Remember when the Chiefs signed Kendrell Bell? I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It seemed like such a great move. And the fan base, naturally, was psyched*. Unfortunately, as so often happens in sports, things didn’t go as planned. Bell had never fully recovered from a season-ending shoulder injury suffered with the Steelers in 2004. 2005 showed us a shell of a man, unable to make plays or even get to them. He was a total non-factor. It was unfortunate, but it was obvious: Bell was washed up at 25.
*Check out the official Kendrell Bell website. Still up-and-running. “The hardest hitter in the league is now the hardest hitter on the web!” I got a good laugh out of that. I also voted in the online poll. The question was “do you think the Chiefs made good moves in preparation for the 2009 season?” I voted no. There are now three votes for no and one for yes, which the site has broken down to 74.4% no and 25.6% yes. Presumably there is a .6% margin of error. Also, why does this site have a poll about the 2009 Chiefs when Bell’s last year with the team was 2007? If it was just a graveyard that would be one thing, but someone was still updating it two years after he left? Some really weird stuff going on in that site. I put it in my favorites, and will be visiting once weekly, preferably on the sabbath. If someone is still checking the site’s stat counter I want them to know I’m there.
And then a funny thing happened. Bell was brought back for another year. Rather than admit their mistake, the Chiefs embraced it. They started talking about unleashing him in 2006. He was referred to as a pass-rush specialist despite getting only one sack in 2005. Kendrell Bell wasn’t the problem, he was the solution.
Of course that isn’t how it worked out. Bell was just as bad in 2006. Hardly surprising considering, you know, he still had the same DNA and everything. But we went through the motions. An entire second season full of painful-to-watch starts (and one more sack). Finally, mercifully, another injury endEd Bell‘s career in 2007. The Chiefs finally had a way to sweep their horrendous mistake under the rug without having to admit they were wrong. The perfect crime. Bell was promptly executed in the dungeons below Arrowhead.
How is this relevant? Well, I assume you’ve read the title. Thom Jones will be back in 2011. And, dig this gang: he’s going to be even better than he was in 2010! The rest of the league is officially on notice.
I’m not gonna throw Gretz a link because I hear his blog crashes when people do that, but the Chiefs’ favorite reporter had an enlightening pow-wow with Todd Haley recently which was detailed in a post entitled “Tweaking the running game.” Haley talks about Jones dropping a few pounds, saying this should help the 56-year-old running back regain some of his quickness. You know, the same quickness he had in his twenties, when he averaged under four yards per carry? Yeah, we want that guy back. In fact, we need him. The league’s best duo won’t survive without him. It’s not like we could’ve gotten that 3.7 yards per carry from just anyone.
Haley goes on to talk about how he wants to use Dexter McCluster more as a third down back, and how the running game should further improve under newly promoted old man/offensive coordinator Bill Muir. So let’s recap the tweaks planned for 2011:
1) Lighter Thom Jones
2) McCluster on third downs
3) Older, less talented offensive coordinator
Sounds like he’s got it all pretty well figured out, right? Jones, McCluster, Muir, yep, thats everyone. Except, wait a minute……wasn’t there some other guy? Kind of a show-off? Lacking in both grit and intangibles? Seemed to think the key to a good running game was gaining yards? God, I hated him. Definitely not “right 53″ material. What was that guy’s name again?
All kidding aside, here’s what Haley had to say about Jamaal Charles:
It is very important to understand that he is a developing player. He did not come into the league a complete back. He had a lot of work to do…..I think he has a great chance to continue to develop.
Is it possible Haley still doesn’t know what he has in Charles? I mean the guy had the best running back in the league last year and he’s spending the offseason daydreaming about Thomas Jones‘ weight. And not only that, he wants McCluster, not Charles, to be the third-down back. We can now add McCluser to the list of people Haley would rather see get the ball than the best running back in the league. Since Haley took over, non-Charles running backs have averaged 3-and-a-half yards per carry. Charles has averaged over six. Guess which group has more carries?
Look, I don’t want to start the Jones/Charles debate again. Everyone recognizes Charles was amazing last year, and all but the blindest of us are willing to admit Jones was terrible. Sure, Beast Nation did its best to invent plausible excuses (speculation is allowed only when it attempts to justify Haley and Pioli’s actions). Leadership and intangibles, those old war-horses, were trotted out again and again. But we all know the score at this point. The “best duo in the league” was comprised of one good, young runner and one bad, old runner.
For the sake of argument, lets say we really did need to give Jones the ball 259 times to keep Charles fresh. Does that really mean we have to do so again in 2011? Surely we can find someone else who can do something positive with the ball, right? Those guys are all over the place. Acting like a 33-year-old, who was never quick, is somehow going to find the fountain of youth….I mean that just seems negligent to me. Am I being overly critical here?
Here’s what I’d like to see happen in 2011: Charles gets a few more touches. Not 100 more, but a few. McCluster also steps up a bit in the running game, but does not become the primary third-down back*. Jackie Battle picks up a few carries per game in short yardage situation. Thom Jones, if indeed we must be subjected to him again, touches the ball no more than 10 times per game, and only in the ABSOLUTE LEAST IMPORTANT situations. If we’re either up big or down big, use him. Otherwise, bury him behind our running backs who can actually run. All that precious locker-room leadership Jones brings will remain intact. After all, the locker-room isn’t the field. And Jones, being such a great person and teammate, would surely be happy to accept a reduced role for the greater good, right? I mean, thats what leaders/heroes do.
*Jamaal Charles should be getting the ball as often as possible on third down. Why is that so hard for Haley to understand?
I wish I was confident this would happen. Unfortunately, the past has taught me otherwise. Todd Haley likes his starting running backs to be old and bad. And our new offensive coordinator is a 68-year-old former line coach. Unbelievably, it looks like we may be in for another 200+ carries from Thom Jones.
One day, football society will have reached a point where coaches and GMs are able to publicly admit their most obvious mistakes and correct them. I hope I’m alive to see that. Looking less likely every year.