KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A three-headed running back now resides in the Chiefs’ backfield as the team looks to replace Jamaal Charles, who is out for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee.
While the exact roles – much less the identified starter – among Charcandrick West, Knile Davis and Spencer Ware has yet to be determined, the Chiefs plan to utilize each player going forward.
“We’ve got a little bit of a committee thing going,” coach Andy Reid said. “I can’t sit here and tell you which one’s going to start or not start. There’s a chance they all play. We’ll just see how it works out throughout the week.”
The Chiefs ground game provides a different look without Charles, a two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowl selection, and it wouldn’t surprise to see a drop in production.
But Sunday’s opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, won’t overlook the Chiefs’ backfield just because Charles isn’t suiting up.
“I think the running game will be similar to what it has been,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday in a conference call with Chiefs beat writers. “You know, the thing with Charles, I think West is very similar to him, and I remember Davis has had some very, very good games. So, I don’t think it’s going to change a whole lot. Obviously, Jamaal Charles is a great player. I’m sure they’ll miss him in a lot of things, but these other guys are very, very capable backs.”
Reid has experience utilizing a backfield committee in his 17 years as a head coach, and he intends to put the players in a position to succeed based on individual strengths within the offense.
The 5-10, 205-pound West offers explosive speed and receiving skills out of the backfield; the 5-10, 227-pound Davis provides power and downhill running; and the 5-10, 229-pound Ware offers versatility at tailback and fullback.
“I’ve been in this situation before where I kind of did running back by committee,” Reid said. “What you do is you play to their strengths and give them opportunities to show and help the football team.”
Reid’s last statement captures the trio’s approach as they look to fill Charles’ shoes.
And to a player, they’re fine with sharing carries and displaying a uniformed front surrounding what they offer the offense.
“I’m just going to do what I’m asked to do,” said West, whose 48 yards rushing ranks third on the team behind Charles (364) and quarterback Alex Smith (109).
Ware, who was elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man active roster, basically echoed his backfield teammate.
“I’m just looking forward to any way to help out my team,” Ware said on the opportunity to see playing time.
Of the trio, Davis offers the most experience with appearances in 37 career games and two starts, totaling 732 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns on 215 carries.
The third-year pro, however, saw his snaps on offense dwindle the past two games as West gained increased playing time behind Charles.
Davis, who didn’t record an offensive snap in Week 4 and had four snaps in Week 5, said he remained patient and worked extra on catching the ball out of the backfield every day after practice with a jugs machine.
Still, he admits losing snaps in recent weeks wasn’t easy.
“It’s real tough, especially when you put a lot of work into it,” Davis said. “But at the same time, sometimes you just have to sacrifice for the better of the team. And that’s kind of where I was, but now I’ve got an opportunity to play so I’m excited.”
While Davis, West and Ware are unique in their respective skillsets, the blocking schemes aren’t likely to change.
Starting left tackle Donald Stephenson said each running back proved their worth throughout training camp and the preseason. Those individual performances offer confidence the blockers won’t be asked to alter too much.
“We approach it the same and just believe they can make plays for us,” Stephenson said. “Maybe the plays will change a little bit, but we approach it the same. We know those guys can make one cut and be gone. We try to block it as good as if 25 (Charles) is back there.”
Starting right guard Zach Fulton agreed with Stephenson.
“We just have to go out and execute our blocks no matter what,” Fulton said. “It doesn’t change too much. We still have to do the same thing as far as technique-wise and getting on the right guys as far as executing.”
The tough reality of life without Charles officially begins Sunday.
And part of the process includes installing plays designed to cater to West, Davis and Ware with hopes of ending a four-game losing streak that has the Chiefs sitting on a 1-4 record.
“We still have to put together our nickel, goal line, short-yardage, red zone – all those things still are coming,” Reid said. “We’ll just see how it rolls, that’s kind of how you go. They all have their certain things they’re going to be asked to do and we expect them to get in there and do a good job.”
Whatever comes their way, the Chiefs’ three-headed running back is ready to answer the call and do whatever is necessary to help the offense while putting individual statistics aside.
“We’re running backs, we do the same thing every day,” West said. “In this offense you have to know every position. So I feel like there’s no different skillset, we’re all running backs.”