Chiefs running back C.J. Spiller can always count on his uncle, Gary Pierce, to shoot straight.
So this weekend, when Spiller caught up with Pierce — who the 29-year-old Spiller calls Uncle Pearl — and he told Spiller that physically he looks as healthy and spry as he has in years, it was a statement that Spiller, who has been dinged up with a myriad of injuries the last few years, could take to heart.
“He understands everything I’ve been through the last couple of years, and he’s going to always tell you the truth — he’s not going to sugarcoat anything with you, and that’s how I like it,” Spiller said. “I have a very small inner circle and he’s part of that. Be straight up with me and I’ll be straight up with you, and that’s what everybody in my circle does.”
If Pierce is right, and Spiller, a 5-foot-11, 200-pounder, can stay healthy, he has a chance to potentially help the Chiefs this season.
To be clear, Spencer Ware is set to return as the starter, Charcandrick West is a nice change-of-pace back and third-round rookie Kareem Hunt has already impressed with his short-area burst and balance.
But Spiller, who ran a blistering 4.37 40-yard dash at the 2010 NFL Combine, once possessed the kind of big-play ability and West Coast skill set that few backs can match.
Spiller’s home-run potential even extends to kick returns, where he has runbacks of 102 and 95 yards on his NFL resume. No wonder his skill set enticed the Bills so much that they selected him with the ninth overall pick out of Clemson seven years ago.
In five years with the Bills, he rushed 668 times for 3,321 yards — an average of 5 yards per carry — and 12 touchdowns. His best season as a pro came in 2012, when he rushed for a career-high 1,244 yards, caught 43 passes for 459 yards and made the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career.
It wasn’t too long after that that Spiller started having injury issues, however. After an injury-shortened 2014 season, he signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the New Orleans Saints but suffered a knee injury in training camp. He appeared in 13 games in 2015, starting two, and functioning primarily as a pass-catching back he rushed 36 times for 112 yards and caught 34 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns.
Spiller made the Saints out of training camp in 2016, but he did not appear in the season opener after a trio of younger, cheaper backs — Tim Hightower, Travaris Cadet and Daniel Lasco — took the backup spots behind starter Mark Ingram. That led to Spiller’s release shortly after the season opener against the Raiders, and he had short stints with the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.
Spiller, seeking another chance to set his career back on track, signed a one-year deal this offseason with the Chiefs, who released another track star-type running back in Jamaal Charles shortly thereafter, potentially opening up the door for a Spiller resurgence … provided his body cooperates.
“Me and my trainer, we really worked on a lot of hip mobility, a lot of explosion, just trying to get back to how I felt comfortable before some of these injuries that kind of started taking place,” said Spiller, who flashed quickness and burst during the Chiefs’ first offseason practice Tuesday. “It’s been a while since I felt like this, the cutting, the running, all that.”
Now, Spiller is counting on Chiefs running back coach Eric Bieniemy to help him rediscover his past magic in his latest bid to prove he still has plenty left in the tank.
“You’re always looking for a challenge, and Coach E.B. is a great coach, and he pushes you hard, and that’s what you want to try to help your game out,” Spiller said. “I take a lot of pride in my overall game, in my overall craft, and each day, I try to find something that I can get better at.”