COSTA MESA – Chargers running back Joshua Kelley has had to sit and watch his team play from a distance the last five weeks because of an MCL injury suffered in Week 6.
“It’s scary when you’re not playing football – something I’ve been doing for a long time,” Kelley said. “When you’re not doing it, you miss it.”
Kelley had gotten off to the best start of his young career, averaging 4.5 yards per carry while serving a complimentary role behind starter Austin Ekeler.
His early-season success followed a strong training camp and preseason, which Kelley credits his offseason regimen and diet. He entered training camp with a bigger physique than he had played at during his previous two seasons in the NFL, and it allowed him to run through defenders to gather extra yards after contact.
Just when Kelley’s usage had seen a season-high 10 rushing attempts against the Browns, his knee injury suffered on the second snap he saw in the following week, landed him on injured reserve, ruling him out for at least four games.
“As a competitor, you always want to play, no matter way,” Kelley said. “Whether you’re hurt, you always want to get out there. Sitting out these past five weeks have been really tough.”
Now eligible to come off injured reserve, the third-year rusher has been designated for return. That means the Chargers will have a 21-day window to integrate Kelley into practices before he has to be activated to the 53-man roster.
“He will be there at practice today, and then we’re going to see the type of progress he makes,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said ahead of Wednesday’s practice. “If we feel like he’s had a good week, then he’ll certainly be active for the game.”
Kelley has worked off to the side of practices with trainers the last two weeks, as he and the team slowly get him back into the swing of things. On Wednesday, he participated in practice during the viewing portion open to the media. Kelley wore an extensive brace on his knee, but didn’t look to have any restrictions in what he was able to do relative to the other running backs.
“I’ve been out for five weeks. It will feel great to get a chance to go out and play football again,” Kelley said before Wednesday’s practice regarding the thought of making his return. “I’m excited about it. We’ll see how I progress this week, but I’m really juiced.”
Kelley said his knee feels “good enough” at this point to play this weekend. He added that nobody is 100% at this point in the season, but feels there’s nothing, physically, that would prevent him from being able to compete in Sunday’s game.
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Once Kelley returns, he’ll look to reclaim the No. 2 running back role that he occupied prior to being sidelined. During his absence, the Chargers turned to fourth-round rookie Isaiah Spiller and Sony Michel as other contributors in the backfield.
Not only is Kelley aiming for a return this week, but the Chargers have their sights set on a much-needed win after dropping the last two games to the 49ers and Chiefs – both of which they fell short in the final minute of regulation.
The Chargers sit with a 5-5 record, one spot out of the Wild Card picture. Kelley explained the urgency that he and the rest of the team understand is at stake, but said they’ve routinely faced adversity all season, which has led to the locker room remaining optimistic during this tough stretch.
“I feel like we understand that it’s week-to-week out here,” he said. “Some things will go your way, but I feel like we can still make a run. We’re getting a lot of guys back. We just have that belief of confidence in our style of play that we can make a run here.”
The Chargers will hold two more practices this week, including Thanksgiving day, to determine where they believe Kelley is at in his return as they prepare for the Cardinals.
“We’re going to have a full week and see him go and see how he responds to each practice,” Staley said of Kelley. “You open that practice window, and we’ll try to take advantage of it and let his performance kind of guide us, in terms of being up this week or not.”
Kelley has logged 160 scrimmage yards on 30 touches and one touchdown this season, including seven forced missed tackles.
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Read more from Charger Report:
- Chargers at Cardinals Week 12 Injury Report: Wednesday
- Chargers Sign K Cameron Dicker to Active Roster, Place K Dustin Hopkins on Injured Reserve
- Chargers in Need of Quick Response Following Consecutive Losses
- Takeaways From Chargers’ 30-27 Week 11 Loss to Chiefs
- Chargers Can’t Contain Travis Kelce, Leading to 30-27 Loss vs. Chiefs
Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.