Chargers injuries a ‘Catch-22’ for Austin Ekeler; Introducing kicker No. 3
He is on the verge of making NFL history, and the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler actually is a little leery of the whole thing.
With 10 or more receptions Sunday against Atlanta, he would become the first running back to reach double figures in catches in three consecutive games.
“I’m not sure if that’s the best thing,” Ekeler said Thursday, laughing. “I would like to see some of those balls going down the field to some of these receivers and tight ends. But it’s the scenario we’re in right now.”
Ekeler has 22 receptions on 28 targets over the last two games, both of those marks career highs for back-to-back contests for a back recognized for his dual abilities on the ground and through the air.
Those numbers could grow considerably against the Falcons given — as Ekeler described it — the scenario the Chargers are in this week.
It had appeared injured Chargers receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring) might return this week but that seems to be a longshot now. Receiver Joshua Palmer (concussion) is also questionable.
Joshua Palmer missed the last game because of his second concussion in three months, but told reporters Thursday he would be available against Atlanta.
Jalen Guyton, the Chargers’ lone speed threat at receiver, already is out for the season because of a knee injury and tight end Donald Parham Jr.’s status for Sunday is uncertain as he deals with a concussion and hamstring issue.
Then there’s Ekeler. After speaking before practice Thursday, he showed on the team’s injury report as being limited during the afternoon session because of an abdomen problem.
Add in the fractured rib cartilage quarterback Justin Herbert suffered in Week 2, and the Chargers’ once high-flying offense has been operating much closer to the ground.
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“It’s strange, hard to even explain how it’s played out,” Ekeler said. “With all the injuries, the flow of our offense is different. We have expectations based on what’s happened in the past, but that doesn’t define your future or your present.”
The Chargers were a top-five offense in 2021 in points and yards as Herbert earned his first Pro Bowl recognition during a season in which the offense was decidedly healthier.
The team’s top five finishers in receptions and top three in carries a year ago missed a combined seven games because of injury. Allen is about to miss his sixth game over the first two months.
Herbert and the Chargers this season have produced 24 pass plays that have gained 20 or more yards. That’s only one fewer than through the first seven games last season.
But of the 10 players who have been on the receiving ends of those long gains, five likely won’t be available this weekend.
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The offense’s overall production hasn’t been aided much by a running attack that managed more than 81 yards only once through the first seven weeks.
Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi explained that the toughest adjustment is trying to maintain operations as players are lost during games.
Against Seattle in Week 7, Herbert started with Allen and Williams but neither receiver was able to finish.
“The biggest challenge is that you’ve practiced and every play kind of has a player in mind or players in mind and just trying to figure out while you are up there [in the press box], ‘Who is where on this play now?,’ ” Lombardi said. “… Just going through the call sheet up there in between drives and figuring out, ‘OK, what do we want to highlight here based on who we have healthy and who has practiced it?’ ”
Kicker No. 3
Following their off week, the Chargers were expecting to get healthier, but the opposite has happened. Allen tweaked his hamstring during rehabilitation last week and kicker Taylor Bertolet suffered a quadriceps injury in practice Wednesday.
Already filling in for the injured Dustin Hopkins, Bertolet now will be replaced against the Falcons by Cameron Dicker, who the Chargers signed to their practice squad. Dicker will become the team’s third different kicker in as many games.
After playing collegiately at Texas, he made his NFL debut in Week 5 for Philadelphia, making two field goals and two extra points. Dicker’s 23-yard field goal with 1:45 left gave the Eagles a 20-17 win over Arizona.
Along with Ekeler, the Chargers added two more players to their injury report Thursday. Special teamer Amen Ogbongbemiga did not practice because of a groin problem and backup offensive lineman Brenden Jaimes was limited because of a quadriceps injury. ... Reserve defensive lineman Jerry Tillery (back) missed his second consecutive day.
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