Bulked-up Joshua Kelley in running for Chargers’ No. 2 back

Since he was drafted, the Chargers have changed their coaching staff and invested picks in two more running backs.

His three most productive games remain the top three of his NFL career in 2020.

Joshua Kelley, now entering his third season and facing more competition and uncertainty than ever before, came to Costa Mesa training camp a changed man.

“My whole goal this off-season was to be the best football player I could be,” he said Thursday. “It wasn’t for relaxation, for switching off, for all sorts of business activities, holidays. It should be the best player I could be for this year.”

After leaving UCLA, Kelley’s future under Anthony Lynn’s previous coaching regime seemed immediately visible.

In the first three weeks of the 2020 season, he carried 43 times for 167 yards and served as a much-needed counterattack for starter Austin Ekeler.

But Kelley lost Fummel in back-to-back games — both losses to Carolina and Tampa Bay — and has been trying to recover ever since.

He said he committed to physical improvement this spring and enlisted the help of Overtime Athletes, a Florida training outfit recommended by former Chargers teammate Rayshawn Jenkins.

“I evaluated myself,” Kelley said. “I looked at my strengths and weaknesses and felt like I could build more muscle, add a little more explosiveness. I took the program I had seriously and just attacked it.”

Brandon Staley, who took over after Lynn was fired after the 2020 season, said Kelley was “a lot stronger, a lot more compact” at that training camp. He praised Kelley for being “a more complete back.”

In Saturday’s Chargers preseason opener game against the Rams at SoFi Stadium, Kelley will have the opportunity to showcase his new self as he fights for second running back spot.

He will face off against Isaiah Spiller, a fourth-round pick this year, and Larry Rountree III, a sixth-round pick in 2021.

Chargers rookie running back Isaiah Spiller, 28, participates in drills during practice.

Rookie Isaiah Spiller (28) is the latest running back draft trying to win the No. 2 job.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

“Those backs… I really like everyone’s progression,” Staley said. “I think the competition gets the best out of them because it’s a real Contest.”

In addition to strength training, Kelley emphasized that his offseason program emphasized nutrition. He’s still listed at 5-foot-11, 212 pounds – same as last year – but Kelley appears to be more vigorous.

“The diet was huge,” he said. “You don’t get this size and this strength without paying attention to your diet and your recovery. So yeah, it was a lot of work.”

Kelley explained that he now feels like a different player on the field. He’s broken several impressive runs in team practices, though the Chargers don’t get down in training camp.

“I’m just like – boom! – more explosive, faster, stronger,” said Kelley. “It’s a big difference. There is a correlation between the weight room [to] nutrition on the field. It feels good. You got me right.”

Staley also noted that Kelley gained his teammates’ confidence in pass protection, a key component to an offense that features a Pro Bowl quarterback in Justin Herbert.

For young running backs, pass protection is often one of the most difficult steps in the transition to the NFL. Kelley said he had to focus on who to block early on.

He explained that now with a better understanding of the offense and his responsibilities within it, he has attempted to become a weapon in pass protection.

“I built some strength,” Kelley said. “I’m not trying to get in touch. When I look at tapes, I see a lot of guys just going up and recording. I’m trying to throw a punch. I think that helped me.”

Another area that could heavily influence the backup-running-back decision is special teams. Kelley played more special teams as a rookie than he did last season.

One of the low points of his 2020 season was a failed contract that resulted in a blocked punt and touchdown for Jacksonville.

Kelley said Ryan Ficken, the Chargers’ new special teams coordinator, met with him early in the offseason and told him he was too good a player not to be involved in that area.

“I agreed with him,” Kelley said. “I felt like I had to take this phase a lot more seriously, attack and just go harder. … It mainly comes down to effort and will.”

Kelley will be featured on offense and the kicking game Saturday as the Chargers take their first big step in building their season-opening roster.

Etc.

Kicker Dustin Hopkins missed practice Thursday due to a death in his family. He was back on the field later in the day after rejoining the team. … Staley said quarterbacks Chase Daniel and Easton Stick will both play against the Rams. He also said Storm Norton and Trey Pipkins III, who are fighting for the right tackle job, will play.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-08-11/chargers-backup-running-backs-joshua-kelley Bulked-up Joshua Kelley in running for Chargers’ No. 2 back

Emma Bowman

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