COSTA MESA — It was one thing for running back Joshua Kelley to make the Chargers’ roster after a standout career at UCLA, but it is quite another for him to win a larger role in 2022, after two seasons backing up starter Austin Ekeler. Kelley realized he needed to make some big changes this past offseason.
Changes to his workout regime.
Changes to his diet.
Changes to his commitment to the game.
So, he enlisted the help of Overtime Athletes in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“My whole goal this offseason was to become the best football player I could possibly be,” Kelley said after Thursday’s practice at Jack Hammett Sports Complex, the Chargers’ last before their exhibition-opening game Saturday night against the Rams at SoFi Stadium.
“It wasn’t to relax, to wind down, to do all sorts of business activities, or vacation. It was to be the best player I could be for this year. So, I evaluated myself. I looked at my strengths and weaknesses, and I felt like I could add some more muscle, add some more explosiveness.
“I took the program I had seriously. I just attacked it.”
Locked in a training camp battle with rookie Isaiah Spiller, a third-round draft pick from Texas A&M this past spring, and Larry Rountree III, a second-year player from Missouri, Kelley decided it was time to reach out for help in an attempt to win the fight and enhance his role.
No question, Ekeler’s name is engraved in stone at the top of the depth chart at running back. But injuries are bound to happen, and Spiller and Rountree didn’t figure to spend their offseasons on their couches playing video games and eating candy bars. They were going to be working, too.
On the advice of a former teammate and with some research on the Internet, Kelley found a program that suited him. After sending Chris Barnard of Overtime Athletes a direct message on Instagram, Kelley got down to business. He didn’t travel to Florida, but communicated online.
“These guys had a whole program for me, specifically, and I just attacked it,” Kelley said. “I would find videos of them and I was like, ‘This is some dope stuff.’ I said, “I’m a big fan of this.’ They were like, ‘We got you. Send us your numbers, your height, weight, your goals.’ Boom. Cool.”
Kelley, who has modest career totals of 144 carries, 456 yards and two touchdowns to go with 28 receptions and 186 yards, has been pleased with the results so far in camp. He’s expected to split time with Spiller and Rountree in the Chargers’ Saturday exhibition against the Rams.
“It’s been a huge transition,” Kelley said. “I’m like, ‘Boom, faster and stronger.’ There’s a big difference. There’s a correlation between nutrition, the weight room and the field. All that stuff. It feels good. They got me right, but I’m still attacking that program. It doesn’t stop.”
Asked specifically about his play in camp, Kelley said, “I feel like, for me, I’m getting better. I feel like I’m learning. It’s my second year in the offense. Things are slowing down. I’m getting into a rhythm. I’m just learning. Nothing is always perfect. I’m continuing to grow. I’m not thinking so much.”
JAMES (NON) UPDATE
Derwin James Jr.’s “hold-in” reached Day 13 of camp, with Chargers coach Brandon Staley saying there was no change in the all-pro safety’s status while awaiting a contract extension. James continued his routine of cheering and coaching from the sideline during practice.
With three weeks of camp down and with an exhibition Saturday and two joint practices with the Dallas Cowboys next week, Staley was asked if he would like to have the contract situation resolved and have his defensive leader involved in next week’s activities with Dallas.
“Of course,” Staley said. “I think what’s most important to us is that we get the contract negotiation right. First things first is just the main thing. Then all of the football stuff will take care of itself. Derwin has been very patient through the process and he’s been a tremendous leader.
“I think he’s handled it extremely well. His teammates have handled it extremely well. We’re looking for good news soon.”
Staley ruled out cornerback Tevaughn Campbell and linebacker Ty Shelby for Saturday’s game against the Rams because of injuries and said linebacker Nick Niemann would be a game-time decision.