Melvin Gordon struggles in return to Los Angeles Chargers offense

On Oct. 6, The Panther attended a Los Angeles Chargers home game against the Denver Broncos, in which two-time Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon saw his first action of the 2019 National Football League season, after he held himself out of the first four games of the season in hopes of a contract extension. Photo courtesy of Luca Evans

It was a foreign sight, yet comfortingly familiar at the same time. The long dreadlocks falling across the back of a blue No. 25 jersey; the crouch in the backfield, the side glance at quarterback Philip Rivers. Melvin Gordon had returned, toeing the turf at Dignity Health Sports Park, hands anticipating the feel of a football and knees cocked for explosion.

On Oct. 6, The Panther was in attendance at Dignity Health Sports Park for Gordon’s return to the Los Angeles Chargers in a game against the Denver Broncos, after the running back wasn’t active for the first four games of the season for a contract holdout.

Yet after being met by an outpouring of cheers from fans, there appeared to be lingering flecks of rust on the two-time Pro Bowler’s wheels in the midst of a 20-13 loss to the Broncos. He never gained more than seven yards on any of his 16 touches. Time and time again, the crowd in the stands would watch him take a handoff, meet a wall of defenders at the line of scrimmage and try to slither his way through, only to be swarmed and brought to the turf.

“We welcome Melvin back to our offense, but he wasn’t ready to play a whole game, so I didn’t play him a whole game,” said Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn at a press conference held after the game concluded. For each of his four prior years spent in the National Football League, Gordon always tallied the most touches amongst Chargers backs.

Yet this season, he’s facing stiff competition for work in the form of undrafted third-year rusher Austin Ekeler, who scored six touchdowns during Gordon’s four-game absence. While Gordon’s return saw him eat up most of the team’s carries, Ekeler nonetheless was heavily involved through the air, recording 15 catches against the Broncos – tied with Kellen Winslow and Keenan Allen for the highest single-game total in Chargers franchise history.

During the Chargers’ postgame press conference Oct. 6, The Panther was able to ask quarterback Philip Rivers about Gordon and Ekeler’s deployment against the Broncos and what Rivers expected of them moving forward. While Rivers anticipated the two switching back and forth between duties, the eight-time Pro Bowler answered with ambiguity, seemingly curious to see how their usage would play out like the rest of the reporters in the room.

“You’ll need some more data to be able to say that,” said Rivers, of Gordon being used more as a rusher and Ekeler as a receiver. “They’re both going to contribute; sometimes it’s going to be more carries, sometimes it’s going to be more catches. You’ll need a handful of more games to see how that distribution weighs itself out.”

In his 2019 debut, Gordon certainly didn’t live up to the efficiency he displayed in his previous season, gaining just 31 yards on his 12 carries. But to the legion of Chargers fans wearing his newly minted No. 25 jersey or slotting him into their fantasy football lineups, it may bring relief to know Lynn believes Gordon can regain his customary head of steam by simply practicing more.

“Based on what he’s looking at and what I saw on the sidelines, he’s alright,” Lynn said of Gordon. “I know he’s going to get better. We didn’t have a full-speed practice last week because of certain injuries. The more he practices, the better he’s going to get.”