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Chargers have not forgotten about Austin Ekeler

Chargers' Austin Ekeler is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals' Carl Lawson.
Chargers’ Austin Ekeler is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals’ Carl Lawson (58) during the first half Sunday in Cincinnati.
(Bryan Woolston / Associated Press)

The Chargers might need to rely more on their top playmaker Sunday — given their opponent.

The Kansas City Chiefs, understand, lead the league in playmakers.

Austin Ekeler rushed for 84 yards last weekend at Cincinnati in 19 carries, which represented a career high for attempts.

But after a season in which he caught the second-most passes ever for a Chargers running back, Ekeler was targeted only once.

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He caught that pass and gained but three yards. Ekeler hadn’t been targeted so infrequently since a meaningless 2018 game in late December, a day when he played just 15 offensive snaps.

“Sometimes that’s based on the opponent and what we’re doing,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “But, yeah, we definitely want to get the ball in Austin Ekeler’s hands, whether it’s handing it off or throwing it to him.”

Jacqueline Kelley has a close bond with her son, former UCLA standout Josh Kelley. She was heartbroken she couldn’t watch his Chargers debut in person.

Having scored just one touchdown against the Bengals, the Chargers probably will need some sparks from Ekeler against a Chiefs team that packs pyrotechnics throughout its offense.

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A year ago, Ekeler was an especially favorite target for Philip Rivers on check downs when little less was available. With his speed, power and elusiveness, Ekeler can turn the mundane into the must-see.

But Lynn explained that the Chargers’ revamped offense under Tyrod Taylor doesn’t allow for the same number of dump-off options. The Chargers are moving their more mobile quarterback around this season in part to help the offensive line.

“Some of those [chances] will be eliminated by scheme,” Lynn said. “But there’s always ways to get Austin Ekeler the ball. Trust me, he will get his touches.”

Against Cincinnati, Ekeler’s longest plays were a pair of 13-yard runs. The Chargers’ six longest plays all came from others.

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That formula might not work Sunday seeing how the offense almost certainly will need to produce more than one touchdown and three field goals — the output versus the Bengals — to keep up with Patrick Mahomes.

“When you get him the ball in space, he makes guys miss,” Taylor said of Ekeler. “The emphasis is definitely to get him the ball, within our scheme.”

Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen indicated that involving Ekeler “organically” will have more impact than trying to force-feed him the ball. Steichen, too, promised that Ekeler remains a priority.

An additional issue to consider this week is that the Chargers are down one running back. Justin Jackson has a quadriceps injury that prevented him from practicing Wednesday.

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After Ekeler, the only healthy back on the active roster is Josh Kelley, a rookie who just made his NFL debut. Darius Bradwell, an undrafted rookie on the practice squad, is the next option if Jackson can’t play.

Whoever else suits up Sunday, the Chargers probably will need to deploy Ekeler as much as possible. Last season, he had a team-high 11 touchdowns, eight of which came through the air.

“We want to get the ball in the end zone is what we want to do,” Lynn said when asked about attempting to ball-control the clock against the explosive Chiefs. “We’re going to need to score points.”

Injury update

Defensive end Joey Bosa didn’t practice Wednesday because of a left triceps injury suffered Sunday.

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He was able to finish the game in Cincinnati with a sleeve covering his upper arm. Bosa was wearing a similar sleeve Wednesday.

Right guard Trai Turner returned to practice on a limited basis after missing the opener because of a knee problem.

Against the Bengals, Turner was replaced by Tyree St. Louis, a 2019 practice squad player who made his NFL debut.

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“He’s a big and powerful man,” Lynn said. “Because he can play tackle and guard, we wanted to keep that type of depth and versatility on the football team. Thank God we did.”

Center Mike Pouncey remains out indefinitely because of a chronic hip issue. In his absence, Dan Feeney moved to center and Forrest Lamp started at left guard against the Bengals.

All five of the Chargers’ offensive linemen played the entire game Sunday, a particularly notable development for Lamp, a 2017 second-round pick whose career has been marred by injury.

“Hopefully, he can build on what he did last week,” Lynn said. “It wasn’t perfect. But he played four quarters. That’s a huge step for Forrest.”

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Etc.

Cornerback Casey Hayward was named the AFC’s defensive player of the week. He had 12 tackles and broke up two passes against Cincinnati. Hayward was listed on the injury report Wednesday with a knee issue but practiced in full… The Chargers signed linebacker Malik Jefferson to the practice squad.


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