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Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Running Backs

Posted Aug 6, 2014

In this series we’ll take a look at each of the positional groups of the Kansas City Chiefs; today it’s the running backs

When phrases like “all-time great” start getting thrown around in today’s society, sometimes it’s simply trying to make something flashier for the sake of discussion and intrigue.

But the legacy of one Chiefs player could soon add another bullet point to an already-storied career, and that milestone is just 248 yards away.

At that point, “all-time great” will be an apt description in explaining Jamaal Charles’ time in Kansas City, and there won’t be any doubt about that phrase being legitimized.

Charles sits just 248 yards away from passing Priest Holmes as the team’s all-time leading rusher.

Last season alone, Charles led the Chiefs in both rushing and receiving yards, combining for 1,980 yards with 19 touchdowns.

With a career-high of 329 touches last season, Charles’ workload isn’t something coach Reid is worried about with his best player.

“I think he’s got a lot in the tank,” Reid said. “We’re going keep using him. He’s a good football player and he enjoys playing the game, so we’ll keep getting him the football.”

After signing a two-year extension, fans shouldn’t expect Charles to get complacent at this point in his career.

“I still have to earn my respect,” Charles said. “I still have to go out there and perform because I asked for more money, but at the same time, they can take it away. So it’s all about staying consistent and staying successful in this league. I want to be in the Hall of Fame when I retire, I want to win a championship; that’s what it’s all about.”

For all of the talent he had coming into the NFL, Charles still credits running backs coach Eric Bieniemy for his success.

“All of my success on the field is because of him,” Charles said of Bieniemy. “I want him to push me, even if I don’t like it sometimes. I need it to make me better.”

While lighting up box scores and fantasy football leagues with his yards and touchdowns has become the norm for Charles, he still prides himself on a skill that isn’t reflected in basic statistical measurements.

Throughout the course of his career, Charles has taken pride in his ability to block in pass protection.

“You have to have motivation to do it,” Charles said. “You just have to be hungry. You just have to feel like you have to go knock their head off before they knock yours off. That’s my job. I love contact. I just don’t like getting embarrassed when a linebacker tries to bull rush me. I told my running backs, ‘This is the Jamaal Charles rule, as long as you can hold them for three seconds you’re good.’”

This selfless attitude not only keeps Charles on the field more often, but it also distinguishes himself as a leader to his younger teammates, who see an All-Pro sacrificing his body for the betterment of the team.

“I want to be a leader,” Charles said. “[I’m] just trying to give them something I didn’t get when I was a rookie or a second-year guy. I’m just trying to be a leader.”

As far as what advice he passes on to his fellow running backs, Charles keeps it simple.

”Just stay focused, man,” Charles said. “Stay in your playbook. Don’t take that for granted because it could be gone in a minute. People have come to me a lot over the years. I’ve been here seven years. I tell the whole team to continue to stay in your playbook.”

One of the guys helping Charles get those yards and score those touchdowns is fullback Anthony Sherman, whose selfless attitude manifests itself when asking him about taking pride in Charles’ success.

“Oh absolutely,” Sherman said. “I mean that’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to open up holes for him and I take tremendous pride in doing that and I know he appreciates it. He always lets me know and lets the offensive line know he loves when those big holes come and we get guys moving for him.”

Ranked as Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked fullback last season, Sherman believes going up against the Chiefs front seven in practice every day has them prepared for anyone.

“We face one of the toughest front sevens in the National Football League every day,” Sherman said. “Towards the end they kind of know what we’re doing, so it makes a little tougher than it will be on game day just because they don’t know exactly what we’re going to do.”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs No. 2 running back throughout training camp has been second-year player Knile Davis, who has been one of the breakout players through the first couple of weeks in St. Joseph.

Coming back from a leg injury suffered in the playoff loss to Indianapolis at the end of last season, Davis is back and healthy and impressing Reid with more than just his ability with the ball in his hands.

“Knile (Davis) has gotten better,” Reid said. “Probably the place where he’s made the most improvement I think is in his blitz pickup stuff. Now that’s tough on young running backs and I think he’s really improved there. So he’s got a good feel for it.”

While Charles is not expected to get fewer touches this season, Davis might still see more action on the field for the Chiefs—even if it’s not necessarily resulting in more touches for him.

“He may not necessarily get more touches; he may get more plays,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “We just pick our spots; again, there’s going to be certain plays for Knile, and there are certain plays for Jamaal. Sometimes it’s a feel thing, these guys push each other and Knile is a guy we’re going to have to count on.”

Backing up one of the best players in the NFL, Davis has learned a lot from Charles.

“I’ve learned how to be patient [and] how to see the holes,” Davis said. “When I first got in here, I was all over the place. I was trying to play fast but Jamaal showed me how to kind of slow it down and pay attention to details.”

Also crediting his position coach, Davis likes Bieniemy being hard on him.

“He’s just hard on us so we can reach our max potential,” Davis said. “Even when we do good, there’s something wrong. So he just tries to make sure we’re paying attention to the details because the little things help us win. And that’s really what he emphasizes—just paying attention to the little things.”

Also in the mix at running back is third-year player Cyrus Gray, who has excelled at special teams in his first two seasons in Kansas City.

“Cyrus is a good special teams player,” Reid said. “He’s also a good football player. He did a nice job for us last year.”

Showing more than just an ability on special teams, Gray pulled off what could be considered one of the best plays of training camp thus far, putting on a great open-field move while running the football.

Gray felt good when speaking about that play after practice.

“It just feels good, especially during the live drill where you can showcase it in front of your teammates,” Gray said. “That’s something I know I can do. It’s just having the confidence in doing it all the time.”

Sitting behind both Charles and Davis on the depth chart at running back, Gray still knows special teams is key for him.

“It’s very important,” Gray said. “I started off all four phases last year and so I have some experience. We finished with a high ranking in special teams, so this this year we’re just trying to do better and I know that my role will increase, so I have to do what I have to do to step up.”

One of the new faces to this running back group who will find himself in the mix on special teams as well is former Oregon playmaker De’Anthony Thomas.

Thomas is currently listed as the Chiefs first-team punt returner, but Reid likes how he can be moved around on offense, playing both running back and receiver. That said, he cautions about throwing too much at the rookie right off the bat.

“Yeah, you can move him all over,” Reid said. “You just have to make sure you ease him into it. You can’t overload him, he’s a young guy. But so far he has handled everything we have done with him and we have moved him in a few different places.”

Learning plays and techniques on special teams, running back and receiver puts a lot of Thomas’ plate, but he feels good about where he’s at right now.

“There are a lot of details,” Thomas said. “You just have to know your assignments and be on the same page as the offense, as far as footwork with the quarterbacks. I feel like I’m adjusting pretty well. Just got to know my assignments and take every play and just contribute.”

Two other players in the mix at running back are Charcandrick West and Joe McKnight.

While Charles’ ability and legacy will be displayed and written throughout the course of the regular season, these other guys are looking to cement their place on this roster during these preseason games.

Whether it’s carrying or catching the football out of the backfield or making plays on special teams, this group is one to keep an eye on Thursday against the Bengals.

RELATED CONTENT:

Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Quarterbacks

Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Defensive Line

Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Offensive Line

Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Tight Ends

Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Wide Receivers

Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Linebackers

Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Specialists

Chiefs in Focus: Spotlight on the Defensive Backs

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