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New Workload For Chiefs Running Backs

Posted Sep 21, 2011

Dividing the workload in the Chiefs backfield following the loss of Jamaal Charles

Much like the loss of Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry made the Chiefs secondary a work in progress, the season-ending knee injury to All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles places Kansas City’s backfield in an algebraic state.

Berry isn’t replaceable via a one-for-one personnel swap and neither is Charles.

“I’m not really sure,” QB Matt Cassel answered when asked if Charles’ injury would send the Chiefs offense in a new direction. “That’s probably a better question for coach, just based on, from a personnel standpoint, who’s out there and a game plan from the week-in, week-out basis.”

It now appears to be a running back by committee situation in Kansas City. We know the candidates. It’s just that nobody is quite sure how Charles’ touches will be divided.

Dexter McCluster is the choice that aligns most similar to Charles’ skill sets. Though McCluster lacks the breakaway speed possessed by Charles, he’s just as shifty and can fit into many of the same personnel packages.

Following a productive preseason, McCluster has quietly become the Chiefs most productive offensive player through the first two games of the season. That’s not saying much considering the current state of the Chiefs, but McCluster’s offensive involvement is clearly heavier than it was a year ago when he bounced back and forth between slot receiver and running back.

Through two games, McCluster leads the Chiefs in rushing attempts (12), rushing yards (93), yards per carry (7.8), longest rush (24 yards) and receptions (9).

McCluster is a clear candidate to receive a heavier workload, but he’s also had issues securing the football. His two fumbles in as many games have been costly. Each turnover resulted in an opponent touchdown and his fumble on the season’s opening kick was no way to begin defense of the AFC West crown.

In addition, the Chiefs entered 2011 preferring to give McCluster between eight and 10 touches per game. He’s already at the higher end of that projected workload and his smaller frame is an injury concern with an increase in touches.

After Charles exited Sunday’s game, veteran Thomas Jones was the runner who saw the biggest increase in carries. After hearing his number called only twice in the season opener, Jones led the Chiefs with 12 rushing attempts in Detroit.

Physically, Jones is the best candidate for an increase in workload. He hasn’t missed a game since 2005 and rarely fumbles the football. With turnovers plaguing the Chiefs, ball security is nothing to overlook.

Jones was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2009 and won the AFC rushing title as the N.Y. Jets’ workhorse in 2008.

Then there’s FB Le’Ron McClain. He’s a guy who’s been through all of this once before and busted out of injury ashes to keep Baltimore’s rushing attack afloat in 2008. He earned Pro Bowl invitations, just like Jones, in 2008 and 2009.

McClain’s career-year came in 2008 when Willis McGahee’s injury-plagued season called on McClain to be the Ravens’ primary ball carrier. He finished with a team-high 902 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry.

Though he was brought to Kansas City as a fullback, injuries can always change the blueprint for a season. McClain saw his workload increase last week and finished with a season-high four rushing attempts.

Special teams standout Jackie Battle could also see his offensive role increase as well. Battle spent much of 2010 as the Chiefs short-yardage back and served as a versatile fullback in Haley’s first season as head coach before landing on injured reserve.

Just like Berry, Charles is an irreplaceable talent. Losing his services is a major blow to the team. The rash of recent injuries is part of a dark cloud currently hovering over the Kansas City Chiefs. When it rains, it pours.

But unlike the safety position, the Chiefs roster alternate running backs who have served as primary ball carries, and earned All-Pro honors, within the last two years. Each candidate brings something different to the table.

It’s going to take a collective effort, and then some, to replace Charles. For now, it looks like a running back by committee situation in Kansas City.

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