Chiefs’ backup plan for Jamaal Charles’ knee injury includes in-house options

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The reality of life without Jamaal Charles has hammered home in the 24 hours since Charles went down Sunday with a possible ACL tear in his right knee.

Oct. 11, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs running back Charcandrick West (35) runs the ball against the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)
Oct. 11, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs running back Charcandrick West (35) runs the ball against the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

While the Chiefs await official confirmation, coach Andy Reid now has the unenviable task of attempting to fill the void and the search is underway.

“We’ll look in-house first before we go outside,” Reid told reporters during a Monday afternoon press conference. “I know (general manager) John (Dorsey) – I haven’t met with him today – got workouts going on with other positions. I’ll talk to him later today and see what his thoughts are, but we normally just look in-house first and go from there.”

Kansas City is scheduled to work out free agent Ben Tate and potentially other veterans on Tuesday. But the Chiefs have options on the active 53-man roster with running backs Charcandrick West and Knile Davis.

West, a 5-10, 205-pound speedster, emerged as the No. 2 running back the past two weeks. West took over Sunday in relief of Charles and finished the contest with 31 yards rushing on seven carries, adding a catch for 5 yards.

The second-year running back said after the game he is prepared for whatever the Chiefs ask of him.

“I’m just going to step up and do my part,” West said. “Whatever they call on me to do, I’m going to be there. It’s heartbreaking to see one of my friends go down, my brother go down. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m going to be ready to do that.”

The Chiefs could also look to second-year pro De’Anthony Thomas, who moved from the running back position to wide receiver during the offseason, or the practice squad to bolster depth.

“De’Anthony’s got running back possibility there, too, and experience,” Reid said. “And then we’ve got Spencer Ware on the practice squad who we know can play both tailback and fullback.”

The 5-8, 176-pound Thomas, an electric player in the open field, offers intrigue should he return to a running back role.

He rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries during his rookie season, and gained 1,890 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns on 243 carries during his college career at Oregon.

Thomas said after Sunday’s game he is comfortable returning to the backfield if deemed necessary in light of Charles’ knee injury.

“Wherever they put me,” Thomas said, “just go there and keep striving to do my best.”

Meanwhile, Reid appears at ease with the 5-10, 229-pound Ware should the Chiefs elevate the second-year pro from the practice squad.

“He’s worked very hard getting himself in that position,” Reid said. “We thought he had a good preseason and training camp. He had an opportunity to play both spots, which makes him valuable, obviously, that’s why we kept him. He’s got good hands, good blocker.”

Regardless what the Chiefs do at the running back position, finding ways to replace Charles’ production won’t be an easy task because of what he means to the offense.

The logical scenario should the team stand pat and not sign a free agent would be a running-by-committee with West and Davis, with Ware elevated to provide depth.

“They told us – me and Knile – we’re both going to play,” West said. “We both have to be ready to step up. We know our big brother went down, so it’s time for us to step up.”

Reid said the best method surrounds utilizing each player’s strength, pointing out the Chiefs had success in the past with Davis, who has started two games on his three-year career.

The 5-10, 227-pound Davis started the in Week 3 of 2014 with Charles nursing a high-ankle sprain and rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries.

And if it is West, Davis and Ware as the trio asked to share the load, Reid seemed comfortable with that approach given each player’s skillset.

“All three would be different if that were the case,” Reid said. “I mentioned before we have a lot of trust in Knile and he’s different, though, than what Jamaal was and what 35 (West) is.

“25 (Charles) and 35 are closer together than what Knile was as far as the quickness, the feet, the dancing, all that stuff. Knile is going to pound you and he’s got real good speed to go with that. I think when you look at Spencer, he’s probably has a combination of that, of the other two. He can play the power game, but he also has enough elusiveness there.”

Ultimately, Reid concedes the obvious when it comes to the Chiefs’ ground game in the absence of a two-time first-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl selection.

Charles leads the team in rushing with 364 yards and four touchdowns on 71 carries, and his 21 receptions for 177 yards ranks third.

The lost production won’t be easy to compensate regardless who is carrying the football.

“You’re not going to replace Jamaal,” Reid said. “He’s one of the best – really, when it’s all said and done – one of the best in the history of the game.”


Herbie Teope is the lead Chiefs beat writer for and The Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.