Starting jobs, specialty roles and roster spots will be up for grabs when the Kansas City Chiefs open training camp on July 26. Coaches love to promote competition during training camp and will even manufacture it in the absence of the real thing.
Romeo Crennel and the coaching staff might have to do a little of competition manufacturing at the running back position because the Chiefs have a stable of quality running backs and the roles appear well-defined.
There is a question of health. Jamaal Charles will be two weeks shy of a year removed from an ACL injury when the season starts and may not be able to shoulder the load himself in 2012. The Chiefs brought in Peyton Hillis, figuring he'd bring thunder to the duo and could take the load and the pressure off of Charles, but Hillis had injury problems of his own in 2011 and missed six games. He was also ineffective when he was healthy and averaged only 3.6 yards per carry.
Many will equate Hillis' ineffectiveness with the inept offense in Cleveland and lack of complimentary players and a division known for having stingy defenses. That's fair, but it's up to Hillis to prove 2010 was not a fluke.
Behind Hillis on the depth chart will be running back turned wide receiver turned running back turned wide receiver Dexter McCluster. McCluster has been worked a slot receiver during organized team activities and figures to get plenty of work as a receiver as long as Charles and Hillis are healthy.
In 2012, McCluster shouldered a third of the running load with Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle after Charles was injured, but the addition of Hillis opens up McCluster to play slot receiver again and to return punts as well as his usual kicks.
Charles has an outstanding career yards per carry average of 6.1, but it has been said it takes two full years to regain the explosion the player had prior to the injury, and it's that explosive ability that makes Charles so good. Expect the Chiefs to go with a two-back system and try to limit Charles to 60 percent of the carries with Hillis getting the rest.
McCluster will be limited only a few carries barring injury, but he was effective in that role in 2012 and the Chiefs know how dangerous he can be in space. The Chiefs may shift more touches to McCluster if Charles lacks some of his explosive burst, whether that be in the passing or running game.
Hillis will draw the short-yardage carries because of his size and strength. Hillis runs like a battering ram and churns his feet after contact and is a great candidate to get the tough yards for the Chiefs. Hillis could also find himself getting third down work because he is also capable receiver and pass blocker.
The Chiefs have three other running backs on the roster, but they have no NFL experience and aren't projected to make the roster. If one of the three running backs were to get injured in training camp, the Chiefs would likely look for viable free agents.
The Chiefs have two fullbacks on the roster: 2011 seventh-round draft pick Shane Bannon and 2012 undrafted free agent Taylor Genty. Bannon spent the year on the team's injured list in 2011, and Gentry is a former walk-on at North Carolina State.
Either player has a chance to earn the one and only fullback job on the roster, and the other could find themselves on the practice squad in 2012. Both are big-bodied blocking fullbacks that can catch the occasional pass.