COSTA MESA, Calif. – Melvin Gordon got into an argument recently with a fan who insisted he was Todd Gurley.
The Los Angeles Chargers’ durable running back doesn’t look a whole lot like his Los Angeles Rams counterpart. That didn’t dissuade the fan, he recalled with a grimace.
“I’m just starting to figure out that people just see a man with dreads and muscles and be like, `Oh, he’s such and such,“’ Gordon said. “Because I get called Derrick Henry, too, and I don’t even look close to Derrick Henry, or Todd. … Sometimes you can be understandable, but when you argue with me about being that person, that’s when it’s an issue.”
Heading into his fifth season in the Chargers’ backfield and his second year in LA, Gordon is poised to make sure everybody knows his name this fall.
Gordon got better as last season went on for the Chargers, becoming fresher and more dangerous during their late surge into the playoff race. Looking back, Gordon realizes he improved because he got healthier – so he took steps to make sure he would be fresh from the start of training camp for the grind of the regular season.
“I’m trying to do the most I can, because you never know,” Gordon said. “I feel good. I haven’t been feeling like this in a while now, for about a couple of years, and I’ve just been having to push through it. I think that little time I took off kind of helped me out a lot.”
Gordon stayed away from the Chargers during part of organized team activities this year, altering his offseason preparations to keep himself fresh. He picked up a nagging knee injury early last season while pushing himself to impress first-year coach Anthony Lynn, and his season picked up speed only when the knee began to heal. His final five games of the season were outstanding, and he finished as the NFL’s seventh-leading rusher with a career-high 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns.
Gordon credits his improved health for the surge, but also his mental toughness.
“I’ve always felt like it’s a mindset really toward the end of the year, how you approach it,” Gordon said. “Some guys go through those first eight weeks of the season, guys that are excited to play, excited to put on the uniform, but then it gets old. Then guys are trying to stay healthy, and then guys that were coming in trying to make those tackles aren’t really trying to make those tackles anymore. To me, my mindset is, I’m going to make you pay. You think it’s going to be a breeze your last eight weeks, and I’m going to turn it up.”
Gordon has steadily evolved as a versatile back in his four NFL seasons since leaving Wisconsin. He also caught 58 passes for 476 yards last year, and he didn’t fumble all year until the season finale.
“I thought he was healthy. That’s the biggest difference that I saw on Melvin,” Lynn said. “He looked healthy. He had some juice, and he’s a strong guy, has a lot of stamina. As the season went on, he just got stronger.”
Along with his improved health, Gordon also expects to get a boost from the addition of center Mike Pouncey, a punishing run-blocker for the Miami Dolphins for the past seven seasons. The Chargers had one of the NFL’s worst yards-per-carry averages last season (3.8), and Pouncey could be a key to unlocking longer runs.
“The way he gets to the second level for those blocks, it’s crazy,” Gordon said.
The Chargers already picked up Gordon’s fifth-year contract option for 2019, but he knows the upcoming season will have a major impact on the length and size of his next contract – and he isn’t afraid of the scrutiny.
Gordon realizes that his optimism and enthusiasm can be contagious for the Chargers, but only when he’s healthy and productive. After appearing in all 16 games last fall for the first time in his career, he’s hoping for production to match Gurley or any other running back who kind of looks like him this fall.
“I just see Melvin running around healthy,” Lynn said. “And when a guy is running around healthy, you know he’s in a different mindset. He’s having fun. He’s enjoying the game.”
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