May 28, 2024

Running back Austin Ekeler described himself as a full participant in practice Tuesday and said he’s “99%” certain that he’ll return Monday night when the Chargers play Dallas at SoFi Stadium.

Following the team’s off week, Ekeler said his high-ankle sprain is healed after he missed the last three games. He was injured in the Chargers’ season-opening loss to Miami.

The Chargers won’t release their first injury report of the week until Thursday, but they welcomed back several players as they returned to practice at their facility on Costa Mesa.

Along with Ekeler, starting safeties Derwin James Jr. (hamstring) and Alohi Gilman (heel), reserve tight end Donald Parham Jr. (wrist) and backup cornerback Deane Leonard (hamstring) were on the field.

Starting edge rusher Joey Bosa (hamstring/toe) was not present, though he later was seenin the locker room.

James, Gilman and Bosa all were injured in the Chargers’ Week 3 victory at Minnesota and didn’t play in Week 4, a home win over Las Vegas.

Quarterback Justin Herbert also practiced as he continues to deal with a fractured finger on his left hand, an injury that isn’t expected to affect his availability. He was hurt against the Raiders but didn’t miss a snap.

Sitting at 2-2, the Chargers are entering a crucial set of back-to-back games against the Cowboys (3-2) at home and at Kansas City, the Chiefs (4-1) leading the AFC West.

Dallas is coming off a 42-10 loss at San Francisco but went into that game as one of the NFC’s top contenders. The Cowboys struggled mightily against the 49ers, finishing with four turnovers and only eight first downs.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen said the Chargers aren’t expecting anything from Dallas but another stout test.

“I’m pretty sure they’re emphasizing a lot of things coming off that game,” he said. “I’m pretty sure the quarterback play is going to be much better. The defense is going to be flying around even more. You’re going to be hungry and pretty amped up.”

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted three times by San Francisco and finished 14 for 24 for 153 yards.

The Chargers are coming off a game in which their offense produced only three first downs and 85 total yards — 51 of which came on one pass play — after halftime. Ekeler’s return might provide a kick start.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler scores a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) scores a touchdown in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins at SoFi Stadium.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In his absence, his backups rushed 53 times for 144 yards — an average of 2.7 per attempt — and caught five passes for 33 yards. The Chargers’ haven’t had a touchdown produced by a running back since Week 1, when both Ekeler and Joshua Kelley scored on short runs.

“It’s a prime-time game, so we’ve got the world watching us,” Ekeler said of the matchup against the Cowboys. “It’s going to be fun like all of our games are, but especially when it’s Monday night.”

Ekeler, returned to practice in a limited capacity during Week 4 and was listed as doubtful to appear against the Raiders. He ended up being inactive and suggested Tuesday he could have played under pressing circumstances.

“It would have been one of those where it’s like, ‘Hey, this is the last game of the season. We need you. You gotta go,’ ” Ekeler said. “That’s kind of what that scenario was.”

Instead, he was allowed to rest and then benefited from an early bye week. The Chargers will play 13 consecutive weeks to close out the season.

Ekeler was asked what he learned while being forced to sit out.

“How much you love this game,” he said. “Watching the guys go out there and battle and be in close games and just [not being] on the field in general, even in practice, you kind of feel disconnected.”

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