Who Is Next At RB … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs

So just who will get the opportunities that once went to Jamaal Charles in the Chiefs offense?

Will it be the 33-year old Thomas Jones? Does the diminutive Dexter McCluster get the extra touches? Or does FB Le’Ron McClain see his chances with the ball significantly increase?

Sitting out in San Diego, the Chargers and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky are trying to figure out what’s going to happen as well. But there is also an offensive staff with the Chiefs that are still trying to piece together how to approach the San Diego defense without Charles.

“Going forward we’ve got a good group of running backs – we’ve got a couple that can play fullback and be runners,” head coach Todd Haley said. “As down as they are about their teammate, they’re excited about the opportunity and they’re raring to go, starting with Thomas Jones, who obviously has been the leader of this group.

“We’ve probably been cast off by most everybody but not by the guys that are going to out there on the field.”

The trio of backs couldn’t be more different within their group. Jones is the wily veteran, one of the most productive backs in the league over the last decade. This might be the final season of his career and at the age of 33, his number of touches will have to be monitored closely. McCluster is the baby of the group and his activity must be watched because his small frame makes him prone to injuries and possibly fumbles. He’s had two in the first two games of the season.

“I say sometimes Dexter is his own worst enemy because he’s 160 pounds and he is a tough guy,” Haley said. “You’ve got a guy that’s a talented player that is trying to make a difference and that’s part of being a smart player – knowing when to say to say when; knowing what you are and what your role is; and you can’t take everybody on every play.

“That’s something you love about Dexter but at the same time, it’s something he needs to and will learn and I believe he’s learning it, right now. It’s been under fire and the hard way, but he’s a great kid that wants to be part of the solution here.”

Watching how the Chiefs coaches reacted over the final three quarters last Sunday and how they generally approach preparing offensive game plans each week, replacing Charles figures to be a group effort.

Against the Lions the offense spent more time in a two-back set than one back. The combinations were endless after Charles left the game halfway through the first quarter. At times Jones and McCluster were on the field together. At other points it was McClain and McCluster, and Jones with McClain. Both Jones and McClain were in one-back sets with two tight ends.

By the time it was all done, McCluster and Jones had 12 touches each, while McClain had half that.

But those six touches were six more than he had in the season opener, when he was apparently forgotten in the offensive game plan.

“It goes back to this season having its own unique variables,” Haley said. “He was a guy that wasn’t ever part of this team before late July or early August and then had some work to do. We’ve seen a transformation from Le’Ron physically and he just got himself ready to play. He was just a little behind the eight-ball starting out, it was just part of this season for us and some of the things we were trying to get ready and trying to do.

“But now I’m excited about him and I just think you’ll see more and more of him, number one as a fullback, but he’s a versatile guy – he’s a good pass catcher, he’s a talented runner and he’s a good blocker.”

Day No. 1 of San Diego week brought no changes for McClain, according to him. His work in practice all came at fullback.

“That’s the position they talked to me about when I came here and that’s what I am,” McClain said.

But a few seasons ago, McClain was asked to become something more than just a fullback. Over the last six games of the 2008 season, he became the No. 1 runner for the Baltimore Ravens. Over those last six regular season games, he carried the ball 18, 25, 20, 23, 22 and 25 times, an average of 22 carries per game. Over those six games he ran for 531 yards, an average of four yards per carry.

His big performance in that streak of a half-dozen games came at Dallas, when he ran for 139 yards on 22 carries, including an 82-yard touchdown run.

Since that late season role as the top back, McClain has never had more than six carries in a game or nine touches. It was a point of contention between him and the Ravens coaching staff that made a big investment in Ray Rice that’s paid off well for them. But it’s one of the reasons McClain was not a factor in re-signing with Baltimore.

He’s ready to do whatever is asked of him going forward.

Haley is obviously comfortable with the running backs he has and there’s no doubt in his mind that he has enough at running back to run the ball the way he’d like to run it.

