A year ago, nearly every time running back Knile Davis carried the ball, the Chiefs held their breath.
Would he take it all the way for a touchdown? Or would he leave the ball on the ground?
Davis, now in his second year with the Chiefs, appears to have solved his propensity for fumbling. Davis made his second straight start of the preseason Saturday night against Minnesota in place of Jamaal Charles, who is recovering from a bruised foot.
Davis, running behind a makeshift offensive line, carried 10 times for 22 yards and caught two passes for 37 yards. Though no one would confuse Davis with Charles, he had no fumbles for the third straight preseason game.
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Davis has learned to make sure he has two hands on the ball. Nearly every time.
“It’s being more aware of my surroundings and having two hands on the ball,” Davis said. “What happens is, you have one hand on it, so you don’t see other guys hitting it. When you have two hands on it, it doesn’t matter who’s there, because it’s tight.
“In this league, people are trying to come get it.”
Davis, a third-round draft pick from Arkansas last year, had a reputation for fumbling during his college career. He lost 13 fumbles, including eight in 2012, in 381 career touches.
The Chiefs had little question that Davis, a 5-foot-10, 227-pounder with 4.39 speed, had the size, quickness and toughness to provide a complement to Charles.
But until recently, the Chiefs couldn’t always trust him with the ball in his hands.
“He has come a long way,” said offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. “He’s made it a conscious effort to protect the football, and he understands that he is a professional and he continues to work on that in practice.
“And we ask the defensive guys when they can to go after the football and try to knock it loose. So he is conscious of it, he has done a great job so far and hopefully he keeps that going.”
The same goes for returning kickoffs. Davis made his biggest contribution as a kick returner last season, and his 108-yard return against Denver is tied for the second-longest in NFL history.
Even though he started in Charles’ absence, Davis returned the first kickoff Saturday against Minnesota, just as he has in the first two preseason games.
“He’s a lot better catcher of the football,” Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “He hasn’t put any balls on the ground in practice. Last year, during practice, if he caught 10 balls, three of them were going to be on the ground. He’s come a long way there.”
By earning the confidence of the coaching staff, Davis hopes to contribute more to the offense and take a little of the load from Charles, who accounted for 36 percent of the Chiefs’ production last season.
As a rookie, Davis carried 70 times for 242 yards and four touchdowns, including 27 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season finale at San Diego, when the Chiefs starters did not play.
“The good thing about that San Diego game last year is it made me realize the beating Jamaal takes week in and week out,” Davis said. “If me and Mamba (De’Anthony Thomas) and Cyrus (Gray) can help him out and take some of that beating, it will help the team.”
After Charles left the wild-card playoff game at Indianapolis with concussion-like symptoms, Davis carried 18 times for 67 yards and a touchdown, plus he caught seven passes for 33 yards and a score before leaving the game himself with a fractured leg.
Davis has shown no ill effects from the injury and hasn’t missed a practice in training camp.
Davis’ only regret about Saturday night’s game was that Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, as is the Vikings’ preseason custom, did not play. Davis grew up idolizing Peterson, who is from Palestine, Texas, about 170 miles north of Davis’ home of Missouri City.
“I would love to see AP. He’s my all-time favorite running back,” Davis said earlier in the week. “No disrespect to Emmitt (Smith) or Barry (Sanders), but I grew up on AP in high school, … college. He’s my man.
“When I look at other running backs, I kind of learn from them, but AP, when I put on his tape, you can’t really teach what he does. He runs with pure confidence, just wild and violent. … He’s the best at it. He has everything you need.
“Even him, he gets stripped, but that doesn’t stop him.”