Kansas City Chiefs relying on revitalized run game to jump-start offense

By Matt Derrick, The Sports Xchange  |  Aug. 20, 2017 at 5:51 PM
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Chiefs head coach threw down the gauntlet heading into the team's second preseason game at Cincinnati, charging his offensive line and running backs to improve on the paltry 31 yards on 14 carries posted in their preseason game a week ago.

"I told the guys we were going to run the ball a little more, and they took it as a challenge," Reid said. "They handled it and did well."

The Chiefs ran all over the Bengals Saturday night, piling up 228 yards on 33 carries, good for a brisk 6.9 yards per clip.

"They all have really played pretty good," Reid said. "I was happy with how they handled themselves."

The Kansas City rushing attacked ranked in the middle of the pack a year ago, finishing 15th in the NFL with 1,748 rushing yards, 13th in touchdowns with 15 and 16th with 4.2 yards per carry.

That marked a precipitous decline from the year before, when Jamaal Charles, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware helped the Chiefs tally more than 2,000 yards and ranked No. 1 in the league with 19 touchdowns.

The 2016 season saw Charles limited to a mere 12 carries, and now the team must move on without the franchise's all-time leading rusher.

Ware, who led the team with 921 rushing yards a year ago, returns as the incumbent starter. Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy calls Ware the workhorse of the group.

"He is just a consistent professional player," Bieniemy said.

West battled a high ankle sprain last season. He returns hoping to recapture his 2015 form when he led the team in rushing with 634 yards following a season-ending injury to Charles.

"Charcandrick is one of my favorite guys," Reid said. "He comes to work every day with a smile on his face and loves to play."

The Chiefs also added two new faces to the mix, third-round draft pick Kareem Hunt and eight-year veteran C.J. Spiller. Hunt brings bounce and elusiveness to the position, while Spiller adds savvy and experience.

Hunt received the bulk of the time with the first-team offense against Cincinnati, picking up 40 yards rushing on eight carries while adding three catches out of the backfield for 23 yards. He appears in line to receive substantial playing time in the regular season.

"I wanted to see him, and I wanted him to see the speed of the game against a good defense," Reid said.

The Chiefs like what they see from Hunt so far. Toledo's all-time leading rusher piled up 4,945 rushing yards in college. He also demonstrated expanded pass-catching skills as a senior, catching 41 passes for 403 yards.

What Reid may like most of all about Hunt, however, is a willingness and ability to pass block, which remains a must in the coach's West Coast offense.

"Carrying the ball you have a pretty good idea what they're going to do for the most part," Reid said. "But that protection when it's a bang-bang thing and you can't repeat the play and teach them and all that, it's for real as they say, that was good to see him execute there."

Spiller brings a different look to the position. Five years removed from his only 1,000-yard rushing season in the NFL, Spiller believes he's finally healthy once again and can reach the speed he needs to be effective.

"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."

But it's experience and patience that makes the biggest difference between Spiller now and the former feature back in Buffalo.

"I'm getting very comfortable with every aspect of our offense," Spiller said. "I feel that I understand our playbook, and that allows me to play fast. My reads of the defense are getting quicker too."

Reid remains pleased with all four running backs, and the tight-competition could spell a difficult roster decision as the Chiefs prepare for their opening week Thursday night visit to New England. The team normally carries just three running backs plus fullback Anthony Sherman.

"If we can only keep three, somebody's going to get a heck of a player," Reid said. "If we can keep all four, that's great. But we'll have to see how that goes down the road here."

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