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Ranking the Chiefs’ 2014 training camp battles: No. 9 — backup running back

07/14/2014 5:40 PM

As a lead-in to the Chiefs’ training camp in St. Joseph, which begins when rookies and quarterbacks report July 20, The Star will rank the 10 most interesting position battles.

9. No. 3 running back

Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis are locked in as the Chiefs’ top two backs, but there’s an intriguing battle shaping up for the No. 3 back between Cyrus Gray and Joe McKnight. Gray, a sixth-round pick in 2012, served in the role last season, when he rushed nine times for 24 yards and caught two passes for 46 yards. He was also a regular contributor on special teams.

But the Chiefs signed the 26-year-old McKnight — who was billed as the next Reggie Bush coming out of high school — as a free agent this offseason to see if he offers more big-play ability, both as a runner and receiver. And unlike Gray, McKnight has a strong track record as a kick returner, which remains a bit of a question mark since last year’s starter, Quintin Demps, departed via free agency.

McKnight, however, needs to prove he can hold it together. He was unexpectedly cut by the Jets last August following a turbulent summer that included a failed conditioning test, an arrest for unpaid traffic violations, various head injuries and some questionable posts on Twitter. He sat out the entire 2013 season. The good news for the Chiefs is that none of those troubles have surfaced, so far, in Kansas City.

Also in contention is fourth-round pick De’Anthony Thomas, who is listed as a running back but at 5 feet 9 and 174 pounds, is not built to take a pounding. He’ll make the team, but it’s far more likely the Chiefs use him as a slot receiver with the occasional touch out of the backfield.

That means there could still be a role on the roster for a sturdier back such as Gray or McKnight, especially when you consider than Charles and Davis were both nicked up at times last season.

Gray may have some ground to make up — when Charles missed a portion of offseason training activities, it was Davis and McKnight who seemed to split most of the first-team reps — but the battle for the No. 3 spot will continue throughout camp.

Next up: Kick and punt returner

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.

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