“I’m excited about these guys and they’re excited,” Haley said. “We were carrying slightly heavy anyway at running back and we do have versatility there which is a good thing. Le’Ron can do both (fullback/halfback) and Jackie Battle can and has done both. One of them (McCluster) can play a little receiver in a pinch and I think numbers-wise, we’re where we need to be. If that changes, we’ll surely try to make it different.”

That’s why they’ve been looking at running backs all week, from a grizzled NFL veteran like Sammy Morris, to former Chiefs fullback Mike Cox. Along with Jalen Parmalee, Chris Jennings and Dimitri Nance, they’ve all been to the Chiefs facility for workouts.

Right now, it appears that they’ll go with what they have, led by Jones, McCluster and McClain.

10 Responses to “Who Is Next At RB … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • September 22, 2011  - Michael says:

    Great article, Bob. However, I’m not sure why there is so much focus on the offense with the defense the way it is. The Chiefs were not a 40 point team, even with Charles and Moeaki on the field. The secondary is a disaster, McGraw is awful, and it just seems the whole unit is out of place. Romeo is still the coordinator, yes?

    Would like to hear your observations on the subject.

    It’s like they under went a BKA in the off-season and are still being asked to run the 400. Can’t they get one of those cool spring feet the sprinters wear? Hell, I’d carve them a peg leg it I thought it would help.


  • September 22, 2011  - el cid says:

    Ever wonder why every player that Haley gets has to work himself into shape? I think it is just how Haley sees players, in general, and his job put together a team. Just odd how there has not been one player in three years who not been “transformed and made ready to play” after joining the Chiefs.

  • September 22, 2011  - RW says:

    What, no Larry Johnson sightings? Kidding everyone. My over/under for Haley getting the ax is now set at 5 games into the 2011 season, conveniently putting us right up to the bye week.

    As to the RB issue, it would take a second coming of Barry Sanders to create the kind of impact to turn this bunch around. Might as well pound McClain and spell him with Jones which might earn a few first downs and keep the defense relatively fresh when they go back on the field all too often.

  • September 22, 2011  - Tenand6 says:

    McClain has to get on the field. That guy is a talented tailback. I remember when Vermeil and Saunders kept Priest Holmes on the sidelines for the first five games the year he was brought in. It made no sense. Give McClain the ball.

  • September 22, 2011  - el cid says:

    Many will remember when Stram ran out two TEs and no WR, all injuried, and killed the raiders. It was for one game only but team can hide shortcomings for a game or two. Does Haley have a bag of tricks? Just win one game and things can change. Not headed for the superbowl but at least we would not be jokes on the jay leno show.

  • September 22, 2011  - jim says:

    We’ll see Sunday if Haley is a one trick pony or not. Love to see McClain get 15 touches and catch 2-3 balls. And yeah, it’s curious to me too that everybody coming in has to “get ready and prepared to play football for the Chiefs”.

  • September 22, 2011  - leonard says:

    All palyers who have not been actice in training camp, and preseason have to get themselves into playing shape. You guys just make crap up to complain about. We have talented backs. Getting the right mix of plays is the trick. It hurt losing Charles, but we are no devoid of talent at Back. Michael, you are right we have given up alot of points, but you can’t blame them all on the defense, You can not turn the ball over 5, 6 times a game and expect the defense to not get worn out, and give up points.

  • September 22, 2011  - Chuck says:

    I think the “key” to this game is Phillip Rivers. If he is on target with his receiving corp it will be a long day and there won’t be much we can do to change that. If we can get some kind of “pressure” on Rivers that would be our only hope. But in the first 2 games we have been very void of any pressure on the QB. Don’t know why but it just hasn’t been there.

  • September 22, 2011  - el cid says:

    I think it may be more of a case of run the ball or die. If the SD team can get up by 10 points the game is probably over. Low scoring, tough defense, field position with punting and we have a chance, fumble a lot and not chance.

  • September 22, 2011  - Michael says:

    Damn, it almost sounds like a choice between a slow death and a quick one.

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