Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson ready to share RB load with Melvin Gordon out

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Throughout his decade-long tenure as an NFL running backs coach, Anthony Lynn leaned on a running-back-by-committee approach when rotating his players.

A former NFL back who backed up Hall of Famer Terrell Davis while with the Denver Broncos, Lynn always believed in having a fresh ball carrier in the game.

And with workhorse Melvin Gordon continuing his holdout into the regular season, Lynn will go back to that method for the Los Angeles Chargers' Week 1 game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Change-of-pace back Austin Ekeler will get the start, and you can expect second-year pro Justin Jackson to get some touches against the Colts.

"I've always used those guys as a tandem," Lynn said. "That's not going to change. We're going to put guys in good positions to do what they do best."

Ekeler finished with 958 scrimmage yards and six total touchdowns last season as a backup to Gordon, averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 106 rushing attempts.

The undrafted player out of Western Colorado had split time on offense and special teams during his first two seasons in the NFL, but now will focus on offense with Gordon unavailable.

"My mindset is to succeed within my role," Ekeler said. "... There's nothing outside my role that I'm thinking of. Right now my role is to play running back. I'm not special teams right now, so it's just strictly playing running back this game."

A seventh-round selection in the 2018 draft out of Northwestern, Jackson had to fight to make the team as a rookie last season, missing most of training camp with a hamstring injury. He spent the first month of the regular season on the practice squad and was signed to the active roster in Week 4.

With Gordon nursing a knee injury late in the season, Jackson had a breakout performance in a come-from-behind, 33-30 win on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He totaled 63 yards on eight carries, including an 18-yard touchdown run in the second half, and also recorded a 19-yard reception.

"He's definitely an elite back," defensive end Melvin Ingram said about Jackson. "His vision, you can't coach what he has. His vision and the way he runs the ball is great. It's amazing how he can see stuff in a split-second [and on] a dime and make those types of cuts. So he's definitely a great back."

Like Ekeler, Jackson said he's focused on executing his role, which will include playing on special teams.

"You're not going to be Melvin Gordon, you've got to be yourself -- and that's every running back," Jackson said. "Every running back has different way of running, a unique play style and is good in their own right in certain areas. So you've got to take advantage of what you're good at, play your game.

"You never want to try and be somebody else, because you're never going to be as good as they are."

The Chargers will miss Gordon. Although the Bolts finished 4-0 without the Wisconsin product last season, the Chargers rushed for 128 yards per game with Gordon in the lineup, and just 84 per game without him.

Because of that, the Chargers could rely on Philip Rivers and use a pass-first approach against the Colts on Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers dropped back to pass on 58.3% of plays when Gordon played (would have ranked 28th over a full season), compared to 62.4% when he was out (would have ranked tied for 16th).

"One thing about these guys that are behind Mel is they have a chip on their shoulder," Chargers center Mike Pouncey said. "There's a lot of talk about basically Mel not being here and what they have to prove.

"I think these guys are going to come out, run the ball really hard and play with a chip on their shoulder all year long to prove their worth on this football team. We're hoping they have a big year, because if they have a big year that means were doing really well up front."