KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware left the team's preseason game at Seattle Friday night on a cart, throwing his availability for the opening of the season in doubt and providing a major test for the apparent depth of the team's backfield.
Ware appeared to stumble during a 6-yard run on the team's opening drive against the Seahawks. Head coach Andy Reid said after the game X-rays proved negative and the team awaited the results of an MRI before determining a course of action with the fourth-year running back.
"It is not one of those things that is clear-cut, end of the season or else I would tell you it was," Reid said. "That's not what it is right now."
The 2017 season appeared to be Ware's opportunity to break into the top tier of NFL backs. The 25 year old led the team with 921 yards rushing a year ago and added 33 catches for 447 yards. Injuries limited Ware to 14 games last season, the only thing standing between him and his first 1,000-yard season.
The Chiefs said goodbye during the offseason to Jamaal Charles, the franchise's all-time leading rusher. With Charles gone, the responsibility fell to Ware to lead the team's rushing attack.
Now the organization may need to turn to others in their crowded backfield. Charcandrick West, who rushed for 634 yards in a backup role in 2015, returns after an injury-riddled 2016 season. The team used a third-round selection in this year's draft on Kareem Hunt, the all-time leading rusher at Toledo. The club also signed free agent C.J. Spiller, a former 1,000-yard runner looking for a comeback from injuries of his own.
Reid said he trusts each of the backups for Ware.
"They all have their strengths for sure, things that you can utilize," Reid said. "They are all hard workers and smart kids, so that helps, too."
If Ware's injury keeps him out an extended period, the largest responsibility looks to fall on Hunt. The rookie showcased in training camp the toughness and bounce that allowed him to total 4,945 rushing yards in college at Toledo. He gathered 1,878 yards from scrimmage last season along with 11 touchdowns.
Reid said Hunt is his running back in Ware's absence.
"We have always rotated guys, and it will be no different in this case," Reid said. "He will be the next man up, yes."
Hunt rushed for 39 yards on nine carries against Seattle following Ware's departure. Hunt has 79 yards on 18 carries with four catches for 32 yards in three preseason games.
"For a young guy, you always tell them, 'You're one play away from being in there as the guy,'" Reid said. "He got that first hand tonight."
West and Spiller offer experienced alternatives behind Hunt. The 26-year-old West joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent from Abilene Christian in 2014. He struggled with a high-ankle sprain last season, but remains a valuable target in the passing game. West has 48 catches for 402 yards and three touchdowns in the last two seasons.
Reid counts West among his favorite players for his attitude.
"He is a good football player too," Reid said.
Spiller remains the wild card for the Chiefs in the backfield. The 30 year old found himself a NFL nomad the last three seasons. He collected just 420 yards rushing while playing for Buffalo, New Orleans, the New York Jets and Seattle since 2014.
The eighth-year pro seemed to demonstrate the same speed and elusiveness in training camp that allowed him to pile up 1,244 rushing yards for the Bills in 2012.
"I know I still have got some stuff left in the tank," Spiller said. "I just have to come out and try to showcase my skills."
Spiller believes his experience, however, makes him a different running back today. He credits Chiefs running back coach Eric Bieniemy with helping him learn patience.
"When I first got into this league everything was all speed, speed, speeding it up," Spiller said. "He's teaching me how to be very patient and let everything develop."
The Chiefs' apparent embarrassment of riches at running back prior to Ware's injury prompted Reid to answer the question if he could afford to keep four running backs on his opening-day roster.
"If we can only keep three then somebody is going to get a heck of a player," Reid said. "If we can keep all four that's great. We'll have to see how that goes down the road here."
With Ware's injury, that may no longer be a choice but a necessity.