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Bringing back the “O.W.” to Dexter McCluster

Posted May 26, 2012

The Chiefs appear committed to using McCluster as a match-up player just one year following his exclusivity at running back

Dexter McCluster came to Kansas City two years ago declaring himself as an “O.W.,” short for “Offensive Weapon.”

He made seven starts as a rookie, two at running back and five at wide receiver. He split practice time at the two positions and also served as the team’s primary return man.

In many ways, McCluster was a player without a primary position. “O.W.” was as good as any other description.

The Chiefs drafted McCluster in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft to be a play-maker. Whether that play-making ability came as a wide receiver or at running back didn’t particularly matter. Kansas City’s offensive coaching staff just wanted to exploit the right matchups.

And, despite a permanent position, McCluster was successful in the early-goings of his first NFL season.

In his rookie debut, McCluster set a franchise record with a 94-yard punt return touchdown on Monday Night Football. Two weeks later, he left 49ers LB Travis LaBoy flat-footed in the open field and raced for a 31-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

It was all about matchups with McCluster and the Chiefs were getting the looks they wanted. Especially with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones fueling what would become the league’s leading rushing attack and Dwayne Bowe commanding the attention of opposing defensive backs.

But then, just as quickly as his career had taken flight, McCluster hit a wall.

A Week Six ankle injury kept McCluster sidelined through the end of October and all of November. Upon returning, he wasn’t the same. McCluster logged just seven rushing attempts and caught only six passes over the final five weeks of the season.

The Chiefs removed McCluster’s “O.W.” title last offseason, hoping that narrowing his duties as a full-time running back would increase his effectiveness. The switch generated inconsistent results.

McCluster led Kansas City’s cast of runners last season with a 4.5-yard rushing average, but mismatch opportunities became limited. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is hoping to bring back those opportunities by working McCluster into the mix at wide receiver this offseason.

When the offense lined up during Thursday’s OTA session, McCluster was serving as the first-team slot receiver.

“We’ve given Dexter reps at the wide receiver position in this new offense because we feel like he knows how to play running back and we can put him over at running back at any point in time, but we felt like he needed the work at wide receiver,” head coach Romeo Crennel explained. “Probably what that will do is open it up for us to be able to use him however and whenever. We need him at whatever position. He’s taken to it really well. He’s been enthusiastic about it, so that is working out pretty well for us.”

Working McCluster as a receiver during OTAs also provides a cushion for fourth-round draft pick Devon Wylie to develop. Slot receiver has been a revolving door of bodies for several seasons and the Chiefs are hopeful Wylie can eventually become a full-time player.

It’s also far too early to rule McCluster out of the running back rotation, especially with Charles coming back from injury and sixth-round draft pick Cyrus Gray nursing a sore hamstring.

Re-familiarizing McCluster with the receiver position expands personnel options moving forward.

“Here is a guy who has a special talent, and Brian, he looked at that talent and felt like maybe we should take a look at him at receiver to see if his talents could benefit us at receiver, considering what our situation was without the leading receiver on the team,” Crennel said, referring to Dwayne Bowe’s contract situation and Steve Breaston’s current role as an outside receiver.

“Let’s take a look at him to see what we have and then we can kind of go from there. That’s why I think we moved him there to see what we can find out how he would adapt to that position and how that could help us.”

Moving around is nothing new for McCluster. Last year was one of the few times he’s gone through a full season at just one position. In college, he lined up at running back, wide receiver and as a wildcat quarterback.

“I’m learning everything that I can learn,” McCluster said. “Whenever you are asked to do something in this sport, you go out and do it. Coach Daboll is a guy with a winning attitude that knows the ins-and-outs of running a successful offense and I think he’s going to put us in the right situations to be successful.”

There’s a place for McCluster in the Chiefs offense, it’s just about finding the right matchups.

“He’s hard to cover one-on-one,” Crennel said. “That’s the biggest issue. He is quick, fast and generally, it’s hard for one person to cover him.”

Over the past two seasons, Kansas City’s offense has been most productive when McCluster is free to be schemed into one-on-one matchups. Keeping him on the move might just be his most effective usage.

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