The Kansas City Chiefs ran their way to an AFC West Championship in 2010 but a year later, when star back Jamaal Charles went down with a season-ending ACL injury, the team seemed to lose their offensive identity.
In 2010, Charles teamed with veteran running back Thomas Jones. Both backs got off to a strong start and propelled the upstart Chiefs to a 3-0 record to start the season. As the season wore on, however, Jones’ age began to show and the Chiefs began to rely more and more on Charles.
Jones never found his swag again and so the loss of Charles the following season was a death blow. KC continued to try to run the ball with a platoon of Jackie Battle, Dexter McCluster and Jones but the results were average at best.
In 2012, however, Chiefs GM Scott Pioli doubled down on the running game. The Chiefs brought in Browns castoff Peyton Hillis to replace Jones. He also drafted RB Cyrus Gray. Then, in the preseason, the Chiefs found two more productive backs in Shaun Draughn, who spent last season on the practice squad, and undrafted free agent Nate Echus. All five backs made the team, with Echus and Hillis expected to play FB on occasion.
Draughn, Gray and Echus will provide young, fresh legs and depth, but if the Chiefs want to run their way to a 2012 playoff appearance, it will be Hillis and Charles toting the rock.
Both players seem up to the challenge.
“It’s going to feel real great,” Charles told KCChiefs.com. “I’m excited to be on the field again, especially with my teammates. The passion out there, everything I said in the interview when I met with you all in the offseason, it’s part of what I want to do when Sunday comes. I spoke it and I have to come and prove it.”
While Charles is the fan-favorite, Hillis comes with some star-power of his own. The former Brown graced the cover of Madden NFL 12 but last season dealt with injuries and off-field bickering with management. The Browns parted ways with Hillis but the RB seems eager to change his image now that he is getting a one-year tryout in KC.
For his part, Hillis says he admires Charles.
“I think in anything in life, no matter what job it is, you have somebody there that can make you better because they’re that talented,” said Hillis. “I think it’s good for both of us. He (Charles) brings something to the table that I look up to, I try to learn some of his game to apply to mine and hope it can help my game out some. I’m blessed enough to be in the same back field with him and to play with him.”
The Chiefs have indicated that they’d like to evenly spit touched between Hillis and Charles. Both backs bring their own dynamic skills to the table. Charles is fast with unheard-of cutback ability and Hillis sports a bruising, down-hill style and sneaky good hands. Neither back is easy to bring down and if the young KC offensive line can open some holes for them, the Chiefs should find offensive success again this season.
For Charles, after missing an entire season, it’s time to get on the field.
“I feel good, I feel great right now. I just can’t wait until the opportunity comes.”
Neither can the fans.