Chiefs

Running back Damien Williams: from low-risk addition to key part of Chiefs’ offense

Standing to the right of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Damien Williams took off to his left as the ball was snapped in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s 29-28 loss.

As he crossed in front of Mahomes, the running back received the handoff and kept sprinting left before cutting upfield.

With room to run, he picked up speed.

Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James stepped in Williams’ path, but it didn’t matter.

Williams lowered his right shoulder and trucked right through James, bowling him over as he closed out the final yards of a 12-yard run.

As he stood and shook James off his foot, Williams stomped away from the play in celebration, puffing his chest and balling his hands into tight fists at his waist.

Officially, that play — the most explosive of Williams’ career with the Kansas City Chiefs — was recorded as ‘No Play’ in the game’s stats, wiped out thanks to an illegal shift by right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson.

But the replay lasts forever.

“I thought he did a nice job all the way around,” coach Andy Reid said. “He ran hard when he had the chance and caught the ball well.”

With the Chiefs down yet another running back Thursday night, Williams put together a game to remember in his first start as a Chief.

In Spencer Ware’s absence, Williams scored two more touchdowns, bringing his total to four in a five-day stretch, and he led the team in rushing (10 carries, 49 yards) and receiving (six catches, 74 yards).

“A lot of times, I’m looking at them outside from the sidelines, seeing how they operate,” Williams said, explaining how he fed off the starters’ energy. “Being able to get behind that line in my first start as a Kansas City Chief, that was a great feeling.”

Used primarily on special teams for the majority of the season, Williams’ profile in the offense has increased dramatically in the last two games. With the release of Kareem Hunt and Ware’s shoulder and hamstring injuries, Williams began seeing significantly more time against the Baltimore Ravens.

Though Ware started that week, Williams ended up playing more snaps — 43 to Ware’s 41 — in the Chiefs’ overtime win after Ware missed time with a shoulder injury. In that game, Williams scored his first touchdowns since he caught a 10-yard pass from then-Miami quarterback Jay Cutler in Week 9 of the 2017 season.

A couple weeks after scoring that touchdown with the Dolphins, Williams suffered a separated shoulder and missed the final five games of the 2017 season.

“It means a lot,” Williams said of scoring the touchdowns. “The last time I scored was when I played the Raiders when I was with Miami. It means a lot being able to get in the end zone after an injury like the one I came off of. It feels good.”

After a four-year career with the Dolphins, Williams, 26, wasn’t re-signed by Miami in the offseason.

But he wasn’t a free agent for long. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach reviewed Williams’ film and saw a player with the potential to be a situational starter.

The Chiefs signed Williams to a low-risk deal in the spring, partly as insurance in case the effects of Ware’s knee injury lingered into the 2018 season. Williams impressed the Chiefs during training camp and earned a spot on the 53-man roster.

Williams had a small role in the offense in the first six weeks, picking up three catches for 18 yards and three carries for a yard. But the next five games, he had just three offensive snaps as Hunt and Ware carried the load.

All that changed, though, when Hunt was released prior to the Oakland game. That week, Williams got 5 carries for 38 yards and had two receptions for seven.

“He could easily just have hung his head and pouted or whatever,” Reid said before the Chargers game. “He’s got great energy and he just keeps bringing it every day. Then he had a chance in the last couple of weeks, and he’s done a nice job with that. Powerful, powerful kid. I think he’s more familiar with the offense now.”

In the last two weeks, Williams has 18 carries for 63 yards along with 10 catches for 90 yards.

With Ware on the mend, Williams’ role for the rest of the season isn’t explicitly defined. But he showed Thursday night that he’s a valuable asset when he’s on the field.

“I just love the game of football,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, as long as I’m involved, however, I’m cool. It feels better to be able to do what I want to do, and that’s play running back, be a part of the offense. Whatever they want me to do, I’m all for it.”

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Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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