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Heartland Health Training Camp Preview: Running Backs

Posted Jul 18, 2012

Three questions surrounding the Chiefs running back position heading into training camp


1) How quickly does Charles acclimate?

Chiefs assistant head coach Maurice Carthon has a fairly simple solution for getting Kansas City’s run game back atop the National Football League.

"One thing is to get Jamaal Charles back so he can be a part of that,” Carthon recently said in our Coach’s Corner series. “As everybody knows, he was injured in the early part of the season and so we can get him back and start to run the ball like he did back then, I think we'll have a shot to be like it was in 2010."

The Chiefs led the NFL averaging 164.2 rushing yards per game in 2010. That average dropped to 118.3 yards per contest, 15th in the NFL, last season with Charles missing most of the year.

Charles is expected to be available for the start of training camp next week, but how much action will the Pro Bowler initially receive in his return from left knee surgery?

The Chiefs took extra caution with Charles this spring, holding the home run hitter out of offseason practices. Also, Peyton Hillis was added to help shoulder the rushing workload in 2012.

It was an offseason approach that left Charles chomping at the bit to return.

“When they let that cape off me, I’m ready to go,” Charles said as the Chiefs wrapped up June’s mandatory minicamp. “I’m ready to put my cleats back on and punish everybody in my way.”

In addition to expanding options the in the run game, Hillis’ arrival also allows the Chiefs to gradually increase Charles’ work as the preseason and regular season move forward. The key question is how expedited that process will be?

Charles has logged 20 or more carries just seven times during his 49-game NFL career and it’s often debated whether his frame will ever allow him to be a consistent 20-carry per game runner.

However, Charles has also averaged 7.1 yards per carry in the games he’s received at least 20 rushing attempts. His average falls to 5.6 yards per attempt when receives less than 20 carries. Good numbers either way, but interesting that he’s been more efficient with a higher workload.

2) Will Dexter McCluster still factor into the run game?

Probably.

McCluster is just too versatile, and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll values game-specific matchups far too much, to declare McCluster’s days as a running back over.

The Chiefs worked McCluster out of the slot this spring, but the position change appeared more exploratory than permanent. In addition, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin were both working as outside receivers during Dwayne Bowe’s contract-related absence.

It was a natural time to get McCluster work at 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.

McCluster spent the 2011 campaign exclusively at running back and hadn’t practiced at wide receiver since the end of his rookie season.

“It opens it up for us to be able to use him however and whenever,” Crennel added. “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.”

The development and availability of draft picks Cyrus Gray and Devon Wylie could also factor into the decision where McCluster gets utilized most.

3) What approach with the Chiefs take at fullback?

This is one of the most interesting position battles heading into training camp, and one we’ve already covered at length this offseason. New OC Brian Daboll has several options at the position.

Related: What role will fullback play in KC's offense under Brian Daboll?

Related: Expecting increased competition at Chiefs training camp

Kansas City currently carries two fullbacks on its roster, though both are untested in NFL game action. Former seventh-round draft pick Shane Bannon will battle undrafted rookie Taylor Gentry for the job if Daboll opts for a traditional, hard-nosed blocking fullback.

If not, the Chiefs could try and use a tight end in a hybrid role much like Daboll used Charles Clay last year in Miami.

Peyton Hillis also has fullback experience, but the Daboll showed no signs of utilizing him at the position this offseason. Of course we haven’t seen Hillis paired with Charles in the same backfield yet either. 

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