Chargers’ coach Brandon Staley has had eye on Sony Michel since back was in 8th grade

Sony Michel speaks with reporters when introduced as a Ram in 2021.
Sony Michel is getting used to introductory news conferences in L.A., last year joining the Rams after a trade with the New England Patriots and this year joining the Chargers after the Miami Dolphins released the running back.
(Greg Beacham / Associated Press)

Brandon Staley never coached Sony Michel until Wednesday, immediately after the Chargers signed the veteran running back.

That doesn’t mean Staley was unfamiliar with Michel. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Staley told reporters Thursday that, when he was coaching in college, he recruited south Florida, where Michel starred in high school before going on to play at Georgia.

“He’s kind of a legend down there,” Staley said. “He was an eighth-grader that played on the varsity.”


Now, Michel is part of the depth the Chargers have built behind starter Austin Ekeler.

L.A. Times NFL writers Gary Klein and Jeff Miller answer readers’ big questions as the regular-season kickoff approaches.

Aug. 31, 2022

He was signed after being released by Miami early in the week. A year ago, Michel went through a similar situation, joining the Rams in late August after a trade from New England.

“My mindset is putting my head down and go to work,” Michel said. “It’s going to take those late nights, me staying up trying to study a little bit extra, staying out here, meeting with [running backs] coach [Derrick Foster] a little bit.”

A year ago, Michel played only three snaps for the Rams in Week 1 before he started and carried 20 times just two games later.

He was used in a rotation for the next several weeks and then started again in each of the final six games of the regular season and the ’ playoff opener.

Staley called Michel “a complete runner” and “a three-down back.” He joins Joshua Kelley and rookie Isaiah Spiller behind Ekeler, giving the coaches a veteran they can trust, particularly in matters such as pass protection.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) participates in drills.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler might not have to carry such a heavy load this season with Sony Michel as a backup.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

“He fit right in,“ Staley said. “Got in there and had a bunch of carries in the practice. That’s how the NFL is. It never ceases to amaze me, and that’s why I love the NFL. He fit right in with us.”

The Chargers have been trying to find a reliable complement to Ekeler for the last two seasons. They’ve drafted a running back three consecutive years.

In Michel, they have more of a proven contributor, one who was a first-round draft choice in 2018 and has a pair of Super Bowl rings.

“It’ll be a great fit,” Michel said. “Austin Ekeler is a hard worker. It’s going to help me push myself. He’s going to help me push myself in the weight room. He’s going to help me push myself on the field and in the meeting rooms. He’s a great person to be around.”

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Aug. 14, 2022

The Chargers signed running back Larry Rountree III to their practice squad. He was cut to make room for Michel.

Linsley returns

Center Corey Linsley returned to the field Thursday after not practicing for two days. Staley said Linsley, who is entering his ninth season, was just being given a break.

The Chargers are relatively healthy heading into the Labor Day weekend. Their biggest uncertainty is cornerback J.C. Jackson, who recently underwent a procedure on his right ankle.

The team hasn’t ruled out Jackson for Week 1, Staley saying more should be known by the time the players return to the practice field Monday.

The Chargers released veteran defensive lineman Christian Covington on Tuesday as they reduced their roster to the league-mandated 53 players. They don’t have much depth at edge rusher.

Aug. 30, 2022

Serena shout

After taking several questions from reporters, Staley ended his media session Thursday by acknowledging Serena Williams, who is nearing the end of her Hall-of-Fame tennis career and competing in the U.S. Open.

Williams, 40, defeated No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit in three sets Wednesday.

“You guys know that I’m a huge tennis fan, huge Serena Williams fan,” Staley said. “She was just amazing last night. She was just on one last night. She played fantastic. I just want her to know that the Chargers are rooting for her in the next round. She’s amazing. I get a chance to have a press conference, so I’m going to tell her how I feel: Good luck, Serena.”