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What Austin Ekeler sees as big upside to Chargers defensive front, an issue last year

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COSTA MESA, CA - JUL 28: Chargers running back Austin Eckeler (30) trains at the LA Chargers training camp at the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex on Thursday, July 28, 2022 in Costa Mesa, California.  (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)
Running back Austin Eckeler (30) noticed an improvement in the inside of the Chargers’ defense. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Only two teams last year were worse against a run than Charging devicewho spent a lot of time and money over the offseason rebuilding their defenses.

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Observers around the NFL have clearly noticed this. Having missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, the Chargers are a popular choice, perhaps for the Super Bowl.

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On Friday, someone else noticed. Austin Eckeler, the team’s No. 1 running back and player who ended the season with 20 touchdowns, said the Chargers’ defensive front looks much more formidable.

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“I see much larger bodies in the box,” Eckeler said. “I like to see it too. As a runner, I’m like, “Dude, we’ve got a lot of people out there, a lot of big bodies that we have to try to run through.” The running game is a little more difficult.”

Chargers sign free agents Sebastian Joseph-Day (6 ft 4, 310 lbs) and Austin Johnson (6-4, 314) to start with the inside line.

They also traded for extreme rusher Khalil Makwhose ability to fight running is something of a coaching Brandon Staley advertised since Mac arrived from Chicago in mid-March.

“We’re figuring out his style of play,” Ekeler said of Mack. “He will jump and try to get inside our tackles and our tight ends and get around you very quickly. So we have to have a plan to deal with it.

The Chargers lost 138.9 yards per game last season. Worse were only Pittsburgh and Houston.

Their defense was the worst in the league on third down, giving up first downs 49.5% of the time.

The Chargers missed the playoffs last season when they failed to stop Las Vegas twice, finishing third in overtime in a Week 18 loss.

“I expect us to play on team defense,” Staley said. “Last year it was the weakness of our football team. And I don’t expect it to be.”

Offensive rebounds

After the defense controlled the first two days of training camp, the offense offered a comeback on Friday as the Chargers relied on the third error game.

In game seven on seven, Justin Herbert hit Keenan Allen on the inside route when Allen slipped past Aloha Gilman’s safety. Then, in an 11-on-11, Herbert hit a tight end. Gerald Everett over 20 yards.

Backup quarterback Chase Daniel and Jalen Guyton teamed up for a long 11-on-11 win.

“There was definitely an answer today,” Staley said. “I think what happened is that our offensive group came out and really showed themselves in the first team period. What this did for the rest of the practice brought about a lot of really high level football on both sides. And that’s what I expect.”

Tight End Chargers Gerald Everett (7) performs an exercise in training.
The Chargers say that Gerald Everett (7) will not only help in the passing game, but is also ready to block in the tight end. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

Everett is expected to bring more versatility to the tight end. The Chargers signed him as a free agent after he played for Seattle last season. Staley and Everett spent the 2020 season with the Rams.

“One thing people don’t understand about him is that he’s really willing to block,” Staley said. “He has a real toughness at the moment of attack. He has the ability to move to different places. He has a good ability to run after catching. He fit in perfectly with our group.”

More Webb Hits

The defense still played a lot on Friday. Michael Davis intercepted Herbert on a pass from Bryce Callahan, who interrupted another earlier. Mark Webb took Daniel.

Webb had a good start after his rookie season was cut short with a knee injury. Staley repeatedly said that Webb would have continued to get more playing time had he not been hurt in Week 9.

Originally a wide receiver in Georgia, Webb was moved to defensive end and played various roles on the Bulldogs. Staley said that all of this experience, as well as attending college high school, helped increase Webb’s potential in the NFL.

“It showed us that he not only has a skill set, but how his mind works,” Staley said. “Just because you have a skill set doesn’t mean your mind can let you play there. He has that combination.”

Thank you Samuel Jr. Kyle Van Noy and Raheem Lane, an undrafted rookie from Indiana, all went their separate ways.

Safety Nasir Adderley had rookie Isaiah Spiller in front of him, ready to hit hard down the sideline on a pass. But since the Chargers weren’t engaged, Adderley simply flew past Spiller.

james watch

Safety Derwin James Jr. was back on the pitch but did not train as negotiations to extend his contract continued. Staley said he wasn’t worried about James missing time.

“Dervin played so much NFL football,” Staley said. He’s probably the least of our worries.

James was scheduled to speak to reporters for the first time at training camp on Saturday, but he is not expected to be available until his contract is settled.

Asked how James is handling the situation, Staley said: “He’s on his own. It makes me really special in that I don’t complicate things.”


Reserve linebacker Andrew Brown (ankle) missed practice. Staley said he was being reviewed day in and day out. … The Chargers will again train with helmets only on Saturday, and they will have a day off on Sunday. Their first pad practice is on Monday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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