Los Angeles Chargers Backfield Resurgence: Why 2024 Will Be A Big Breakout Year

The Los Angeles Chargers running backs are setup to reach some great heights this year.

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers haven’t been successful in the run game in the last few years. Last year was particularly abysmal for rushing yards as Austin Ekeler was limited to 632 with five rushing touchdowns. And just for context, the leading rusher of the league with the most rushing yards was Christian McCaffrey with 1,727 and 18 rushing touchdowns.

Ekeler never broke 1,000 rushing yards in his seven seasons with the Chargers. Not even in 2022, when he had that monster season with 15 rushing and five receiving touchdowns. Between Ekeler’s high ankle sprain which kept him out until Week 6, the lack of consistent run blocking, and the lack of a running back rotation, nothing was happening with the run game.

Under new head coach Jim Harbaugh hopefully this will change, as with new pieces, more investment, and better protection up front the running back unit is poised to take a huge step forward

Why The Los Angeles Chargers Running Game Will Improve: 

New Personnel

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The Chargers running back room looks (literally) completely different this year. There’s no Ekeler and Joshua Kelley is still a free agent. Isaiah Spiller and Elijah Dotson are back. Dotson was particularly impressive during training camp and the preseason games last year, so I hope he gets a shot to play more than 10 rushing snaps this year.

And then there are the new faces like Jaret Patterson, who spent his first couple of years with the Commanders, rookie Kimani Vidal from Troy, who was drafted during the sixth round at 181, and the biggest additions of Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, both coming from Baltimore. 

Vidal had the seventh fastest 40-yard time (4.46 seconds) of all running backs at the combine, tied with MarShawn Lloyd of USC. During the 2023 season, he had career-highs all around in areas such as designed rushing attempts of more than 15 yards (19), rushing touchdowns (14), rushing yards (1,661), yards after contact (1,056), and missed tackles forced after a rush (94).

The Chargers will benefit from the fact that he can really turn on the jets in the backfield.

Concerning Spiller, this is his chance to start over and make a new first impression. Though drafted in 2022, he hasn’t yet had a breakout season due to injuries and not earning much playing time. So this season, he will really have no excuse but to perform when given the opportunity. 

Edwards was signed this offseason to a two-year deal worth $6.5 million. He was the leading rusher for the Ravens last year after Dobbins tore his ACL, and had career-highs in rushing touchdowns (13), rushing yards (870), and missed tackles forced (29). He really powers through defenders, which was something that Ekeler brought to the table, so it’s great the Chargers were able to find someone else who can do that.

Dobbins’ time in the league has been marred with injuries as he missed all of last season, part of 2022, and 2021. He was signed to a one-year deal with the Chargers but will be a starting caliber back along with Edwards if he can stay healthy.

I’m curious how the rotations will play out for all of these backs, and who will get the most snaps, and how they’ll work off one another. There’s so many possibilities for this group now with more talent to go around.

Coaches Are Invested In Having a Balanced Attack 

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Chargers RB Coach Kiel McDonald: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Harbaugh emphasized in his introductory press conference that they want to “beef up the run game and play action pass” and to work hard at the running game to get a balanced football team.

“Balance” seems to be the key, as when offensive coordinator Greg Roman did an interview with Hayley Elwood, he described the Chargers as wanting to be ambidextrous. They’re aiming to run the ball and pass the ball at a high level and have as “balanced of an attack as we can.” He said, “We don’t want people saying, ‘Hey, all we gotta do is stop this guy,’ or ‘Hey, these three plays, we stop those.’” He wanted all their opponents to dread facing them because they just weren’t sure what they would do.

Though former head coach Brandon Staley emphasized the need for versatility in his players, he had a tendency to rely on the same one or two day-in-and-day-out to do ALL the things. Roman isn’t looking to do that as he emphasized that everyone around Herbert needs to be doing their jobs in order for Herbert to do his.

Yes, they want to run the ball, but the fact that the run and the pass are being emphasized shows more of a willingness to be multiple, as each player will actually have to be versatile because they’ll all be expected to do a little bit of everything. 

Roman also has familiarity with the new Chargers running backs, Edwards and Dobbins, having coached them for the last few years, as well as experience with a very mobile quarterback. His connection to these players will be a big help in giving this group a head start when installing his offense.

And when on the move, Herbert has been known to do some pretty remarkable things, so hopefully with equal opportunity given to the run game, Herbert will play more freely and move more.

Retooled Offensive Line with Additional Run Blocking Help

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Offensive tackle Joe Alt was drafted in the first round this year to shore up an offensive line that has just been crumbling under injury in recent years. Alt in particular has always been strong in run-blocking, having played 1,108 run snaps in college with his highest PFF grade (91.1)  being in 2022.

Veteran center Bradley Bozeman was brought in to plug up that hole left by Corey Linsley’s retirement He’s done well in run blocking throughout his career and has previously worked with Roman in Baltimore. Bozeman said during his recent press conference that he’s not afraid to be physical, which bodes well for him really keeping that line together. 

The Chargers also brought in tight ends Will Dissly and Hayden Hurst, who are expected to be physical and help with blocking in the pass and run games. New tight ends coach/ run game coordinator Andy Bischoff said during his introductory press conference that Dissly owns the C gap, so it’s already clear that Dissly will be an enforcer in this line.

Ben Mason was also brought in to double as a full back and tight end. Tight ends Donald Parham and former Charger Gerald Everett never had consistency in run blocking, so it shows a lot of investment in that balanced approach to bring in players like Dissly. 

With these new pieces, not only will Herbert have more protection, but the running backs will be able to make cleaner runs, so for the first time in a long time, the Chargers will actually be able to get some run production going and not have to rely on Herbert so much.  

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