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Next Man Up

Posted Oct 14, 2011

Jackie Battle isn't the only player the Chiefs have seen step up this season

Heading into the bye weekend, RB Jackie Battle is the latest poster-boy of player development.

Unlike his first four seasons in the NFL, Battle’s breakout performance against the Colts was impossible to miss. The measuring stick of national recognition comes in fantasy football leagues where Battle is the hottest waiver wire addition of the week despite the Chiefs not playing again until October 23rd.

Both Battle and head coach Todd Haley credit the Chiefs strength and conditioning program as a critical factor in his development.

“Early on he did a great job of buying in to the offseason and conditioning,” Haley remembered. “He lost a ton of weight.”

“When I first got here I was a big boy,” Battle added. “I weighed about 255-ish and they wanted me to get down to about 238 (pounds), but I’m capable of carrying more than that so they have me at about 242 (pounds) right now.

“I feel quicker. My straight-line speed feels about the same, but I feel a little quicker and shifty.”

Battle runs a sub-4.5 40-yard dash and the extra work he’s done with running backs coach Maurice Carthon got the most from of his size and speed in Indianapolis.

But Battle’s emergence isn’t just about his own hard work. It’s the current peak stemming from a larger base of reserve players who’ve been asked to show their development and step-up over the past two weeks for various reasons.

Donald Washington is an easy contributor to miss, but first game as an every-down player was clutch in the Chiefs victory over Minnesota two weeks ago. With Eric Berry on injured reserve and Jon McGraw inactive with a sore knee, Washington drew the start and played a load of snaps at strong safety.

Washington moved to safety last season after beginning his NFL career as a cornerback.

Keary Colbert is another player whose contributions may not get much press, but have been among the most important on the team over the first five games.

Jonathan Baldwin’s preseason thumb injury forced Steve Breaston to become more flexible as both an inside and outside receiver. Relying on Breaston as an outside threat left an inside void when the Chiefs went with three wide receiver sets.

Had Baldwin been healthy, it’s debatable whether Colbert would have made the club’s 53-man roster out of training camp. Colbert has instead become one of the NFL’s rarest of comeback stories after spending the last two seasons out of football and the 2010 campaign as a tight ends coach at USC. His emergence in the slot has allowed the Chiefs to keep McCluster at running back.

“We’ve asked (Colbert) to do a lot of different things,” Haley said. “He got into the backfield a couple of times and was cutting off or trying to cut off defensive ends (because of an injury to FB Le’Ron McClain). The one third down (catch) there on the fringe was just a tremendous, tremendous route.

“He likes (playing) inside and he has a very good feel for how to play the game inside in that slot position. He’s done a tremendous job and he’s continued to improve, which is a good sign.”

Colbert has been particularly effective on third-down crossing patterns and figures to remain part of the Chiefs plans once Baldwin is activated.

“I’m not worried about my role,” Colbert said of the potential impact Baldwin’s return might have on playing time. “I’m more excited about what (Baldwin) will do for our offense and for our team.”

McCluster is another player who the Chiefs have asked to do more this season.

A player without a position last season, he’s this year’s leader in total touches after working with Carthon to become a full-time running back. McCluster will remain a major part of the Chiefs offensive plans even after the emergence of Battle.

“We’re putting Dexter in some pretty big spots and even some protection spots where we’re asking a lot of him,” Haley said.

As Battle is worked more into the offensive plan, the Chiefs hope it will only increase the effectiveness of McCluster’s use.

The Chiefs have also asked second-year G Jon Asamoah to grow up quickly. He was thrust into a starting role following the departure of Brian Waters and has shown unmistakable improvement each game he’s added to his resume.

Asamoah may have turned in the best performance of his young career last weekend against the Colts.

“I felt [he was] kind of an unsung hero in this last game – really the last two games, in my opinion – this last game especially just because of the yardage we were able to accumulate running and he’s been right at the heart of that,” Haley said. “He’s another young, second-year, developing player that missed an offseason this year, although he’s a very hard worker on his own.”

As we pause for an idle weekend, the development of Kansas City’s unsung players shouldn’t go unnoticed. Especially after injuries viciously bit the Chiefs in the early goings of this young season.

Jovan Belcher has continued to grow into his role as a second-year starter after joining the team as an undrafted rookie out of Maine three seasons ago.

Kendrick Lewis is another, forced to take on much more defensive responsibility because of Berry’s season-ending knee injury.

Cory Greenwood remains one of the Chiefs top special teamers despite not playing American football until May of 2010.

Whether the contributions are obvious like Battle, or unsung like Asamoah, the Chiefs will continue to rely on the development of young players and the contribution of reserves following the bye week.

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