

Okung missed the first seven games after suffering a pulmonary embolism in June. He sat out the end of his first game back because of a calf issue, but Okung played all 71 offensive snaps Sunday.

“I still don’t feel like I’m running on all cylinders,” he said. “Part of the skill set comes with time and reps. The team’s been supportive. I’m looking forward to being at 100[%] again.”

Steichen’s sideline shuffle

Shane Steichen’s debut as a play-caller Sunday was notable because of 442 yards gained by the Chargers offense and the untold number of miles he appeared to walk up and down the sidelines. At 34, Steichen, a former quarterback at UNLV, has to be one of the NFL’s most active coaches during games.

Asked if he tracks his steps, he said no, adding: “I have an Apple Watch but that’s about it. … I kind of pace the sidelines a good amount. So I guess it showed up the other day.”

Steichen said he will continue to call plays from the sideline as opposed to the press box, where some coordinators prefer to work.

“I just wanted to get a feel for the game, the momentum and how it was going and just the vibe from down there,” he said. “You can kind of feel a little better down there and how guys are responding to certain things.”


Starting defensive tackles Brandon Mebane (knee) and Justin Jones (shoulder) both continue to practice on a limited basis and could be game-time decisions Thursday.

Right tackle Sam Tevi (knee), linebacker Denzel Perryman (knee), safety Roderic Teamer (groin), running back Justin Jackson (calf) and wide receiver Geremy Davis (hamstring) have been unable to practice this week.

Defensive tackle Cortez Broughton remains out with mononucleosis.