Running back Melvin Gordon is expected to play for the first time in the 2019 NFL season Sunday when the Los Angeles Chargers play host to the winless Denver Broncos at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“We have a plan for Melvin,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Friday in his final meeting with reporters before Sunday’s game.
“I don’t want to put him in there and play him too much. I really don’t have to. I like what (running back) Austin Ekeler has been doing in the backfield and (running back Troymaine) Pope.
Gordon missed the entire preseason and first three regular-season games seeking a contract extension. He reported to the team Sept. 26 and was in uniform for last Sunday’s 30-10 victory over the winless Miami Dolphins but did not play.
“(It was) very tempting to play him at the end to try to get him some full-speed game reps,” Lynn said. “But at the same time, he’s only had a day-and-a-half of football practice. I want him to get more practice time.”
Gordon has been the Chargers’ leading rusher each season since they chose him in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Wisconsin. He was a Pro Bowl selection for the 2016 and 2018 seasons.
With Gordon absent, Ekeler is fifth in the NFL in scrimmage yards — rushing plus receiving — with 490, and first in scoring among non-kickers with 36 points.
The Chargers are also expected to have a new kicker Sunday, undrafted rookie Chase McLaughlin, signed Wednesday because Ty Long’s “plant leg is a little sore,” Lynn said.
“I don’t want to take any risk of (Long) hurting himself, so we just took him off those duties and let him punt,” Lynn said.
Long, who was intended to be the Chargers’ punter, handled their kicking duties for each of their first four games because Michael Badgley has been sidelined because of a groin injury.
“Chase is here for insurance,” Lynn said. “Michael is our kicker, but he’s not ready to go.”
McLaughlin made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 54-yarder, and all five extra points in preseason for the Buffalo Bills, but was cut when they reduced their roster to the regular-season 53-player limit on Aug. 31.
The Minnesota Vikings signed McLaughlin to their practice squad Sept. 1, but cut him Sept. 10.
If he plays, McLaughlin would be the Chargers’ eighth kicker since the start of the 2017 season, not including punter Drew Kaser, who attempted three conversions in a 2017 Thanksgiving Day victory over the Dallas Cowboys when a sore lower back and hip flexor left Nick Novak unable to continue kicking.
The Chargers made room on their roster by placing receiver Dontrelle Inman on the reserve/injured list because of a quadriceps injury. Inman made a game-high equaling five catches against Miami.
The Chargers (2-2) made one other addition to their roster since the victory over the Dolphins, promoting tight end Stephen Anderson from the practice squad after placing Sean Culkin on reserve/injured because of an Achilles tendon injury suffered when he made the second reception of his 18-game NFL career.
“He has been working with us every single day the last three weeks,” Lynn said. “He knows our system and what we’re doing. He has done a good job. I expect him to do the same on Sunday.”
Anderson’s promotion gives the Chargers a second healthy tight end on their roster.
Hunter Henry will miss his fourth consecutive game because of a knee injury suffered in the season-opening 30-24 overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 8. Virgil Green will start for him.
Lance Kendricks is the other healthy tight end. He was signed by the Chargers on Sept. 17 following Henry’s injury and started last Sunday’s game as the second tight end.
Anderson played 28 games for the Houston Texans from 2016-17, making five catches. He spent the 2019 preseason with the New England Patriots, was cut Aug. 31, signed to their practice squad the next day and released from their practice squad Sept. 9. He was signed to the Chargers practice squad Sept. 11.
Defensive end Melvin Ingram (hamstring) will miss the game, and Uchenna Nwosu will start in his place.
The Broncos are 0-4 under first-year coach Vic Fangio, including a 26-24 loss last Sunday to the Jacksonville Jaguars on former Charger Josh Lambo’s 33-yard field goal as time expired for their second two-point loss of the season. They lost to the Chicago Bears, 16-14, Sept. 15 on Eddy Pineiro’s 53-yard field goal as time expired.
Fangio was an NFL assistant coach for 32 seasons including 19 as a defensive coordinator, the last four with the Chicago Bears.
The Chargers and Broncos split the season series in 2018, with both teams winning on the road. The Broncos lead the regular-season series, 65-52-1.
There will be a Latino game-day celebration in conjunction with the NFL’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Former boxing world champion Abner Mares will serve as the honorary cannon firer before the opening kickoff.
The Grammy-nominated mariachi ensemble Sol De Mexico will perform the national anthem. It will also perform at halftime, along with Mariachi Reyna, Mariachi Juvenil Herencia Michoacana and the Sabor a Mexico Dance Company.
Antonia Hernandez, president and CEO of the California Community Foundation, will receive an NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award during the second quarter.
The foundation was established in 1915, has assets of more than $1.5 billion and supports nonprofit organizations and public institutions with funds for health and human services, affordable housing, early childhood education, community arts and culture and other areas of need.
As an award recipient, the Chargers and the NFL will donate $5,000 to Hernandez’s community organization of choice, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which shares the untold stories about the history, cultures, values and traditions of Mexicans, Mexican American and all Latinos in the founding and continuing evolution of Southern California through exhibitions, educational programs and public programs.
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