The Chiefs’ offense has seemed so different and high-powered in the newly minted Patrick Mahomes Era, but it’s hardly foreign to players who’ve been with coach Andy Reid for an extended period of time.
Like Spencer Ware.
Ware, who reclaimed the starting running back job in the wake of Kareem Hunt’s ouster last week following the release of a video showing Hunt shoving and kicking a young woman, has been here before. He stepped into the full-time starting role in 2016 and accounted for 1,368 yards from scrimmage that season.
This weekend, the Chiefs will play their first game at Arrowhead Stadium in a month when they host the Baltimore Ravens. It’ll be their first home game without Hunt. It’ll also be Ware’s first start in front of the Chiefs’ home crowd since their playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in January 2017.
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What will Ware look like in this version of the Chiefs’ offense? How will his role be different now that he’s the primary running back in the Reid-Mahomes attack?
“Nothing has changed,” Ware said. “Make big plays and score touchdowns, win games, second effort goes a long way and fight for one another. Nothing has changed, I know personally, as far as me as a player and also as a person — mentality-wise — I do everything for my teammates and I’m trying to do whatever to win.”
If you have further questions, Ware suggests you’ll find answers in the tape of his previous games in a Chiefs uniform.
“My film is my resume,” Ware said of what elements he brings to the position. “You see what I do on film for the time that I’ve been here in Kansas City. I’ll continue to play my type of ball.”
In his 17 career starts for the Chiefs, the former LSU standout has been a consistent part of the passing game as a receiver. He’s had at least one catch in 16 of those games and two or more in 11 others, including his seven-catch, 129-yard receiving performance against the Chargers to start the 2016 season.
He’s proven himself to be more than just a screen or shovel pass threat. Many of his catches come on routes out of the backfield or after he lines up out wide as a receiver. As a runner, once he plants his foot and turns up field, Ware has been a handful for defenders at the second level.
“For Spence, he just has that toughness in how he runs,” Mahomes said. “It’s like every single time he gets tackled, he’s pushing the pile for an extra few yards. You saw when he got to the goal line how he fought and got that touchdown (vs. Oakland last weekend). He’s also really smart. He can help me with protections if I need it because he’s been here that long. He’s just a smart player to have back there.”
Ware returned this summer during training camp, working his way back slowly following a devastating knee injury suffered the previous preseason that wiped out his entire 2017 regular season. Ware, who’d shared the primary running back role with Charcandrick West in 2015 following Jamaal Charles’ injury, tore the MCL and PCL in his right knee in the Chiefs’ third preseason game.
This season, Ware rushed 22 times for 124 yards and caught 14 passes for 165 yards in 11 games as Hunt’s backup.
Last weekend, with the news on Hunt breaking roughly 24 hours ahead of Sunday’s kickoff against the Raiders, Ware rushed for 47 yards on 14 carries on short notice. With a week of preparation and game-planning with Ware as the starter, Reid and his staff figure to make subtle changes to maximize Ware’s ability.
“We’ll try to utilize his strengths. I can’t tell you (exactly how),” Reid said, wanting to keep his cards close to his vest. “But that’s what we’re going to try to do. We try to do that with every player, if we can, exploit their strengths and then work on their weaknesses so maybe those can become strengths.”
It won’t be as if the Chiefs’ coaching staff or players will be integrating a new guy without any track record into the mix. Ware rushed for 921 yards and caught 33 passes for 447 yards in 14 starts in 2016.
“This offense has had Spence before as the lead guy, and it was going pretty good,” said West, who the Chiefs re-signed on Monday. “With Coach Reid and this coaching staff, the sky is the limit because they know how to use our skill-sets. We all don’t do the same things — we all know that — but he does a good job of putting us in the right position.”
As for the Ravens, who boast the NFL’s top-ranked defensive unit both in yards allowed per game (281.7) and fewest points allowed per game (17.8), coach John Harbaugh said he doesn’t expect a whole lot to change with the Chiefs’ offense.
“Not dramatically, no. I think they’ll run the same plays,” said Harbaugh, a former assistant under Reid in Philadelphia. “(Ware) is a heck of a physical guy, downhill guy, but gosh, that’s not something they hadn’t been enjoying before. I don’t expect anything dramatically new. But I say that in terms of who is playing running back. You always expect something new from Andy and from their game plans from (Chiefs offensive coordinator) Eric (Bieniemy) and the guys. They usually come up with something pretty creative.”