After bouncing back and forth between slot receiver and running back as a rookie,
McCluster is still officially listed on the Chiefs roster as a wide receiver, but his primary offensive role will come at running back.
“There is a clear-cut vision for him right now,” Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley said. “He’s a guy that we knew had versatility to do both – he did both in college and he’s been very productive in both areas at different times, along with the returning.
“But I think being that slot receiver, from a learning-standpoint, takes some time when you haven’t lined up and done it for four years in college. Knowing we were going to miss an off-season, I thought that would be a potential setback for him.”
McCluster has practiced at running back throughout training camp and played the position exclusively in each of the Chiefs first two preseason games.
“I thought it was encouraging to see Dexter kind of step into and start to find a little role,” Haley said. “I thought he made a number of plays (vs. Baltimore), seven touches or so in there that I thought were kind of exciting, good things for us as a team, good things for him.”
Against Baltimore, McCluster saw plenty of action as a third-down back when working with the first-team offense. He appeared in seven of nine third-down snaps throughout the first half, but to pigeon-hole McCluster as a third-down back would be inaccurate.
McCluster recorded seven touches against the Ravens, finishing the night as Kansas City’s second-leading rusher (4 carries for 24 yards) and receiver (3 catches for 47 yards). Though he was a big part of the Chiefs third-down packages, six of his seven touches occurred on first or second down.
If anything, McCluster serves as more of a multi-task running back than a third-down back.
“The other night, that excited me,” Haley said. “Seven touches, to me it’s four or five runs and four or five catches and however many snaps that takes that doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as this guy clearly in space is a hazard to the defense.”
The mismatch opportunity that McCluster creates out of the backfield is something the Chiefs coaching staff will look to scheme throughout the regular season. While McCluster was effective out of the slot on several occasions last season, he’s best plays came when lined up in the backfield.
McCluster is at his best when the football hits his hands in the open field. Lining up in the backfield should increase his number of touches he receives in space.
“He probably got a little worked up the other night, even and we left some things out on the field, and we didn’t throw it to him a couple times where we (could have) had touchdowns,” Haley said.
McCluster was able to display his receiving threat as a running back on a TD reception last year against San Francisco. On that play, he easily slipped past LB Travis LaBoy in the flat before leaping over three defenders to cap off the 31-yard TD reception.
The downside to McCluster lining up as a running back is his 5-8, 170-pound frame limiting him in pass protection.
The only sack
“There’s no question to me, I’ve seen enough in practice that Dexter physically will stand in there with anybody,” Haley said. “But there is some learning that’s involved and the technique and how you want to do it. I know he’s being well coached on it and I believe he’ll figure it out.”
As McCluster works to become a comlete player, Haley believes the positives of McCluster’s backfield presence far outweigh the negatives. This year, McCluster’s role is much more defined. He’s clearly a running back.
“That guy, you can say he has to protect, protect, protect, but they also have to cover him, cover him, cover him,” Haley said. “I think you can handle it a couple different ways.”