Kansas City Chiefs: Evaluating All of the Running Backs After Friday's Game
Romeo Crennel's job as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs just got more difficult, but that is exactly what he wants. Crennel wants his players to go full speed in the preseason. Exhibition games or not, Crennel wants his players to take every game seriously and make progress.
The Chiefs saw just that out of their players and their running backs shined in their 27-17 win in their preseason opener over the Arizona Cardinals. The tough part about a head coach's job is having to carefully evaluate his players in the preseason if they all perform well. Crennel finds himself in that position as he has to look at his running backs and see who he wants to keep.
Luckily, there are three more preseason contests left for Crennel before having to make that big decision. How did the running backs pan out this past weekend against the Cardinals? Let me know your thoughts after reading this slideshow.
Those were the exact words of quarterback Matt Cassel when asked how it felt to have Jamaal Charles back. Cassel echoed the thoughts of every coach, player and Chiefs fan when stating that Charles' presence was nice to have.
Charles last game was 11 months ago, in which he suffered an ACL tear against the Detroit Lions on the opening drive in Week 2. The Chiefs missed Charles after he helped the team finish first in rushing in 2010.
Charles' knee managed to hold up this past weekend against the Cardinals. Charles ran three times for 12 yards and also caught a pass for 11, giving him a total of four touches as he eases his way back into playing football.
Peyton Hillis did not leave the Cleveland Browns on good terms, but has found new life in Kansas City.
Hillis is coming in to carry the duties given to Thomas Jones, who was not retained this past offseason. As a powerback, Hillis was given four carries for 41 yards including a big 28-yard run against the Cardinals Friday night. But his biggest play of the night came as a pass-catcher.
Hillis' defender went after Cassel, allowing him to catch the football with no players around him and cap off the opening drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass.
So far, Kansas City is loving their new running back.
Shaun Draughn was an unknown player after playing in only one game for the Chiefs last year. Former Chiefs running back Jackie Battle suffered an injury before the season finale, allowing Draughn to earn his NFL debut as a member of the Chiefs in Week 17.
But Draughn made a name for himself Friday night. He was busy working with multiple quarterbacks after receiving 12 carries for 26 yards. He also helped extend the Chiefs' lead to 14-0 with a rushing touchdown of his own. Draughn was not perfect, but he got himself a score, which is something Crennel wants.
The Chiefs had only five rushing touchdowns in 2011 and scored two alone in Friday's match. With Draughn being one of the contributors in scoring, Crennel likes what he sees in him and hopes to see improvement in him.
Cyrus Gray played his first NFL game and got a good taste of what it is like to play professionally. He got the most work in among all running backs on the team with 15 rushes for 65 yards, leading the team in carries and rushing in the first preseason game of the season.
The former Texas A&M had a solid debut and was thrilled when he helped the Chiefs extend their lead in the second half with a seven-yard run up the middle for a touchdown.
Look for Gray in Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams and see if he can duplicate his success. If he does, Crennel will consider him the top running back behind Charles and Hillis.
Nate Eachus was the least noticed running back Friday night after not receiving any touches. Undrafted after playing Division I-AA football at Colgate, Eachus may get a chance to shine in another game later this preseason.
While Gray did dominate Friday, Crennel still wants to see what Eachus is made out of and will give him that chance later this month.
It is hard to outline what the Chiefs plan on doing with their running backs this year.
The obvious players who will stay are Charles and Hillis. Behind them are Gray, Eachus and Draughn. But what role will Dexter McCluster carry? The Chiefs website currently lists him as a running back, which is what he played at Ole Miss before coming into the NFL in 2010. But McCluster was mostly a slot receiver in 2010 and that is his most important duty in 2012.
In 2011, he filled in at running back due to injuries and struggles from multiple players and helped the Chiefs out in that area.
McCluster was Cassel's most targeted receiver, connecting with him three times out of all three attempts. It may be one preseason game, but it does not appear that McCluster will get many touches lining up in the backfield this season.
Last year before the season opener against the Buffalo Bills, Jones, Charles and Battle were the running backs while McCluster was listed as a receiver on the depth chart. But with Crennel now as the head coach, the Chiefs may do things differently.