Austin Ekeler, back at practice, says Week 4 'a possibility'

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Chargers running back Austin Ekeler returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since he suffered a high ankle sprain in Los Angeles' Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Ekeler went through individual drills where he sprinted with the football in his hand and bounced up and down on the injured ankle throughout the portion of practice open to the media.

After practice, Ekeler told reporters that playing this Sunday is a "possibility."

"I can run full speed straight ahead right now," Ekeler said, standing on the balls of his feet to show he had no pain with that motion. "But if I go turn -- that's where I have been trying to build back towards."

Ekeler was a limited participant in Wednesday's practice, which he said went well, where he accomplished running full speed and curved running (when an athlete leans to run on a curved path without turning) without issue.

The challenge for Ekeler is that making cuts or turns is still painful. Ekeler said he had never had a high ankle sprain before, which involves ligaments above the ankle joint and between the tibia and fibula, different from those in a common sprain. So, the recovery has been unique.

"I'm not at a point where I've gone out there and tried to push it 100% yet," Ekeler said, "That's not how the process works. You continue to build yourself back. It's kind of like climbing the stairs. You're not gonna just jump straight to the top stair and tell me, 'Oh yeah, I can make it there.' You kind of go one-by-one, 'OK, now we're progressing towards 100%.' So I haven't been there yet."

NFL running back controversy highlighted the offseason, as top players at the position, including Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants and Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders, held out of training camps in hopes of higher paying contracts.

Ekeler was briefly at the center of it all when he requested a trade from the Chargers in March after the sides couldn't agree to a multiyear deal. Ekeler eventually returned to the Chargers on a revised contract with $1.75 million in added incentives.

"It sucks because ... we want to go out there and continue to prove our point that 'Hey, we can continue to make a huge impact on this league,'" said Ekeler, who has been one of the Chargers' most durable players since he entered the league in 2017. Ekeler missed back-to-back games this season for the third time in his career and the first since 2020.

"So yeah, it's frustrating," Ekeler said. "It's frustrating for anyone getting injured."

The Chargers play the Las Vegas Raiders (1-2) on Sunday before having a bye week. But keeping Ekeler out of Sunday's game as a precautionary measure with another week of rest on the horizon isn't the plan for Ekeler. Coach Brandon Staley, however, said the upcoming bye week plays a factor into injury considerations "in some cases," but didn't specify with Ekeler.

"Getting him in individual [drills] was good, getting him out there with the guys," Staley said. "Just means he's progressing and improving. If you know Austin, you know he's going to do everything he can do to get back."